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Federal Court Uphold VA Internet Porn Ban

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a Virginia state law that bans state employees from using state-owned computers to access pornographic materials on the Internet.

Six professors from publicly-funded colleges had challenged the law, charging that it violated their First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Judges rejected their claims, arguing that the professors were wrong to access the material without consent from supervisors and that their First Amendment rights apply to their roles as citizens speaking about a “matter of public concern” and not to their work as state employees. Judge William Wilkins wrote in the judges’ opinion, “The Commonwealth [of Virginia] must retain its ability to control the manner in which its employees discharge their duties.”

ACLU attorney Ann Beeson served as counsel for the professors. Beeson criticized the decision as “totally outrageous” and said “It should go without saying that what our professors say is a matter of public concern.”

Virginia Attorney General Mark L. Earley disagreed, saying, “Taxpayers in Virginia should not be forced to pay for state employees to use state computers on state time to download pornography.” Regarding a professor’s right to free speech, Early commented, “All the professor would have to do is get permission to download the materials, so it’s not going to be a problem.”

Beeson said that the professors are considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sources:

Washington Post - February 11, 1999

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