Communications Decency Act in court


The Supreme Court hears arguments regarding on-line speech





WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Supreme Court jumped into the middle of the debate over censorship in cyberspace this spring.

On March 19, the Court heard arguments regarding the constitutionality of the Communications Decency Act, the federal government’s effort to regulate content on the Internet.

The federal law, passed by Congress and signed by the President last year, would make it a crime punishable by a fine and imprisonment to disseminate “indecent” material on the Internet that is viewed or read by minors.

The definition of “indecent” used by the government would include everything from four-letter-words and frank discussions of topics such as sexual assault to pornographic material.

Legally obscene material is already prohibited under existing laws.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the American Library Association led a group of organizations and individuals in contesting the law.

Among those who joined the case are the Journalism Education Association, a national organization of high school journalism teachers and media advisers. The Student Press Law Center filed a brief urging the Court to strike down the law.

In July 1996, a federal court in Philadelphia ruled the law unconstitutionally vague. The government appealed that decision to the Supreme Court.

A decision from the Supreme Court is expected by mid-summer.


reports, Spring 1997