ACLU profs try to reverse state law banning computer access to explicit material
BLACKSBURG, Va. - There may be room for risque material on state computers.
Six Virginia professors have requested the revocation of a statute which prohibits state employees from accessing sexually explicit material on the Internet.
The professors believe the law not only violates First Amendment rights but also severely hinders their ability to do research.
"The First Amendment certainly applies to books in a library, so why shouldn't it apply to the Internet as well," said Terry Meyers, chair of the English department at the College of William & Mary. "Also, this isn't about access to pornography. This is about Renoir, Reuban and Michelangelo. These are forbidden and they are certainly relevant to our jobs."
U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema ruled the law unconstitutional after it was challenged in February 1998. However, the 4th District Federal Court of Appeals overturned Brinkema's decision, according to the Associated Press.
Meyers, and one of the professors opposing the statute, said the professors have joined forces with the American Civil Liberties Union and asked the federal appeals court to overturn its previous ruling that the law is constitutional.
The Associated Press said the law, passed in 1996 by the Virginia General Assembly, was intended to disallow state employees from wasting taxpayer money on inappropriate uses of the Internet. According to the law, a state worker may only access lascivious material online with the consent of their superiors.
However, the six professors argue such a law makes it illegal for them to do research dealing with issues such as art and poetry.
"I'm a professor of English Literature," Meyers said, "and one of my specialties is a poet named Charles Swinburne, whose poetry was sexually explicit. Technically, under this law, I have to get my dean's permission to read Swinburne."
At Tech, however, professors do not have to request permission from their department dean.
Meyers said this statute allows the government to control academic writing and research.
"Even when you have to ask permission from a dean," Meyers said, "there's always the chance that the answer will be no and research gets affected ? It's simply chilling to see a law that so blatantly violates the First Amendment."
However, Mark Early, attorney general of the commonwealth of Virginia, holds a different view of the issue.
"The taxpayers of Virginia should not be forced to pay for the use of state computers," he said in a statement, "on state time, by state employees for downloading pornography off the Internet."