By Peter J. Smith

  PHILADELPHIA, March 22, 2007 ( - A US district court judge stuck down a 1998 law passed by Congress against Internet pornography that made it a crime for commercial website operators to let children under 18 view pornographic materials.

  Senior U.S. District Judge Lowell Reed Jr., who presided over the four-week trial last fall, ruled in favor of the American Civil Liberties Union that the 1998 Child Online Protection Act (COPA) violated a constitutional right to free speech.

  The judge ruled that while the law intends to protect children from commercial pornography, parents can protect their children through software filters and other less restrictive means that do not impinge upon the rights of others to unrestricted access to pornography.

"Perhaps we do the minors of this country harm if First Amendment protections, which they will with age inherit fully, are chipped away in the name of their protection," wrote Reed in his 84-page long decision.

  However, Justice Department attorneys argued the government has a duty to help parents protect their children from viewing online pornography.

"It is not reasonable for the government to expect all parents to shoulder the burden to cut off every possible source of adult content for their children, rather than the government’s addressing the problem at its source," Peter D. Keisler argued in a post-trial brief.

  COPA would have criminalized US-based websites that allow children to access material deemed "harmful to minors" according to "contemporary community standards." The law required pornographic sites to require a credit card number or other proof of age, and remove "teaser" pornographic images from their access pages.

  Penalties included a $50,000 fine and up to six months in prison, however the ACLU representing a cadre of "sexual health" sites,,, the Philadelphia Gay News, and others objected that more than just pornographers would be subject to the restrictions of COPA.

"This law was carefully crafted to address hardcore pornography and raise a wall of protection between children and these hardcore pornographers who seek to exploit them by exposing them to this obscene material," Matt Barber, Policy Director for Cultural Issues for Concerned Women for America (CWA) told

  Barber noted while the McCain-Feingold campaign finance laws have an "overt chilling effect on free speech, here for some reason hard core pornography gets this additional layer of protection which other forms of free speech are not entitled too. It stands logic and reason on its head."

"Parents can’t be everywhere at once, we need additional layers of protection. COPA is a very basic, non-restrictive, and common-sense way to protect these children from hard-core pornographers."

  The 1998 law has never been enforced since President Clinton signed it due to its court challenges. It followed Congress’ unsuccessful 1996 effort to ban online pornography, which the Supreme Court struck down in 1997 as unconstitutionally vague and trampling on adults’ rights.

  The government is expected to appeal the ruling, and the case may return eventually to the Supreme Court.

  To contact respectfully the US District Court of Eastern Pennsylvania:

  United States District Court
  Eastern District of Pennsylvania
  Office of the Clerk of Court
  U.S. Courthouse
  601 Market Street, Room 2609
  Philadelphia, PA 19106-1797
  Phone: (215) 597-7704
  Fax: (215) 597-6390


  To write a letter to the Governor send to:
  Governor Edward G. Rendell’s Office
  225 Main Capitol Building
  Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 17120
  To telephone the Governor call:
  (717) 787-2500.
  A copy of Judge Reed’s ruling can be found here:

  U.S. Supreme Court Rules 5-4 against Protecting Children from Internet Porn