ACLU Objects to Rockefeller's Indecency Legislation, Bill Treads on the First Amendment

July 18, 2007 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union said today that indecency legislation, slated for markup in the Senate Commerce Committee tomorrow, violates the First Amendment. Recently introduced by Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), S.1780 would attempt to regulate “indecent” television programming by instituting a Federal Communications Commission policy that a single word or image could be considered “indecent.”

“Senator Rockefeller’s proposed legislation would replace parents with Uncle Sam. It borders on the ridiculous to think that our government should determine what is and is not ‘decent’ and substitute its judgment for that of America’s parents.” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Legislative Office. “This bill could have serious and damaging effects on the First Amendment.”

The bill would serve to overrule the recent court decision, Fox Television Stations vs. FCC. In Fox, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that the FCC arbitrarily changed its rule regarding unexpected “fleeting expletives” on broadcast television. For thirty years, the FCC had followed the policy that “fleeting expletives” would not be considered indecent. The FCC changed the policy without a legally sufficient explanation. The court challenged the FCC to explain its reasoning in changing the policy, expressing doubt that the FCC could do so within the bounds of the Constitution.

“When it comes to what children see on television, parents are a better judge than any politician or government agency,” said Marvin Johnson, First Amendment Legislative Counsel. “Parents have a range of tools at their disposal to regulate what their children watch, and should use them. It is not the role of Congress to set morality guidelines. The government is treading on dangerous ground when it attempts to parent America’s parents.”

The ACLU’s letter to the Senate Commerce Committee on S.1780 can be found at: /freespeech/gen/30589leg20070718.html

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