Civil Liberties



Enough is enough, says Donna Rice Hughes, captured on film in presidential candidate Gary Hart's lap aboard the naughty ship Monkey Business. Back then Rice Hughes apparently had no problem with adultery, but she now draws the line at dirty pictures. As spokeswoman for the aptly named group Enough is Enough, she supports a bill introduced by Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) that aims to protect the youth of America from this peril.

Coats, you may recall, was a co-sponsor of the Communications Decency Act, which the Supreme Court unanimously overturned last June in Reno v. ACLU. He says the new legislation is "narrowly tailored to meet the concerns of the Court."

Unlike the CDA, which imposed a blanket ban on "indecent" communications that might be seen by minors, this bill prohibits "commercial distribution on the World Wide Web of material that is harmful to minors." Material is deemed harmful if, "taken as a whole and with respect to minors," it "appeals to a prurient interest in nudity, sex, or excretion"; it depicts or describes excretion, sexual activity, or "a lewd exhibition of the genitals" in "a patently offensive way with respect to what is suitable for minors"; and it "lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value."

A commercial Web site would be permitted to display such material only to someone who first supplied a credit card number or other proof of age. Violators would face a prison term of up to six months and fines of up to $50,000 a day.

As with the CDA, critics of the bill argue that it would have a chilling effect on speech, since Web site operators would have difficulty predicting which material might be targeted by prosecutors. The ACLU warns that the "harmful to minors" definition could cover online bookstores such as or promotional sites for Hollywood movies.

"This is the equivalent of having to pay a fee every time you want to browse in the bookstore or watch a trailer for an R-rated movie," said ACLU attorney Ann Beeson. In Reno v. ACLU, she added, the Supreme Court recognized that requiring proof of age "would impose a severe financial and logistical burden."

ACLU attorney Chris Hansen scoffed at the idea that Coats's new bill would pass muster with the Supreme Court. "Senator Coats is confident this is constitutional," he told the San Francisco Chronicle. "Then again, he thought the CDA was constitutional, too."