Issue 78, Summer 2000

The Supreme Court struck down a federal law which made cable TV systems completely scramble their signals or restrict sexually-oriented programs to late-night hours to protect minors from exposure through “signal bleed” (U.S. v. Playboy). The 5-4 ruling applies a “strict scrutiny” standard which requires the government to meet the highest level of proof to justify restrictions on protected expression. The standard was not met because the government failed to prove that a “less restrictive alternative,” blocking devices for consumers, could not solve the problem of unwanted exposure to “signal bleed.”

NCAC filed an amicus brief on behalf of 16 sexuality scholars, researchers, educators and therapists, addressing the question of harm to minors from exposure to sexually explicit material. To read the brief, written by board member Marjorie Heins, assisted by Joan Bertin and Leonore Tiefer, Ph.D., board member and human sexuality expert, click here.

The Court rejected the effort to restrict the First Amendment rights of adults in the name of child protection: “even where speech is indecent and enters the home, the objective of shielding children does not suffice to support a blanket ban if the protection of children can be accomplished by a less restrictive alternative.” The opinion also provides an eloquent reminder of the meaning of the First Amendment: “It is through speech that our convictions and beliefs are influenced, expressed, and tested ….It is through speech that our personalities are formed and expressed ….The Constitution exists precisely so that opinions and judgments, including esthetic and moral judgment about art and literature, can be formed, tested, and expressed. What the Constitution says is that these judgments are for the individual to make, not for the government to decree.”