By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
May 2, 2023
Undoubtedly one of the shortest bills filed in the North Carolina legislature this year, a nine-line proposal to toughen penalties for showing obscenities to minors won unanimous approval in the Senate on Monday.
Sponsors of Senate Bill 579, which would raise the punishment for an obscene act in the presence of someone under 18 from a Class I felony to a Class H felony, say it is needed to “Prevent Harm to Children,” which is their title for the measure.
“This is a simple update that addresses some of the more disturbing trends we’ve been seeing in recent years,” bill sponsor Sen. Buck Newton (R-Wilson) said in a press release. “Our society is heading in the wrong direction and this bill says we’re not going to let children face such corruption.”
The bill does not change how obscenity has been defined in North Carolina law since 1974. Instead, it creates the possibility that an offender could face jail-time on the first offense. According to the state’s sentencing guidelines, Class I felonies won’t lead to prison time for people with no prior criminal record. But for Class H felonies, prison is an option, as are lesser penalties such as probation or house arrest.
“The bill is pretty straightforward: If you don’t commit obscene acts in front of children then you have nothing to worry about,” Sen. Danny Earl Britt, Jr. (R-Robeson) explained in the release. “The fact that there has been opposition speaks volumes to where we are as a society and why the bill is needed.”
Sen. Lisa Grafstein (D-Wake) told the media that the fact that the legislation would not expand the definition of obscenity helped allay fears that the bill was targeting drag shows.
“We all have the same goal of protecting children from access and exposure to materials that they’re not ready for,” Grafstein told WRAL.
But in his comments to the media, Sen. Warren Daniel (R-Burke) referenced a March incident at Forsyth Technical Community College during which a drag performer straddled a minor as an obvious violation of obscenity laws.
“What happened at Forsyth Tech was a clear indication that we’ve got to do something at the state level,” he said. “This bill is an appropriate step that will help put an end to this string of vulgar behavior.”
The Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, spoke out in favor of the bill during a recent meeting of the Senate Rules Committee, telling lawmakers that the increased sexualization of minors is a real problem in society.
“Numerous studies demonstrate that exposure to obscenity can cause psychological harm to children including anxiety, fear and trauma,” Creech said. “It’s up to parents, caregivers and educators to work together to create a safe and supportive environment for children that promotes healthy growth and learning. But because the law is a great teacher and bears the standard directing us to the ultimate end just described, we commend this legislation to you.”
Senate Bill 579 now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.