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Supporters hopeful justices will uphold library filters

WASHINGTON (BP)–Supporters of Internet filters in public libraries expressed hope the U.S. Supreme Court would uphold a law requiring such blocking software after oral arguments in the case March 5.

The justices heard arguments in a review of a ruling last year 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 federal law violated the U.S. Constitution by requiring public libraries that receive government Internet discounts to install filters on their computers to block pornography. The decision did not overturn the law’s application to libraries in public schools.

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 Court in Philadelphia said in its opinion, however, the leading filters block thousands of pages of constitutionally protected speech.

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

Jan LaRue, chief counsel of Concerned Women for America, said she left the oral arguments “feeling really good.”

Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, normally considered a liberal vote on the high court, asked the right questions and seemed skeptical of the American Library Association’s arguments, LaRue said.

“What was the great burden on speech?” Breyer asked ALA lawyer Paul Smith, LaRue said. A person has to go to the desk and ask the porn filter to be turned off, Smith replied, she said. Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor asked, “How is that any different than asking a librarian to find a book?,” LaRue said.

Although she acknowledged it is difficult to predict what the court will do, LaRue said, “All of the lawyers on our side felt that we were going to win.”

Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, said in a written release the “First Amendment is not under attack here.”

“Without question, public libraries have a compelling interest to protect the physical and psychological well-being of children — and that includes the type of material viewed by children in libraries,” Sekulow said. “The law is a reasonable and constitutional way to protect children from online pornography in public libraries.”

An opinion in the case, United States v. American Library Association, is expected by this summer.

A Family Research Council study in 2000 found more than 2,000 reports of patrons, many of them children, accessing 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.

At the time of the Third Circuit’s ruling against CIPA, Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said, “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 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.

Last April, 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 Web sites from making sexually explicit material available to minors.

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