ACLU in Court Today for First Hearing on Challenge to Internet Censorship in Public Libraries

July 23, 2001 12:00 am

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PHILADELPHIA–A federal court here will hear arguments for the first time today on the constitutionality of a law that forces libraries to censor constitutionally protected speech online.

At issue is the Children’s Internet Protection Act, a federal law that ties crucial library funding to the mandated use of blocking software on Internet terminals used by both adults and minors in public libraries.

Chris Hansen, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a challenge to the law on March 20, will present arguments against the government’s opening salvo, a motion to dismiss the case on the basis that the challengers have no valid First Amendment claim.

Under the law, passed by Congress in December 2000, a three-judge panel appointed by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia will hear the case; any appeal of the panel’s decision will go straight to the Supreme Court, which is required to hear challenges to this law. The three-judge panel consists of Chief Judge Edward Becker of the Third Circuit, and Judges John Fullam and Harvey Bartle III of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

The ACLU’s clients include public libraries from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine; a 15-year-old girl and her aunt, both of Philadelphia, who do not have Internet access at home; two candidates for Congress whose websites were blocked;, a leading website for gay lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons; and Planned Parenthood Federation of America, whose website provides reproductive healthcare information.

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