Online Free Speech - Client, Heather Corinna

October 20, 2006
ACLU Defends Free
Speech Online >>

Heather Corinna is a writer, artist, sex-educator and activist whose primary commercial presence on the Web consists of three Web sites that she owns and operates; Scarlet Letters, Scarleteen and Femmerotic.

Those of us reared in this country are told our nation is one founded on principles of civil liberties and freedom of speech and expression from the moment we begin school. And yet, quite unfortunately -- especially when it pertains to matters of sexuality -- we find those freedoms put at risk by our government itself, the very body which we elect and entrust to protect them.

As an artist well-versed in contemporary art history, I am well aware that censorship -- especially when sexuality or the body are the subject -- has been and remains a profound problem here. Many in our country have made clear that sex outside of legal marriage is morally reprehensible, that any sort of sex under a certain age is the same, and often, that any sort of sex or sexual presentation which does not have the appearance which the moral majority feels is acceptable is obscenity. And this very often does NOT include sexuality which is authentic to women. My art often includes nude or overtly sexual self-portraiture, and this alone could easily keep me from ever going back to being a teacher of young children as I once was. There is a pervasive community standard which paints me as obscene and potentially dangerous to minors merely because, however creatively I may do so, if my body is in my art, it is obscene.

I am not of the mind that most commercial pornography -- material fully intended as such -- meets any vital human needs, nor do I feel most of it is particularly positive, beneficial or of remarkable value. It is absolutely my place to voice my objections as I feel necessary when it comes to pornography. Yet, it is NOT my place to apply those personal opinions to our populace as whole, to decide for them what they will or will not view. It is also not my place to arbitrarily assign the title of "pornography" or "obscenity" to any given material. Nor is it the place of the United States government do so, or to give themselves, myself or anyone else the capacity to override the right of any citizen to freedom of speech and expression based on our personal opinions, and that is expressly what COPA aims to accomplish.

But COPA isn't just about pornography. COPA, as it stands, could make it an absolute impossibility for me to serve my userbase at Scarleteen.com -- young adults -- with the needed, and sometimes detailed or explicit, sexual education and information they request daily, and in increasing numbers over the years largely because our federal government has already made sexuality information and education inaccessible to many at their schools. Having to apply an age screen to keep out those under 18 would entirely negate the purposes of my work in this regard, which is to serve them. COPA renders my aims -- and the needs of young adults, to protect THEMSELVES, and to do that whole life, liberty and pursuit of happiness schtick we keep hearing so much about -- moot.

I am also concerned in another regard to women and COPA, that COPA would limit an anonymity and privacy which is essential for many women for the exploration of sexuality. Women still do not have the cultural permissions which men do to inhabit and explore their sexuality, and so their privacy and anonymity in exploring aspects of same via the Internet are of particular import. Again, COPA places a greater burden on those of lesser agency.

It should be our government keeping watch for, advocating for, those citizens with the least power and agency.

Instead, with the proposal of COPA, we see our current administration yet again serving the interests of those with the most. COPA will not damage or put at risk the operation, profits or wide net of the mainstream, commercial pornography industry, nor do I believe it will offer children any protections.

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