Dwight Whorley of Richard, Virginia is a sick guy. He’s into child porn, and he needs all kinds of mental health counseling. What I’m not convinced he needs is 20 years in prison.

Were he the child pornographer I would have no qualms with the sentence. Indeed, those who exploit children might deserve even harsher punishment, and I’m squarely in the “let’s throw away the key” crowd when it comes time to determine a prison sentence for people like that.

But Whorley was convicted of:

using a public computer for job-seekers at the Virginia Employment Commission to receive 20 Japanese cartoons, called anime, illustrating young girls being forced to have sex with men. Whorley also received digital photographs of actual children engaging in sexual conduct and sent and received e-mails graphically describing parents sexually molesting their children.

Setting aside that Whorley’s IQ must single digits since no one with half a brain would use a public computer for something like this, his is a problematic sentence.

While I’m unconvinced that just viewing content of any kind–even twisted material like this–should be a crime, it is especially troubling when it comes to the realm of fiction. Cartoons aren’t real, and there is no harm to anyone anywhere in their creation or dissemination. Why and how that can be a crime is beyond me.

The only argument that I can think of is that somehow the very act of viewing chld porn turns people into sexual predators. I am unaware of any studies that show this, but it’s all I can conceive of as a legitimate argument. On the other hand, reading Mein Kampf doesn’t turn one into a Nazi, so I think it’s a shaky premise.

An attack on fiction is an attack on the human imagination. Some people’s minds wander into place we don’t want ours to go. That’s OK, because so long as everyone retains the right to think what they want to think, we’re all free. The problem with criminalizing fiction is that impinges on the inalienable right of human thought, and that’s something no government should ever try to take away.

[Full disclosure: I’m NOT into child porn, Japanese anime, or any of the other revolting things mentioned in this article. No one need email me looking to start a fan club.]