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Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof or abridging the freedom of speech, or
of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition
the Government for a redress of grievances.(Wallace: 3)
A statement from a document that a group of individuals put together to ensure
their own ideas and beliefs would never change. The group of people was the
forefathers of the United States of America and that document: The United
States Constitution. That phrase was put into the Constitution because our
forefathers wanted to protect their freedom of speech. Something they
cherished and something that in days previous was squashed by ruling government.
Today our freedom of speech is in danger again.
The Government is now trying to censor what ideas go onto something we know as
the Information Superhighway. The Internet is now supposed to be regulated so
that it will be "safe" for everyone to enter. The Government passed a law known
as the Telecommunications Act of 1996. In the TA there is a part called the
Communications Decency Act or CDA. This part of the bill arose because of the
recent surge of pornography on the Infobahn. The CDA criminalizes indecent
speech on the Internet(Wallace: 1). The CDA describes indecent speech as
anything "depicting or describing sexual or excretory acts or organs in
patently offensive fashion under contemporary community standards."
First take the word "indecent". This word is used because of its vague
definition. Not only does this word ban sexually explicit materials, it also
bans sexually explicit words too. If this were applied to the real world some
of the greatest novels would be taken off the shelf. For example there is the
great lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness by Radcliffe Hall. In that book
there is a line t hat states "And that night, they were not divided." Clearly
that would be a sexually explicit phrase(Wallace: 2).
Now the words "depicting or describing". The word "describing" translates into
anything with pure explicit text. That would include any book converted and
placed on the Internet with outspoken words or phrases. This goes against the
first amendment. Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer and James Joyce's Ulysses
would not be able to possibly be posted online(Wallace: 2).
"Sexual or excretory acts or functions": This would relieve anything from
sleazy bestsellers to 19th century classics, such as Zola's LaTerre and
Flouber's Madam Bovary, to nonfiction books on disease, rape, health, and
sexual intercourse from our shelves. This phrase is again
Another phrase in there is "Patently Offensive". This is very subjective. These
words mean that a jury can decide on what is offensive and what is not
(Wallace: 2). If there is a very conservative jury you get a very conservative
verdict, but in the same respect if you get a very liberal jury you get a
liberal verdict. Would that be considered a fair trial?
And last "Contemporary community standards". There is an easy example to
understand under these words. In 1994 two California sysops [system operators]
were found guilty of putting offensive material on their BBS [Bulletin Board
System]. Their BBS was accessible by people all over the world as long as
whoever wanted the information called the California number they had setup.
Someone one day out of Memphis, Tennessee called the number and found
something disturbing to themselves. The two sysops were convicted because of
the community standards in Tennessee not the ones in California(Wallace: 3).
There is no reason to treat the electronic and written word different
especially because of the big conversion(Wallace: 3). More and more often
people are looking to the Internet to do reports and research. It is one of
the biggest resources in the world today. If the TA bill stays in effect many
of the books listed will not be downloadable. Mark Managan co-author of the
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