In Supreme Court Argument this Wednesday, ACLU to Once Again Battle Internet Censorship Law

November 26, 2001 12:00 am

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NEW YORK–In oral arguments this week, the American Civil Liberties Union will return to the United States Supreme Court to urge the Justices to once again reject a law criminalizing constitutionally protected speech on the Internet.

“The constitutional flaws in this law are identical to the flaws that led the Supreme Court to strike down similar legislation four years ago,” said ACLU attorney Ann Beeson, who will be arguing before the Justices. “Once again, the law suppresses a wide range of socially valuable speech that adults have a right to communicate.”

In 1997, the Justices unanimously ruled in Reno v. ACLU that the Communications Decency Act was an unconstitutional restriction on free speech. Congress responded to that ruling by adopting the “Child Online Protection Act” in 1998.

In Ashcroft v. ACLU, (No. 00-1293) the case to be heard this Wednesday, November 28, the ACLU argues that the online protection act targets a wide range of speech on the Internet that is valuable for adults but may be considered “harmful to minors” by some communities, with penalties of up to $150,000 for each day of violation and up to six months in prison. The ACLU noted that Congress passed the law despite serious constitutional concerns raised by the Justice Department and by a special Congressional commission.

Dr. Mitch Tepper, an ACLU client who plans to attend Wednesday’s argument, said he fears that some communities will be offended by material on his website, which provides sex information for the disabled including articles such as “Sex Toys and Where to Purchase Them,” and “Hands-Free Whoopie.”

“While a government attorney in Washington might say my website is not ‘harmful to minors,’ a prosecutor in some other community may think differently, and as a result I could wind up in jail and bankrupt from huge fines,” Dr. Tepper said.

The ACLU’s 17 clients include writers of sexual advice columns;; OB/;; and websites for bookstores, art galleries, and the Philadelphia Gay News.

A complete history of Ashcroft v. ACLU, including court papers and a list of ACLU clients and the material they fear will be censored, is available here.

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