Booksellers, Publishers, Librarians and Others Challenge Censorship Law
Under New Law, Many Risk Charges for ‘Furnishing' Legitimate Literature, Art and Sex Education Materials to Minors
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: David Fidanque and Brian Willoughby, ACLU of Oregon, (503) 227-6928
Michael Powell of Powell's Books, (503) 228-0540, Ext. 227
Michael Bamberger, Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP, general counsel to Media Coalition Inc., (212) 768-6756
PORTLAND, Ore. - Should a grandmother have to risk being charged with a crime if she gives her 7-year-old grandson a copy of "It's Perfectly Normal," a sex education book widely regarded as among the best available?
Under a new Oregon law (ORS 167.054), that grandmother could be charged with providing materials that are "sexually explicit" to a minor. And under that and a second new law (ORS 167.057), booksellers, librarians, community-based organizations, health-care providers, parents and other family members also are at risk, potentially facing jail time and hefty fines - up to $125,000.
"For booksellers, the new law is vague and difficult to apply," said Michael Powell, owner of Powell's Books in Portland and a plaintiff in the case. "It says a 13-year-old can legally buy these books, but it's a crime to sell them to a 12-year-old. How do I ‘card' a 12-year old?"
The ACLU of Oregon joins Powell's, several other book stores, Planned Parenthood of the Columbia/Willamette, Cascade AIDS Project and others in challenging the new state law. While the Oregon legislature passed HB 2843 in 2007 as a well-intentioned effort to target sexual predators, the law itself is so broad and vague - and unconstitutional - that it potentially criminalizes many constitutionally protected providers of sex education materials.
"Unfortunately, this new law does not take into account whether someone's intent is to harm the minor;" said David Fidanque, Executive Director of the ACLU of Oregon. "It criminalizes all acts of furnishing ‘sexually explicit' material - no matter who is doing it and no matter for what purpose."
The new statutes improperly criminalize, under varying conditions, the dissemination to minors of constitutionally protected materials that contain visual, text or narrative descriptions of sexual conduct. These laws create a chilling effect on the sale, display, exhibition and dissemination of legally protected speech and expression.
The new laws create widespread problems:
The lawsuit seeks to have the statutes declared unconstitutional and to enjoin their enforcement based on their violation of the First, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
Plaintiffs in the case include: Powell's Books; Annie Bloom's Books; Dark Horse Comics Inc.; Collette's: Good Food + Hungry Minds; Paulina Springs Books; St. John's Booksellers; Twenty-Third Avenue Books; American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression; Association of American Publishers ; Freedom to Read Foundation; Comic Book Legal Defense Fund; Candace Morgan (librarian and grandmother); Planned Parenthood of the Columbia/Willamette.; Cascade AIDS Project; and the ACLU of Oregon.
Representing plaintiffs are ACLU Cooperating Attorney P.K. Runkles-Pearson of Stoel Rives LLP in Portland and Michael A. Bamberger and Rachel G. Balaban of Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP in New York. Bamberger also is general counsel to Media Coalition Inc., an association that defends the First Amendment right to produce and sell books, movies, magazines, recordings, DVDs, videotapes and video games, and defends the American public's First Amendment right to have access to the broadest possible range of opinion and entertainment.