Federal Court Strikes Down Loudoun County Internet Restrictions

Historic decision applies First Amendment principles to Internet

A federal court today struck down a Loudoun County, Virginia, Library Board Internet policy that violated adults' First Amendment rights by requiring filtering software on all public library computers.

The landmark decision by U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema in Alexandria comes as communities all across the nation - from Boston, Mass. to Austin, Texas - are struggling to write Internet policies that conform with the First Amendment.

"This is the first decision in the nation that fully applies First Amendment principles to the Internet in public libraries," said Elliot Mincberg, legal director for People For the American Way Foundation. "The court agreed with us that a public library may not reduce adults to the electronic equivalent of the children's reading room."

In October 1997, the Loudoun County Library Board adopted a policy requiring filtering software in all library computers at all times for adults and minors. The library subsequently contracted with Log-On Data Corp, which manufactures filtering software known as X-Stop. X-Stop has been found to block access to numerous sites containing mainstream, valuable, constitutionally protected information - ranging from the Quakers' web page to information on sexuality education to even a site dealing with Beanie Babies.

People For the American Way Foundation and the Washington, D.C. law firm of Hogan and Hartson L.L.P. late last year challenged the policy in federal court, suing on behalf of Mainstream Loudoun, a group of Loudoun County parents who oppose censorship. Later, the American Civil Liberties Union intervened in the lawsuit.

People For the American Way Foundation and Hogan and Hartson L.L.P. argued that the Loudoun County Library Board's policy so blatantly violated the First Amendment that it should be struck down without a trial. Today U.S. District Judge Brinkema agreed.

PFAWF President Carole Shields noted that Mainstream Loudoun had proposed a less restrictive Internet policy that would have let parents decide whether their children's Internet access should be filtered. The Loudoun County Library Board rejected the proposal in favor of the more Draconian policy overturned today by the Court.

"The Court has given public library patrons a green light when they travel down the Information Superhighway," Shields said. "Meanwhile, it remains up to us, as parents, to decide how our children should access the Internet."

Judge Brinkema's Opinion (November 23, 1998)
Background on the case
Motion for Summary Judgment
A federal court today struck down a Loudoun County, Virginia, Library Board Internet policy that violated adults' First Amendment rights by requiring filtering software on all public library computers.
The landmark decision by U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema in Alexandria comes as communities all across the nation - from Boston, Mass. to Austin, Texas - are struggling to write Internet policies that conform with the First Amendment.

"This is the first decision in the nation that fully applies First Amendment principles to the Internet in public libraries," said Elliot Mincberg, legal director for People For the American Way Foundation. "The court agreed with us that a public library may not reduce adults to the electronic equivalent of the children's reading room."

In October 1997, the Loudoun County Library Board adopted a policy requiring filtering software in all library computers at all times for adults and minors. The library subsequently contracted with Log-On Data Corp, which manufactures filtering software known as X-Stop. X-Stop has been found to block access to numerous sites containing mainstream, valuable, constitutionally protected information - ranging from the Quakers' web page to information on sexuality education to even a site dealing with Beanie Babies.

People For the American Way Foundation and the Washington, D.C. law firm of Hogan and Hartson L.L.P. late last year challenged the policy in federal court, suing on behalf of Mainstream Loudoun, a group of Loudoun County parents who oppose censorship. Later, the American Civil Liberties Union intervened in the lawsuit.

People For the American Way Foundation and Hogan and Hartson L.L.P. argued that the Loudoun County Library Board's policy so blatantly violated the First Amendment that it should be struck down without a trial. Today U.S. District Judge Brinkema agreed.

PFAWF President Carole Shields noted that Mainstream Loudoun had proposed a less restrictive Internet policy that would have let parents decide whether their children's Internet access should be filtered. The Loudoun County Library Board rejected the proposal in favor of the more Draconian policy overturned today by the Court.

"The Court has given public library patrons a green light when they travel down the Information Superhighway," Shields said. "Meanwhile, it remains up to us, as parents, to decide how our children should access the Internet."

Judge Brinkema's Opinion (November 23, 1998)
Background on the case
Motion for Summary Judgment

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