Monday January 8 11:39 AM ET
Supreme Court Lets Stand Computer Anti-Porn Law

By James Vicini

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court rejected on Monday a free-speech challenge by six university professors to a Virginia law that bars public employees from using state computers to access sexually explicit material on the Internet.

The professors argued the law violated the constitutional First Amendment-based academic freedom rights of university scholars and the rights of other public employees engaged in legitimate, work-related, intellectual inquiry.

The law, adopted in 1996, barred about 101,000 state employees, including faculty members, librarians and other researchers at state institutions, from using their state computers to access sites with sexually explicit content.

Sexually explicit is defined as any depiction or description of ``sexual excitement,'' ``sexual conduct,'' or ``a lewd exhibition of nudity.''

Professors or other state employees must get written permission from their agency heads before accessing sexually explicit material.

A federal judge ruled the law unconstitutionally infringed on the First Amendment rights of state employees.

But a U.S. appeals court disagreed, ruling by an 8-4 vote that banning access to the material on computers owned or leased by the state was consistent with the First Amendment.

The Supreme Court, without any comment or dissent, declined to review that decision.

In appealing to the Supreme Court on behalf of the professors, lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) argued state-employed scholars had a First Amendment-based right of academic freedom for job-related research and writing.

Suit Said Law Already Had Impact On Professors

As part of the claims in the lawsuit, the six professors said the law had already had an impact on their work.

Melvin Urofsky of Virginia Commonwealth University said he had been unable to assign students online research assignments about federal indecency law.

Terry Meyers, who chairs the English Department at the College of William and Mary, said the law prohibited him from researching sexually explicit themes in the work of Algernon Charles Swinburne and other poets.

Another professor said the law inhibited her scholarly research on gay and lesbian studies, while a psychology professor said the law banned online research on sexually explicit subjects in psychological literature.

The ACLU lawyers accused the appeals court of engaging in ''an unprecedented assault on the free-speech rights of public employees.''

The American Association of University Professors, representing 43,000 faculty members, and the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, a nonpartisan group in Charlottesville, Virginia, supported the appeal.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Earley defended the law.

He said state employees did not have a First Amendment right to disregard the law and decide for themselves whether sexually explicit material was required for their professional, employment-related research and writing needs.


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