On Tuesday, June 29, the Supreme Court ruled on an issue that has been a concern for parents and Christian web surfer for years – restrictions on pornography sites on the internet. In a tight 5-to-4 vote, the justices ruled that the Child Online Protection Act issued to protect children against sexually explicit material on the internet violated free speech.
The Child Online Protection Act, which was originally issued in 1999 by the district court, calls for penalties of up to $50,000 a day on commercial Internet sites that makes pornography available to those under the age of 17 but it has never taken effect.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, suggested that internet filters would probably work better than the law’s penalties in curbing children’s access to explicit material on the internet and that this must be proven otherwise in order for the act to take effect.
Justice Kennedy favored filters because they are less restrictive and that “they may well be more effective” because they can block pornography sites from other countries while the act applies only to sites in the US.
Disagreeing with this opinion, Justic Antonin Scalia said that because the law’s target, commercial pornography, “could consistent with the First Amendment, be banned entirely,” the lesser restrictions imposed by the law “raise no constitutional concern.”
The three other dissenters including Chief Justice William Rehnquist, said that the law should be interpreted to apply only to a narrow category of obscene material and should be upheld on that basis.
Properly interpreted, Breyer said, the law "imposes a burden on protected speech that is no more than modest," reaching only "borderline cases" beyond speech that is obscene and that therefore lacks legal protection.
The court decided that the law may be upheld in the future. “This opinion doe not hold that Congress is incapable of enacting any regulation of the Internet designed to prevent minors from gaining access to harmful materials,” said Kennedy. The decision, he said, “does not foreclose the district court from concluding, upon a proper showing by the government that meets the government’s constitutional burden as defined in this opinion,” that the law “is the least restrictive alternative available to accomplish Congress’s goal.”
Spokesman for the Justice Department Mark Corallo expressed the Bush administration’s disapproval with the ruling.
"Congress has repeatedly attempted to address this serious need, and the court yet again opposed these commonsense measures to protect America's children," he said.