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Our opposition to the Communication Decency Amendment and similar laws

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The U.S. Congress has repeatedly passed legislation that effectively bans all indecent material from the Internet. President Clinton signed the first bill into law as the Communications Decency Amendment. An offender could receive fines of $250,000 and jail sentences of 2 years. It was part of a giant telecommunications bill. Although it was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. supreme court, a similar law, the Child On Line Protection Act (COPA)  was signed into law by President Clinton on 1998-OCT.

At first glance, it seems strange to be against "decency"; it is like being against motherhood or apple pie. But consider what the word "indecency" means. Webster's New World Dictionary defines "indecency" as meaning "not proper and fitting; unseemly; improper; morally offensive; obscene." We personally find some of the misinformation, hatred and propaganda spread by some Internet religious and counter-cult sites against minority religions (such as Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormon Church, Santeria, Unification Church, Wicca, Vodun etc) to be indecent. We view anti-homosexual, anti-Wiccan   hate sites to be morally offensive. Those sites probably regard portions of our site which describe all sides of many hot religious topics (like abortion, capital punishment, creation science etc) to be improper and unseemly as well. These types of sites could conceivably be closed down by this law, along with many others.

An image of a crucifix might be viewed by one person as a beautiful religious symbol; another person might see it as dangerous to children because it displays a nearly naked person being tortured to death. A Wiccan might view a pentacle (5 pointed star inside a circle) as their prime religions symbol; another individual might see it as a dangerous evil Satanic or gang-related symbol. Indecency and offensiveness is, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder.

The Internet is a wide-open facility. WWW sites can normally be accessed by anyone, regardless of their age. So, anyone who creates a site knows that some people under the age of 18 will probably eventually surf it. If it contains any material that anyone finds unseemly, indecent, improper, or offensive, then all sorts of groups could be charge, convicted and either imprisoned or fined:
bullet the writer of the "offensive" essay
bullet the group which operates the web site where the essay is found
bullet the Internet Service Provider (ISP) which stores the site in its computer and makes it accessible by the world
bullet the ISP at the subscriber's end which gives the subscriber access to the Internet

This means that no passionately held, controversial, belief system could be discussed on the Internet. It means that nothing that might upset a 5 year old person could be included in any web site.

We favor censorship at the parental level of their children's access to the Internet. There are many types of censorship software that are available and easily installed on a home computer. Parents have to be cautious because some software companies filter out material for the simple reason that it contains certain words; others ban access to cites of different religions for the simple reason that they are not Christian. It is important for parents to find out exactly what are the software provider's criteria for censorship.

You may wish to check with:
bullet The Electronic Frontier Foundation is at: http://www.eff.org. They are one of the 10 most-linked-to-sites on the Internet.
bullet Citizens Internet Empowerment Coalition (CIEC) is at: http://www.cdt.org/ciec/. They give you an opportunity to join their effort and to subscribe to their mailing list.
bullet Peacefire is a volunteer-based organization composed of young people (ages 13 - 20) working for freedom of speech on the Internet. See: http://www.10mb.com/peacefire/

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Essay last updated: 1999-JUL-18 
Author: B.A. Robinson

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