.- Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput says a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on video game violence is “wrong,” and will contribute to “poisoning our future.”
In a July 1 column for First Things, Archbishop Chaput wrote that the court's June 27 ruling “extends and elevates the individual’s right to free expression – or in this case, a corporation’s right to make a healthy profit - at the expense of family sovereignty, the natural rights of parents and the intent of the Constitution’s authors.”
The decision in the case of “Brown vs. EMA” struck down a California law that banned minors from buying or renting violent video games.
Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, said violent video games deserve First Amendment protection just like books, plays and movies. He wrote that video games should not be included in categories of expression that are excluded from First Amendment protection – namely, obscenity, incitement and fighting words.
But Archbishop Chaput said the ruling overlooked the government's duty to protect human dignity and the common good. “A law which respects mothers and fathers trying to make good choices for their family does just that,” he wrote.
Archbishop Chaput clarified that he does not believe video games are “bad.” But to allow minors access to violent video games without parental consent, he said, violates natural law and parents' rights.
Justices Ginsburg, Kagan, Kennedy and Sotamayor joined Scalia in finding California's law unconstitutional. Justice Alito and Chief Justice Roberts supported the majority opinion, but argued in a differing opinion that violent video games may cause significant social problems because they have a different impact on youth than radio, television or literature.
Archbishop Chaput acknowledged that the court's affirmation of what lawmakers can and cannot ban is important, in light of some religious teaching being labeled hate speech because of the recent push for gay “marriage.”
But he said the court acted prematurely in its decision to strike down the law, and made “a serious mistake in too quickly lumping violent video games under the same protections given Grimm's Fairy Tales or network TV.”
The archbishop argued that the California law protected parental authority and minors because it “did not preclude parents from buying or renting violent video games for their minor children – if they chose to do so as parents.”
He called attention to Justice Clarence Thomas' minority opinion, which held that the Constitution's intended definition of free speech does not include a right of minors to access speech without parental or guardian consent. Justice Thomas indicated in his dissent that the Founding Fathers supported parents' complete authority to direct the development of their minor children.
“Video games can simulate, and potentially stimulate, violence in a far more intensely immersive way than traditional media,” Archbishop Chaput noted, citing the opinion of a former army officer and author who once called violent video games “murder simulators.”
The Archbishop of Denver said that Colorado's 1999 Columbine High School shooting is “indirect but brutally real proof” of his point. He was Archbishop of Denver when the shootings occurred, and said he still remembers visiting with families of victims and “trying to make sense of the violence to the wider community.”
Archbishop Chaput addressed a special session of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation two weeks after the 1999 shootings, saying the violence found in video games has a direct impact on youth and is among the roots of real-life violence.
“Common sense tells us that the violence of our music, our video games, our films, and our television has to go somewhere,” he said at the 1999 session. “It goes straight into the hearts of our children to bear fruit in ways we can't imagine – until something like (the Columbine shootings) happens.”