Last updated on: 10/5/2007 | Author:

Does Regulating Access to Pornographic Content on the Internet to Protect Minors Infringe on the First Amendment Rights of Adults?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)

The Center for Democracy and Technology provided the following summary of the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) on its website (accessed July 11, 2006):

“The Child Online Protection Act makes it a crime for anyone, by means of the World Wide Web, to make any communication for commercial purposes that is ‘harmful to minors’ unless the person has restricted access by minors by requiring a credit card number. COPA imposes criminal and civil penalties of up to $50,000 per day for violations.”

July 11, 2006 - Child Online Protection Act (COPA)

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) provided the following summary on Jan. 12, 2006 of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) on it web site:

“The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) is a federal law enacted by Congress in December 2000 to address concerns about access to offensive content over the Internet on school and library computers. CIPA imposes certain types of requirements on any school or library that receives funding support for Internet access or internal connections from the ‘E-rate’ program – a program that makes certain technology more affordable for eligible schools and libraries.”

May 19, 2005 - Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA)

PRO (yes)


The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Associate Legal Director, Ann Beeson, stated in a Oct. 14, 2003 Live Online discussion moderated by the Washington Post:

“In its attempt to deny minors access to certain speech on the Internet, [Child Online Protection Act] COPA criminalizes a wide range of speech that is unquestionably protected for adults…

I certainly agree that many parents believe that online porn is a threat, and deserve workable solutions. The ACLU has argued that there are more effective solutions than criminal laws like COPA, that include voluntary use of filtering programs in the home, and better education for parents and kids so that kids don’t inadvertently encounter inappropriate material online…

[O]nline there is no way to keep minors from viewing speech without denying access to most adults as well. That makes the web environment totally different than the convenience stores. It is precisely that distinction that led all nine justices of the Supreme Court to strike down Congress’ first attempt to criminalize ‘indecent’ speech online.”

Oct. 14, 2003


The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) stated in its May 22, 2001 press release titled “Supreme Court to Hear Child Online Protection Act Case,” that:

“The COPA legislation is overly broad… illegally attempts to force adults to give up privacy to exercise their right to read, places prior restraints on publication, and enforces a flawed ‘community standards’ approach that would allow the most conservative jurisdiction in the United States to set the ‘decency’ standards for all Web content nationally (indeed, globally).

‘Providing a safe environment for children online is a laudable goal, but COPA unnecessarily sacrifices constitutionally protected free speech for adults in a fatally flawed attempt to ‘protect’ children,’ commented Will Doherty, EFF Online Activist.

The Children’s Online Protection Act, also known as ‘CDA II,’ was part two of Congress’ ongoing attempts to ‘protect’ children while negating the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

May 22, 2001


The American Library Association (ALA) stated in its Jan. 18, 2001 press release titled “American Library Association Votes to Challenge CIPA,” that:

“The American Library Association (ALA)… contends the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) is unconstitutional and creates an infringement of First Amendment protections.

No filtering software successfully differentiates constitutionally protected speech from illegal speech on the Internet. Even the federal commission appointed to study child safety on the Internet concluded filters are not effective in blocking all content that some may find objectionable, but they do block much useful and constitutionally protected information.”

Jan. 18, 2001

CON (no)


Enough Is Enough’s President, Donna Rice Hughes, wrote in her June 3, 2001 article titled “Adults Only – Keeping Kids Away From Porn,” published in the San Francisco Chronicle, that:

“[COPA] was designed to protect children from [being exposed to] explicit material primarily by requiring the use of a credit card, adult PIN… or digital signature before a user can access free images on such sites.

So why all the censorship hoopla from the ACLU? The issue isn’t freedom of expression or, as opponents also claim, one of technical feasibility. It’s ideology…

Civil libertarians would rather parents use filtering technology to prevent their kids viewing online porn. While the use of filters is important, it does not address the need to place a measure of responsibility on the source of the problem – the commercial cyberporn industry… Interestingly, while the ACLU points to the accessibility of filtering as a reason to oppose the Child Online Protection Act, it opposes the implementation of filters as called for in the Children’s Internet Protection Act, which requires school and libraries to implement the technology. Ultimately, this case is not about principles of civil liberty, it’s about money.”

June 3, 2001


Focus on the Family’s Media and Sexuality Analyst, Daniel L. Weiss, wrote in his Aug. 3, 2004 article titled “Straining Gnats, Ignoring Camels,” published in CitizenLink, that:

“Straining gnats and swallowing camels is an apt depiction of… the Supreme Court’s recent rulings, including the… 5-4 decision to send the Child Online Protection Act back to trial after spending five years in legal limbo… The majority felt that… the perceived threat to material that enjoys no constitutional freedoms was more important than… malicious and manipulative commercial pornographers that relentlessly assault our children…

Even if the ACLU pretends to be confused, the Court wasn’t. COPA was clearly and narrowly written to apply only to commercial pornographers and only to material that the Court already considers without First Amendment protection…

[A] possible explanation for the court’s misunderstanding of the constitutionality of the material in question hinges on the myriad legal precedents that incorrectly equate images of ‘nympho cheerleaders’ and ‘triple penetration’ to speech worthy of protection.”

Aug. 3, 2004


The National Law Center for Children and Families’ General Counsel, Robert Showers, was quoted in a Dec. 2004 article titled “Supreme Court Rules Online Protection Act Unconstitutional,” published in the NLC Reporter, that:

“Parents have the right to be secure in the knowledge that their children will not be exposed to graphic pornographic imagery when they are surfing the internet. The Child Online Protection Act is a valuable tool for the government to hold pornographers accountable for their efforts to expose impressionable children to inappropriate material, and the Court should have deferred to the wisdom of the legislature on this issue.”

Dec. 2004