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Saturday, April 13, 2024 | Back issues
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Judge Blocks New Mass. ‘Harmful to Minors’ Law

(CN) - A new Massachusetts law barring sexually explicit material from being shared via text message and the Internet is "overly broad" and infringes free speech, a federal judge ruled Wednesday in a victory for free-speech advocates.

The Association of American Publishers, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and others challenged the new law in July, claiming it violates adults' free-speech rights to sexually explicit material.

"The gravamen of plaintiffs' complaint is that individuals and institutions disseminating 'sexually frank' information on a generally accessible website cannot, as a practical matter, discern the ages of those who choose to access the information," Judge Zobel wrote.

The law is aimed at protecting children from sexual predators who use electronic communication, including instant messaging and text messaging, to engage minors.

The law effectively banned from the Internet anything that may be considered "harmful to minors," including material adults have a right to view. It also closed a loophole that led the state's highest court to overturn a man's conviction for sending sexually explicit instant messages to someone he believed was a 13-year-old girl.

U.S. District Judge Rya Zobel in Boston ruled that the law, as written, is too broad and interferes with the free-speech rights of adults.

She block the state from enforcing the new law, saying the plaintiffs "have demonstrated, without question, that the 2010 amendments ... violate the First Amendment."

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