Issue 80, Winter 2000/2001

School vouchers. Many free speech advocates follow school voucher controversies, not just because of their church-state implications, but because of concern that government-funded education in religious settings may inhibit both secular and religious speech. In a recent decision in Ohio the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, 2 to 1, that the Cleveland school voucher program violates the First Amendment. The court upheld a lower court ruling that the program, providing parochial schools with public funds for educating thousands of children, violated the separation of church and state because benefits flowed principally to sectarian schools. The case may present an opportunity for Supreme Court review. In other recent developments, Michigan and California voters resoundingly rejected school voucher ballot initiatives.

Child pornography. In California, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled “unconstitutionally vague and overbroad” the provision of the Child Pornography Protection Act of 1996 (CPPA) that bans sexual depictions of anyone who “appears to be” younger than 18. The latest decision increases the likelihood that the issue may be resolved by the Supreme Court since the 1st, 4th, and 11th Circuits have upheld the statute.

Media violence. An Indianapolis city ordinance restricting minors’ access to video arcade games containing “graphic violence” has been put on hold by a three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit, to which the arcade industry appealed following denial of injunctive relief by a district court judge. Marjorie Heins, Director of the Free Expression Policy Project, filed a brief amici curiae on behalf of communications and media scholars. The scholars argue that social science studies have not established that violent entertainment causes harmful effects and that censorship focuses on the wrong solutions, damages speech that serves culturally important functions for some youths, and ignores the real causes of violence. For the full text, click here.

Other amicus briefs, submitted by members of the Media Coalition, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Interactive Digital Software Association, argue that depictions of violence are protected speech under the First Amendment and that any content-based regulation of such speech must pass strict constitutional scrutiny.