Federal Judge Strikes Down Law Protecting Children from Porn as Violating Free Speech

A US district court judge stuck down a 1998 law passed by Congress against Internet pornography that made it a crime for commercial website operators to let children under 18 view pornographic materials. Senior U.S. District Judge Lowell Reed Jr., who presided over the four-week trial last fall, ruled in favor of the American Civil Liberties Union that the 1998 Child Online Protection Act (COPA) violated a constitutional right to free speech. The judge ruled that while the law intends to protect children from commercial pornography, parents can protect their children through software filters and other less restrictive means that do not impinge upon the rights of others to unrestricted access to pornography. “Perhaps we do the minors of this country harm if First Amendment protections, which they will with age inherit fully, are chipped away in the name of their protection,” wrote Reed in his 84-page long decision. However, Justice Department attorneys argued the government has a duty to help parents protect their children from viewing online pornography. “It is not reasonable for the government to expect all parents to shoulder the burden to cut off every possible source of adult content for their children, rather than the government’s addressing the problem at its source,” Peter D. Keisler argued in a post-trial brief. COPA would have criminalized US-based websites that allow children to access material deemed “harmful to minors” according to “contemporary community standards.” The law required pornographic sites to require a credit card number or other proof of age, and remove “teaser” pornographic images from their access pages. Penalties included a $50,000 fine and up to six...