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Supreme Court to review Internet pornography case

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed again to decide whether Congress has abridged free speech rights in its attempt to protect children from pornography on the Internet.

The court announced May 21 it would review a challenge to a 1998 federal law that bars commercial websites from making sexually explicit material available to minors. Under the Child Online Protection Act, websites are required to keep children from viewing pornography by collecting a credit card number or access code as proof of age.

Lower courts have sided with opponents of the law. A federal appeals court in Philadelphia ruled last year the measure’s reliance on “community standards” to determine what is harmful to children was overly broad, according to The Washington Post.

Representatives of anti-pornography organizations defended Congress’ attempt to protect children.

COPA “is a constitutionally sound protection to ensure that pornographers don’t commercially profit from making pornography available to children,” said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, in a written release. “The First Amendment protects free speech but was never intended to permit the sale or distribution of porn to children on the Internet or anywhere else.”

The case, Ashcroft v. ACLU, marks the second time the high court has considered a congressional effort to protect minors from material that is sexually explicit, though not legally obscene, on the Internet. Congress adopted COPA after the justices struck down part of a more expansive 1996 law, the Communications Decency Act, as a violation of the First Amendment’s free speech guarantee.

The case also marks the second review of a decision on children and online pornography to be conducted next term by the Supreme Court.

In January, the high court announced it would review a ruling by an appeals court in San Francisco that struck down a congressional measure criminalizing the transmission, reception or possession of an image that “appears to be of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct” or to describe such an image in a manner that “conveys the impression” that it shows an actual child. Three other appeals courts, however, have upheld the law.

Oral arguments in the case, Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, will be heard early next term, which begins in October.

Another case involving Congress’ attempts to protect children from Internet pornography is in the federal court system.

The American Library Association and the ACLU filed suit in March against a new federal law requiring public libraries that receive government Internet discounts to install filters on their computers to combat pornography. The suit in a federal court in Philadelphia alleges Congress was guilty of censorship in passing the Children’s Internet Protection Act. The law mandates libraries and public schools that receive a government subsidy for Internet access must install technology to screen out obscenity and child pornography on all computers and soft-core porn and other harmful material on those used by children.

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