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High court to review online porn decision


WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether Congress can require public libraries to install filters on their computers to block pornography.

The justices will review a decision by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals that struck down a portion of the Children’s Internet Protection Act. A three-judge panel ruled unanimously in May the law violated the U.S. Constitution by mandating public libraries that receive government Internet discounts maintain blocking software. The decision did not overturn the law’s application to libraries in public schools.

The high court may hear oral arguments early next year and issue an opinion by summer. The case is United States v. American Library Association.

The Children’s Internet Protection Act, which was approved in late 2000, required libraries to install technology to screen out obscenity and child pornography on all computers and to block soft-core porn and other harmful material on those used by children.

The Third Circuit panel said in its opinion, however, the leading filters block thousands of pages of constitutionally protected speech.

At the time, Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said of the ruling, “Once again, adults in the form of these federal judges have shown that they are more concerned about upholding the privileges and so-called rights of adults than they are in protecting the safety and welfare of our nation’s children. This is one more example of what an excessively anti-child culture we have become.”

The ACLU and American Library Association led the challenge of CIPA.

A Family Research Council study in 2000 found more than 2,000 reports of patrons, many of them children, gaining access to obscenity and child pornography in public libraries. That was based on research done in which only 29 percent of libraries complied with Freedom of Information Act requests.

The FRC study also found reports of adults exposing children to online pornography, adults and minors masturbating at computer terminals and attempts by adults at molestation.

The Third Circuit decision continued a pattern in which federal courts have struck down congressional attempts to protect children from online porn.

The Supreme Court invalidated a 1996 measure, the Communications Decency Act, which barred online computer distribution of obscene and indecent material to children less than 18 years of age.

In April of this year, the high court invalidated portions of the Child Pornography Prevention Act, a 1996 federal law that expanded a ban on child porn to include images that appear to be of children under 18 engaged in sexually explicit conduct.

Less than a month later, the justices returned to the Third Circuit for reconsideration a case involving the Child Online Protection Act, a 1998 federal measure that bans commercial websites from making sexually explicit material available to minors.

The Supreme Court’s announcement it would review U.S. v. ALA was issued Nov. 12.
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