BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A state law that would ban sales of violent video games to minors violates free speech rights and cannot be enforced, a judge ruled.
U.S. District Judge James Brady said the state had no right to bar distribution of materials simply because they show violent behavior. Brady issued an injunction, calling the law an "invasion of First Amendment rights" of producers, retailers and the minors who play the games.
"Depictions of violence are entitled to full constitutional protection," Brady wrote Thursday.
Louisiana is the latest in a string of states, including Minnesota, Illinois, California and Michigan, to have had similar bans blocked in the courts. A federal judge in Illinois this month ordered the state to pay more than $510,000 to three business groups — including the Entertainment Software Association, a plaintiff in the Louisiana case — for legal fees incurred in fighting a similar state law.
The association's president criticized Gov. Kathleen Blanco and state lawmakers for approving the law while struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina.
"In the post-Katrina era, voters should be outraged that the Legislature and governor wasted their tax dollars on this ill-fated attack on video games," Douglas Lowenstein said in a statement.
Gov. Kathleen Blanco said in a statement late Friday she believes violent video games harm children.
"I'm calling on all parents to diligently monitor the video games that their children are allowed to play. If the courts can not protect our children, then we need to do it by rejecting the merchant of violence," the statement said.
The bill's sponsor, Democratic Rep. Roy Burrell, did not return a phone call.
Brady deflected the arguments by the state that video games should be treated differently from other forms of media because their interactive format can encourage violence.
"This argument has been rejected many times," Brady wrote, noting that other judges have ruled that movies and television also have interactive elements.
Brady also rejected the state's argument that video games depicting extreme violence can be "psychologically harmful" to minors.
"The state may not restrict video game expression merely because it dislikes the way that expression shapes an individual's thoughts and attitudes," he wrote.
Attorney General Charles Foti had not decided whether to appeal the ruling, a spokeswoman said.
The law sought to ban the sales of video games to minors if an "average person" would conclude that they appeal to a "morbid interest in violence." Sellers would face fines of up to $2,000, a year in prison or both for selling offending games.
The law also sought to ban sale of games to minors if the average person would conclude they depict violence that is "patently offensive" to an adult, and the games lack artistic, political or scientific value.
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