At least five states have officially declared pornography a public health crisis or harmful to the public, and at least one other is considering a similar measure, according to bill updates filed on state legislature websites.
A resolution passed by the Tennessee Legislature declaring pornography a public health hazard was awaiting Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature April 21. Days earlier, Tennessee became the fourth state to adopt such a resolution, joining Utah, South Dakota and Arkansas.
The Virginia General Assembly stopped short of declaring pornography a public health hazard or crisis, but in February passed a resolution that pornography leads to “individual and societal harms.” The Georgia legislature adjourned its 2017 session with two resolutions, both in committees, that would declare pornography a public health crisis.
The resolutions emphasize research showing the harmful effects of pornography and call for education, prevention and policy changes at the community and societal levels. As resolutions, none of the measures add to criminal offenses regarding pornography nor stipulate any punishment for its use.
Jay Dennis, founder of the One Million Men anti-pornography ministry, told Baptist Press the measures are a valuable victory in communicating porn’s harm.
“The fact that states are beginning to recognize pornography as a public health hazard, underscores what the Bible has been clear upon – sexual sin is destructive not only spiritually, but also emotionally and physically,” said Dennis, who recently announced he’s planning to retire in May as pastor of First Baptist Church at the Mall in Lakeland, Fla. “Identifying pornography as a public health hazard presents factual information to those outside of Christianity that this is not just a spiritual battle, it is a health issue facing every person.”
Dennis encourages pastors to educate their churches on the dangers of porn, which he believes feeds sexual sin including human trafficking.
“This presents an opportunity for the church to begin broaching the subject of pornography, the number-one moral issue every church is facing,” Dennis said in January after the Tennessee measure was introduced. “It’s time to speak up and be the moral authority and allow the states to verify that fact. We must pray that every state will have the courage to enact legislation to show pornography’s destructive harm.”
The National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), which drafted the bill that Utah passed in 2016 as the first among states, hailed the bill’s “domino effect” and noted “an international debate” on the issue.
“Even the Canadian Parliament passed a motion to study the public health impacts of pornography,” NCOSE Senior Vice President and Executive Director Dawn Hawkins said after Tennessee’s passage. “The Israeli Knesset is considering formal statements, and New Zealand activists are petitioning their government to address the harms of pornography.”
When Republican Sen. Mae Beavers introduced Tennessee’s measure in January, she said what was previously considered hardcore pornography has now become mainstream. With technology, the average age of exposure to pornography is 11 to 12. She cited Washington State studies showing that as recently as 2004, 24.7 percent of convicted murderers in that state said pornography served as a trigger for their crimes.
Pornography is potentially biologically addictive, Tennessee’s resolution states. The resolution adds that pornography is detrimental to families, discourages young men from marriage and leads to marital dissatisfaction and infidelity. Pornography treats women as “objects and commodities for the viewer’s use,” “normalizes violence and abuse of women and children,” “increases the demand for sex trafficking, prostitution and … child pornography,” and may cause emotional, mental and medical illnesses, the Tennessee measure reads.
South Dakota passed a concurrent resolution declaring porn a public health hazard Jan. 31, followed by the Arkansas House of Representatives on March 28. The Arkansas measure does not require Senate approval.
The Southern Baptist Convention has passed nearly 25 resolutions that address pornography either directly or indirectly, beginning as early as 1959 and recurring as recently as 2015. The latest resolution “On Pornography and Sexual Purity” recognizes pornography’s harm to men, women and children, and recommends several measures to end its proliferation.
Much of pornography is protected by the First Amendment, according to the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, but pornography that falls into the categories of obscenity and child pornography is against the law.
Half of teenagers and nearly three-quarters of young adults come across pornography at least monthly, and both groups on average consider viewing pornographic images less immoral than failing to recycle, a 2016 study by Josh McDowell Ministry and the Barna Group found.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)