A Snapshot of What Freedom Is and Isn't

Like many parents, Cynthia Stewart is an ardent amateur photographer when it comes to recording the lives of her children. Unlike most, the Oberlin Schools bus driver faces up to 16 years in prison

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Like many parents, Cynthia Stewart is an ardent amateur photographer when it comes to recording the lives of her children. Unlike most, the Oberlin Schools bus driver faces up to 16 years in prison on two criminal charges of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material and pandering sexually oriented photographs involving a minor.

Her crime was taking 19 pictures of her 8-year-old daughter Nora in the bath (apparently Nora takes her baths naked!) and giving the roll of film to a Discount Drug Mart in Oberlin for developing. The store sent it to Fuji Color Processing of Ohio in Mansfield, where technicians felt compelled to contact Mansfield police, who sent the photos to police in Oberlin, who arrested Stewart.

So what lewd and lascivious smut is occurring in these pictures, which Lorain County Prosecutor Gregory White describes as "well over the line" and "not anywhere near the category of normal"? Well, it's not so easy to say, as for months the prosecutor's office has refused to make prints of the photographs available to defense lawyers.

"The state of Ohio is not in the business of reproducing child pornography," Assistant Prosecutor Jonathan Rosenbaum explained, refusing to share the photos unless a court order compelled him to do so. "Clearly, the fewer copies of such prohibited material that are in existence will make the task of destroying them and removing them from the face of this planet much more easy."

Stewart herself has not seen the confiscated pictures she took.

In response to a defense request for more specifics about the case, Rosenbaum filed a one-paragraph reply, saying nine of the pictures had the child "assuming adult-like postures or expressions which are inappropriate and beyond her years" and in two of the pictures she holds a shower sprayer in "a provocative and adult-like manner which is inconsistent with normal photographs of a child of tender years and certainly inappropriate."

No sex acts here. No other persons or beasts. The child's not touching herself. There's no selling or publishing or posting of these images. It's just that the pictures are not what these publicly funded art critics consider "normal."

The ACLU has filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of Stewart, arguing that the Ohio statute under which she is charged is so vague and overbroad it permits violations of her constitutional rights. ACLU lawyers who have seen the photographs say they're completely innocuous pictures of a child playing in a bathtub. Stewart's attorneys agree, saying the pictures are "innocent depictions ... which journalize a child's activities and life. There is no evidence to establish that this child is abused or exploited in any way."

Meanwhile, Cynthia and her husband, Dave Stewart, put a $20,000 lien on their house to post Cynthia's bond to get her out of jail and have already used up their life savings for her legal defense. Nora has been taunted on her school playground, and her family is being investigated by child protective services, who are considering removing her from the family home. The fear and anxiety wrought by the genuinely "provocative," "inappropriate" and "well over the line" actions of local public officials has caused inexcusable and irreparable damage to this family's lives. The real abuse here has been confusing prosecutorial with persecutorial.

If photographing your child undressed is a criminal act in Ohio, countless other parents must be living in fear of prosecution. Simply picturing nakedness, even of minors, is not porn or obscenity and should not be a crime. Even sexuality is not something to be purged of representation, as it is a normal part of children's identities. We so need to grow up as a culture when it comes to these issues!

Stewart's trial has been continued to March 15. Contributions to the Cynthia Stewart Defense Fund can be sent to the Main Post Office, Box 32, Oberlin, OH 44074-0332.

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In its zeal to be the local editorial organ for the Christian Right, The Cincinnati Enquirer proves itself neither Christian nor right.

In an unattributed Sunday editorial discussing the year's seasonal displays in Fountain Square, the writer laments, "There were Christmas trees [and] references to Santa. ... But there was no cross. There was a menorah, celebrating Hanukkah, but no symbol of the origin and meaning of Christmas, leaving the square secularly sterile."

Apparently, despite the Jewish symbol present, the square remained "secularly sterile" because only a Christian cross could give it religious life. That viewpoint is as ignorant as it is offensive. Additionally, the writer forgets that the evergreen tree speaks to an origin and meaning of Christmas appropriated by Christianity.

The lead editorial in the same issue, by editorial page editor Peter Bronson, recounted his concept of what divides his readers. "People are polarized, miles apart. ... One side believes in clear moral standards of right and wrong, refined for thousands of years from the Ten Commandments. The other side insists we must tolerate anything — except people who judge right and wrong."

Bronson's claim of moral superiority demeans many very moral and ethical religious persons who do not share his views, fermenting the very polarization he decries. It follows from Bronson's opinions either that civil libertarians have no "clear moral standards of right and wrong," which I dispute fervently, or that a lack of tolerance is the hallmark of his "side," which I will not dispute. What I agree with in his remarks is that one thing we ought not to be tolerant of is intolerance. Sadly, in Cincinnati, you can spell that with a capital "B."

· · ·

Leafing through CityBeat's Annual Manual 2000, I noticed only two organizations listed for the category "Human Rights," with many missing. I'd like to mention two of the missing — the ACLU and the NAACP. The two organizations were born under similar social conditions early in the 20th century. Both seek to protect and advance the rights of disenfranchised minorities and individuals and not infrequently work together in their efforts to make the promise of freedom an actuality for all Americans.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, Southwest Chapter, holds monthly board meetings at Mt. Auburn Presbyterian Church, 103 Wm. Howard Taft Road. The local phone number, 961-5566, offers instructions for reaching the state headquarters in Cleveland. The Cincinnati chapter of the NAACP is located at 2500 Kemper Lane in Walnut Hills and can be reached at 281-1900. Both are Cincinnati Community Shares member organizations.

SYBIL IBBURTEZAN is a multiple personality civil libertarian living in Cincinnati. You might not always agree with Sybil, but she'll tell you what she thinks and will try to make you think. If you have civil liberty questions, contact her at CityBeat, 23 E. Seventh St., Suite 617, Cincinnati, OH 45202. Or email her at [email protected]

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