In an affirmation of core First Amendment principles, the Supreme Court voted 7-2 to strike down a California statute that restricted minors’ access to violent video games. Justice Scalia, writing for the majority, noted that video games are protected expression and are “‘as much entitled to the protection of free speech as the best of literature.'” In the Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association decision, the majority rejected carving out new categories of unprotected speech, either for video games, violent content, or for minors .
In 2010, NCAC joined the ACLU and the National Youth Rights Association to file a brief (click here for PDF) specifically to raise the issue of minors’ speech rights, and to counter the trend to “protect” young people by censoring information and materials that some find offensive, controversial, or harmful.
In a victory for free expression advocates everywhere, the Court recognized that government has the power to restrict children’s speech rights “‘only in relatively narrow and well-defined circumstances’… rather than free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed.”
The impulse to ‘protect’ children by restricting what they can read, see, and hear is pervasive, and the decision issued today makes it clear that vague assertions about harm, or social disapproval of certain kinds of material, do not justify government restrictions. That also applies to books in public schools and libraries, which are of course challenged regularly.
The Court also rejected the claim that “the state has the power to prevent children from hearing or saying anything without their parents’ prior consent.” The decision thus leaves it up to individual families to set their own rules, without officials saying “what the State thinks parents ought to” do.
Whether it’s video games, movie, comic books, or music, parents and youth have a legitimate interest in making choices about what is appropriate without unwanted and unwarranted state interference.