On Thursday, September 20, 2001, the National Coalition Against Censorship and five other organizations filed an amici curae brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Ashcroft v. American Civil Liberties Union.
Ashcroft v. ACLU is a challenge to the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) passed by Congress in 1998. Struck down by lower courts, COPA criminalizes any communication "for commercial purposes" by means of the World Wide Web if it is "available to any minor" and "includes any material that is harmful to minors". "Harmful to minors" is defined in broad and vague terms including what is "patently offensive" in any particular community, what is deemed to appeal to minors’ "prurient interest," and what lacks "serious value" for minors ranging in age from one year to just under 17 years-old.
In their brief, the NCAC, The Society for Scientific Study of Sexuality (SSSS), the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, the Sexual Health Network (TSHN), the American Board of Sexology and the First Amendment Project argue that there is no body of scientific evidence establishing that minors are harmed by reading or viewing sexual material and that COPA is not justified by the government’s assertion that pornography lacks a "normal sexual perspective."
The groups also argue that COPA should be declared unconstitutional on vagueness grounds because it provides no guidelines for publishers to know what words or images run afoul of the law.
"It’s significant that sexuality scholars’ organizations are coming forward to inject real expertise into the highly political debate about whether minors are harmed by exposure to words and ideas," said Marjorie Heins, director of the NCAC’s Free Expression Policy Project and author of the brief. "There are far better ways than censorship to educate our kids about good sexual values."