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Movie Mom

Supreme Court: Violent Video Games Get Free Speech Protection

posted by Nell Minow

A California law that would prevent the sale of violent video games to children has been overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.  The 2005 California law has never been enforced because it was found unconstitutional in the lower court as well.  The 7-2 ruling (Breyer and Thomas dissenting) said, “The State wishes to create a wholly new category of content-based regulation that is permissible only for speech directed at children.  That is unprecedented and mistaken. This country has no tradition of specially restricting children’s access to depictions of violence.”

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Supporters of the legislation tried to make the case that exposure to violence is a public health issue, like smoking and alcohol.  Opponents argued that games are protected speech, like a book or a movie.  While the industry may choose to adopt its own rules voluntarily (as the movie industry has with its ratings and the theaters have done with their ticket sales policies), the government may not impose these restrictions.

Parents will have to continue to be especially vigilant about the restrictions on video games in their own homes and, the bigger challenge, in the homes of the friends where children go to play.  Start with the ESRB ratings and then check out the ratings from Common Sense Media.

  • Pingback: Supreme Court: Violent Video Games Get Free Speech Protection | Christian Media Cross

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Rach

    Next will be rated R and above movies will be okay for any child to go into to see without a parent being with them or permission. This opens a can of worms on so many levels. Studies have shown over and over how children are desensitized to violence when they are repeatedly exposed to it. This is worse in that it is making them an active participant. I cannot see how this is not only detrimental to our children, but to our society as a whole. Thanks for posting Nell. (I wish the supreme court had our judges serving a specific set time instead of life tenure).

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment iorek

    This decision by the Supreme Court is worthy of some serious attention and comment by the Movie Mom. Justice Breyer’s dissenting opinion describes some of the truly hideous video games before the court, where players “kneecap” policemen, urinate on them, set them on fire and laugh before blowing their heads off. But more importantly it points out the huge inconsistency between our treatment of sex and violence (“What kind of First Amendment would permit the government to protect children by restricting sales of an extremely violent video game only when the woman— bound, gagged, tortured, and killed— is also topless?”)

    I understand what the First Amendment says, but you read that sentence from Breyer and you say, “that result can’t possibly be correct.”

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Your Name

    Rach, there are no laws that say children are not allowed to watch R rated movies. This is all voluntary, not mandated by law. This video game bill would have made it unlawful to sell violent games to children, but those very same children would still have full access to R rated movies.

    Even the Federal Trade Commission has shown us that children are finding it easier to purchase R rated movies than M rated games:

    http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2011/04/violentkidsent.shtm

    It never ceases to amaze me the level of ignorance displayed by so many people who think the R rating that movies receive is enforced by law. There is no law. The question should be why would California ignore the regulation of movies if the state is supposedly so interested in protecting kids and empowering parents? (Gee, maybe because it’s the same state Hollywood is in?)

    That’s exactly what the majority opinion questioned – I encourage you to read it rather than make assumptions on what it said. The Supreme Court got it right in this case.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Andreas Ulanowsky

    I see the point. Imposing the policy would mean that government would be able to set policy on that no child under 17 would be permitted to see an R-rated film regardless if a parent followed with the child or not.

    Theater owners cannot allow any child into the film without a legal gardian. That’s a policy that the theaters must follow, It does NOT, however mean that a child cannot see a film if he/she is with a legal aged guardian over the age of 17.

    So, what that means is that it’s up to the parent/guardian to decide on whether or not his/her child is allowed to see an R-Rated film. What most parents fail to understand is that movies today are more violent, have more sexual innudo and more cursing for each of the ratings allowed.

    I think it’s fair ro say that, in the USA, the feeling is that people should be able to decide on their own what films, television and video games should be allowed to be seen by their children. America has so many different groups of people in the country. And, everyone has different values and beliefs, so it’s better that the rules are voluntary.

    It’s good, though, that there is such a good resource such as Movie Mom so that parents can read aboout the films and then decide for themselves if such a film is good or not to see with thier child.

    • Nell Minow

      Thanks, Andreas. I’d hate to think that no teenager could see “The King’s Speech,” just because the MPAA gave it an R rating.

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