Taxpayer-Funded Libraries Must Shield Children from Internet Porn

July 7, 2008 - 8:04 PM

Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that the federal government could require libraries accepting taxpayer money to protect children from Internet pornography. Opponents had charged that the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) was a violation of the First Amendment protection of free speech, but the court rejected that argument in a 6-3 decision.

"This decision is a victory for kids, for librarians, libraries and taxpayers," said Jan LaRue, chief counsel at Concerned Women for America. "It means there will be no federally funded smut for porn surfers in America's public libraries."

LaRue, an attorney and a recognized expert on obscenity laws, co-authored one of the many amicus briefs in support of the law.

CIPA requires public schools from kindergarten through 12th grade, and public libraries that accept certain federal subsidies for Internet access, to use filtering technology on any computer with Internet access. The stated intent of the law is to prevent access by any computer user to visual depictions that are legally obscene or include child pornography, and to block material deemed harmful to minors when a minor is using a computer.

The American Library Association (ALA) had fought the filtering attempt, along with numerous liberal special interest groups including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); Planetout.com, a website promoting homosexual activity; Planned Parenthood, which promotes abortion and birth control - services it provides to minors - on its website; and the People for the American Way (PFAW) Foundation.

"This ruling narrows the protection of free speech on the internet [sic] and in America's libraries," said Ralph Neas, president of the PFAW Foundation.

The liberal lobbying group served as co-counsel in the failed suit to bring down the law.

"Filtering technology is an important tool available to parents and families," Neas continued, "but it is not a tool intended to be used by the government to mandate decisions about what is available in a public library.

ALA opposed the legislation in its brief to the Supreme Court.

"CIPA induces public libraries to violate the First Amendment when they offer free Internet access to patrons," ALA argued. "The statute requires libraries to install blocking programs that inevitably censor a substantial amount of protected speech for adults and minors."

Ruling has limited scope

The court sided with pro-family advocates, including LaRue, who called the ALA's argument "inane."

"It's not a violation of the First Amendment because it does not remove any constitutionally protected material from public access," she explained. "The material that's blocked, it's illegal material; obscenity, child pornography and material harmful to minors."

The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) represented its own members and nine members of Congress in an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in support of the law. ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow said the decision "makes clear that there is not a First Amendment exemption to Internet pornography aimed at children.

"It is now clear that public libraries must actively protect the well-being of children, including the type of materials available to them via the Internet," Sekulow said. "This is a landmark case that will ultimately help pave the way for a clearer understanding on how to set parameters for a deepening problem - pornography aimed at children on the Internet."

Representatives Robert B. Aderholt (R-Ala.), Todd Akin (R-Mo.), Michael Collins (R-Ga.), Jo Ann S. Davis (R-Va.), Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), Ernest Istook, Jr. (R-Okla.), Jim Ryun (R-Kan.), John M. Shimkus (R-Ill.) and John Sullivan (R-Okla.) supported the law and were represented by the ACLJ.

Filters can be turned off for adults seeking legal material

The law has specific provisions, LaRue added, to ensure that adults can access material that, although it may be legal, is still unsuitable for children.

"If a filter wrongly blocks a website that has constitutionally protected material, a librarian is able to unblock it upon request," she explained. "If a public library patron, an adult, is doing legitimate, bona fide research, that person can request the librarian to disable the filter entirely."

Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council (FRC), said he understands the need to tweak the filtering process at the local level.

"No filtering software is going to work 100 percent of the time," he acknowledged. "On the other hand, it may take a lifetime to undo the damage suffered by a child exposed to an obscene image."

The "bona fide research" requirement is necessary, LaRue explained, because pedophiles have attempted to use Internet access at public libraries as a tool to seduce unsuspecting children.

"Across America, public libraries that provide unfiltered Internet access and rely on acceptable use policies are reporting numerous incidents of patrons, including children, accessing hard-core and child pornography, adults exposing children to pornography and patrons engaging in indecent exposure and sexual assaults," she noted, "resulting in a hostile work environment."

Prosecutors routinely present evidence of pedophiles showing child pornography to their intended victims in order to convince the underage victim that sex between adults and children is acceptable.

"Most child molesters use porn to fuel their desires before acting out on children," LaRue, who has assisted with numerous obscenity prosecutions, said during a recent interview.

Even though only 28.6 percent of public libraries responded, a recent report by the FRC found more than 2,000 incidents of public library patrons accessing hard-core and child pornography on freely accessible Internet terminals. Many of those accessing the material were children who found pornographic images left on-screen or links to pornographic websites book-marked in browsers by adult users.

Some public libraries may choose not to filter Internet access

LaRue also noted that the court's decision does not require all public libraries to filter Internet access, as Neas earlier claimed, only those that want to accept taxpayer funding to pay for that access.

"This affects only public libraries that accept federal subsidies for Internet access through either the 'E-rate' program or the Library Services Technology Act," she explained. "If libraries don't want to filter, they don't have to take the funds."

Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote the majority opinion, joined by Justices O'Connor, Scalia and Thomas. Justices Kennedy and Breyer filed separate opinions concurring with the judgment. Justice Stevens filed his own individual dissenting opinion, as did Justice Souter, who was joined by Justice Ginsburg.

E-mail a news tip to Jeff Johnson.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.

Read Syllabus From United States et al. v. American Library Association, Inc.