July 12, 2020
I did not know this.
The federal PROTECT Act of 2003 (“Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Today”) was certainly well-intentioned. Introduced in the Senate by Utah Senator Orrin Hatch and in the House by an obscure Indiana Congressman by the name of Mike Pence, the law was designed to crack down on child pornography by, among other things, establishing mandatory minimum sentences for possessing or distributing child pornography (and providing for life sentences in some cases), creating a nationwide database for criminal record checks for volunteer organizations, and eliminating statutes of limitations for child abduction and child abuse.
It also made it illegal to possess drawings, pictures and sculptures of minors engaged in obscene activities.
That last bit made me — the First Amendment absolutist that I am — scratch my head. Surely, I said to myself, THAT can’t be constitutional, can it? Can I seriously be imprisoned for drawing a dirty picture?
The answer, evidently, is yes. In searching the interwebs, I found no cases invalidating that provision on constitutional grounds. I did, however, see that a gentleman by the name of Christopher Handley pled guilty to possession so-called “lolicon” and “yaoi” manga that he obtained from Japan, and was sentenced to serve six months in federal prison.
It strikes me that the point behind the PROTECT Act is to protect children from the very real — and repulsive — threat of child pornography. But it also strikes me that it comes perilously close to making the possession of genuine art a federal crime.