Both presidential candidates are behind the effort, but Congress hasn't had much success so far crafting laws designed to protect minors from online pornography. Both attempts have run afoul of the First Amendment in federal courts.
But the legally contested Child Online Protection Act of 1998 may yet yield ways to tackle a problem that concerns countless parents, including the Missouri woman who posed a question to the candidates in Tuesday's debate. A commission created by the act is scheduled to report to Congress this Saturday on various methods of shielding children from "adult" material.
The thrust of the commission's findings is that one law can't do the job. But an amalgam of approaches might. For example:
* Increased spending by local and federal governments to strengthen efforts to track down sexual predators on the Web and shut down Web-based purveyors of child pornography.
* Requiring "adult" Web sites to have an identifying tag like ".xxx" and stopping them from using free "teaser" pages that could lure young people into adult sites.
* Helping parents educate themselves about steps they can take to protect their kids from online smut. Software filters are increasingly effective, and Web sites such as GetNet Wise.org have lots of information.
That list lacks one basic: vigilance by parents and all concerned citizens to reject salaciousness in any guise, on the Web or not.
That mental alertness will address the specific concern of Tuesday's questioner - the country's weakened moral tone.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society