From Media Coalition comes this story about a new Alaskan law that:
bans constitutionally protected speech on the Internet if that speech can be deemed “harmful to minors.” The law, signed by Governor Parnell in May and effective July 1, exposes anyone who manages a webpage or operates a listserv to criminal prosecution for posts containing nudity or sexually related material, in effect banning from the Internet anything that may be harmful to minors – including material adults have a First Amendment right to view. In addition, a bookseller, video retailer, or librarian can be prosecuted if he or she unknowingly sells or loans to a minor a book, video, or magazine that features nudity or sexual content – whether online or in a brick and mortar store. Violators of the law’s provisions can be sentenced to up to two years in prison, must register as sex offenders, and could be forced to forfeit their business.
This is insane. At its worst, the law essentially bans the posting or managing of anything that can be considered sexual in nature on a website and listserv. Additionally, let’s say you are a librarian or bookseller. And let’s say that you loan or sell a book to a minor. The book in question includes a passage that contains nudity or sexual content. You, the librarian and bookseller, must register as sex offenders, forfeit your business, and go to prison for up to two years.
Is that not insane?
For one, you’re not going to stop minors from reading what they want. Whether it be in print or online, the kids should be able to read what they choose. And if the parents of those children have a problem with that, it’s up to them to set the proper boundaries as they see fit. Secondly, what may be deemed harmful for some, may not be for others. It’s not a universal rule. Some kids mature quicker than others. All children develop differently and are born with unique personalities and capacities. Thirdly, and somewhat similar to the second point, one definition of harmful is wholly different than the other.
As an example, think about the difference of the term “harmful” as it exists within a family of Mormons and as it exists within a family of atheists. There would certainly be some similarities between the two, but as it pertains to, let’s say, sexual conduct, the word has two meanings, two contexts and perspectives.
I’m with the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska, Association of American Publishers, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Entertainment Merchants Association, Freedom to Read Foundation, and the Alaska Library Association on this.
This law should not exist.