Editorial: Unsafe Illinois

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly struck down the Safe Games Illinois Act, which was paraded by Gov. Blagojevich to fight child access to violent and sexually explicit video games. We applaud Kennelly’s efforts to defend the First Amendment and find relief that laws made without merit beyond mere pandering by our state government have failed to hold up to the higher standards of the law.

Despite prior warnings that previous laws attempting to regulate the sale of “violent” video games to minors in other states resulted in the laws being overturned on constitutional grounds, Gov. Blagojevich and his supporters, all felt that they could get away with it this time around. Their rationale? Scientific evidence.

Dr. Craig Anderson, a psychologist and professor at Iowa State University, testified before the court to produce evidence from his studies that showed a link between playing violent video games and aggressive behavior.

However, Kennelly’s opinion disagreed with Dr. Anderson’s conclusions, stating that the research “has not provided evidence to show that the purported relationship between violent video game exposure and aggressive thoughts or behavior is any greater than with other types of media violence, such as television or movies, or other factors that contribute to aggression, such as poverty.”

And while the state legislature took into consideration this scientific evidence that showed a link between video games and violent behaviors, Kennelly’s opinion pointed to the fact that our elected legislators failed to consider evidence proving the contrary to Dr. Anderson’s studies. This shows a blatant disregard for an alternative viewpoint in the legislature and the governor’s office.

In the end, the state government could not circumvent the First Amendment rights of its citizens. No amount of scientific evidence convinced Kennelly that this form of digital speech could be regulated because it could not meet precedent set by Brandenburg v. Ohio. Video games do not incite players to break the law, nor are they “likely to produce imminent violence” from children.

Despite the monumental burden working against the state’s argument for the Safe Games Illinois Act, Gov. Blagojevich sent out a press release Friday, calling “for common sense restrictions on violent and sexually explicit video games” and will appeal the decision blocking his crusade to do a parent’s job for them.

We also call for common sense, and ask that the governor and his supports begin to take a stand for the First Amendment before working to expand the roll of government in the household. It is a shame that the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, the Video Software Dealers Association and the Entertainment Software Association must be the ones to act as watchdogs against unconstitutional laws, even if they carry an obvious benefit from seeing the law being used to their favor.

Blagojevich vowed, “this battle is not over,” in his press release. Indeed it isn’t. Defending and upholding the law against those who wish to erode the rights of our nation falls now upon the shoulders of the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals when the appeal is filed.

We look forward to the day when common sense rules not just in the judiciary, but within the legislative and executive branches of our state.