Federal Judge Strikes Down Va Internet Law; PFAW Foundation Hails First Amendment Victory

A federal judge has invalidated a Virginia law aimed at curbing speech on the Internet, a ruling hailed as a First Amendment victory by People For the American Way Foundation.

"This ruling is one more confirmation that the First Amendment applies to cyberspace just as it does paper and ink," said PFAWF President Ralph G. Neas.

On Friday, Oct. 12, U.S. District Judge James H. Michael, Jr. ruled that the 1999 state law making it a crime for Web site operators to knowingly allow minors access to sexually explicit material on their sites violates the First Amendment. Although Michael acknowledged the state's interest in protecting minors from becoming exposed to "sexually explicit materials," he concluded that the Virginia law was too broad and would infringe on the free speech rights of adults.

People For the American Way Foundation, which is serving both as co-counsel and plaintiff in PSINet v. Chapman, has argued that the Virginia law would end up depriving minors and adults of a broad range of information relating to health, literature, human sexuality, and the arts. Similar laws in New York, New Mexico, and Michigan have also been found by judges to run afoul of the Constitution. Also, two similar federal laws have been blocked on constitutional grounds. PFAW Foundation has consistently argued against restrictive state and federal laws on Internet speech. To read about the Foundation's efforts visit the Constitutional Liberties issues section.

"The Government should not be in the business of muzzling certain types of speech or requiring the use of Internet filters," Neas said. "There are many ways that parents can protect their children from certain speech on the Internet - these are decisions that should be made by parents and families, not the government."

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