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Issues - "Harm to Minors" and Censorship of Youth

Harvard Law Review Censors Link to Nan Goldin Photograph
(June 26, 2014) - And in a forum celebrating free expression, no less.

Book Banning, Obscenity, and "Harm to Minors"
(June 3, 2014) - The Fair Observer interviews Marjorie Heins.

FCC Proposes Easing Up on Censorship of "Indecency"
(April 12, 2013) - After years of controversy and litigation, the agency seems poised to abandon its rule on "fleeting expletives" and return to square one.

The Great Indecency Case Ends With a Whimper
(June 27, 2012) -Why did the Supreme Court decide not to decide whether the FCC's shifting, unpredictable, vague, and often discriminatory censorship regime violates the First Amendment?

FEPP's Latest Slide Show: A Short History of Minors & Censorship
(updated, June 28, 2012) - This powerpoint describes the current court battle over "fleeting expletives" on the airwaves, as well as background on the history of censorship aimed at protecting youth.

Justices Are Split on Broadcast "Indecency"
(January 11, 2012) - Only two justices at the January 10 Supreme Court argument expressed First Amendment concerns about the FCC's vague and shifting standards.

Court Strikes Down Penalty for "Nipplegate"
(November 2, 2011) - The decision represents one more judicial rejection of the FCC’s dramatic escalation, in recent years, in the censorship of programming it perceives as “indecent.”

Back to the Past: the Government's Strategy in the "Fleeting Expletives" Case
(September 19, 2011) - The government's recently filed brief tries to dissuade the Supreme Court from considering the vagueness of the FCC's definition of "indecency" or the chilling effect of its censorship regime.

Requiem for California's Violent Video Games Law
(June 28, 2011) - Justice Scalia's majority opinion does not allow politicians to create new exceptions to the First Amendment, but four of his brethren beg to differ.

The Family Shakespeare
(April 23, 2011) - A new play re-imagines the notorious Bowdler family and debates the eternal question of literary censorship.

Of Liberals and Conservatives: the Supreme Court Considers Violent Video Games Case
(Nov. 4, 2010) - Justice Breyer would allow censorship based on "common sense," while Justice Scalia wonders what "deviant" means in a California law restricting minors' access to violent games.

FCC Censorship of "indecency" is Unconstitutional
(July 13, 2010) - Three judges have finally struck down the "fleeting expletives" rule.

Sarcasm Reigns as Court Revisits the FCC's "Fleeting Expletives" Rule (January 13, 2010) - Three Court of Appeals judges subjected the Federal Communications Commission to a barrage of withering sarcasm during oral argument in round 3 of Fox Television v. FCC.

FEPP's Latest Slide Show: Minors, Censorship & Sex
(updated, April 23, 2012) - This powerpoint describes the current court battle over "fleeting expletives" on the airwaves, as well as background on the history of censorship aimed at protecting youth.

Fleeting Expletives Redux: Court of Appeals Sets New Briefing Schedule
(August 4, 2009) -The Court of Appeals has set a new briefing schedule in the case challenging the FCC's rule against "fleeting expletives." Will this finally lead to the end of government censorship of the airwaves?

Supreme Court Clears the Way for Ending FCC Censorship of the Airwaves
(April 28, 2009) - At first blush, it's a win for what one dissenting justice called a "wildly expansive" claim of censorship power, but the tea leaves suggest that the Court might be ready to consign the FCC's reign of error to a well-deserved grave.

Free Speech in the Age of Obama: Proposals for Year 1
(January 20, 2009) - On Inauguration Day 2009, FEPP proposes a few changes from the policies of George W. Bush.

Supreme Court Blushes at Those S-words and F-words
(November 4, 2008) - The oral argument on election day in Federal Communications Commission v. Fox Television was not a model of First Amendment eloquence.

Supreme Court Brief in FCC v. Fox, the "Fleeting Expletives" Case
(August 8, 2008) - FEPP joined with the ACLU, the Directors Guild of America, the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, and nine other organizations in urging the Court not only to affirm last year's court of appeals decision striking down the Federal Communication Commission's ban on "fleeting expletives" in radio and TV broadcasting, but clarifying that the laws governing the FCC can no longer be interpreted to allow the agency its freewheeling censorship of constitutionally protected speech on the airwaves.

Supreme Court Will Review "Fleeting Expletives" Case
(March 13, 2008) - A showdown is looming over FCC censorship of "indecency" on the airwaves.

Why Nine Court Defeats Haven't Stopped States From Trying to Restrict Violent Video Games
(August 15, 2007) - The answer probably lies in the long history of media-violence politics.

(July 17, 2007) - CBS and Fox TV's rejection of a Trojan ad recapitulates an old story of American schizophrenia on the subject of sex.

Supreme Court Carves Out a New Exception to Student Free Speech
(June 25, 2007) - The Court's decision in the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case draws a murky line between advocacy of illegal conduct (not protected) and political dissent (protected - at least sometimes).

A Huge Victory for Free Speech on the Airwaves
(June 4, 2007) - The U.S. Court of Appeals has invalidated the FCC's ban on "fleeting expletives," and in the process, cast doubt on the constitutionality of the entire "indecency" censorship regime.

"COPA" is Struck Down Again
(March 23, 2007) - A federal court's March 22 decision touts Internet filters as more effective than a criminal law in barring minors from sexual speech.

Confusion Reigns At "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" Argument
(March 21, 2007) - Justice David Souter seemed outnumbered at the Supreme Court argument on March 19 in Morse v. Frederick, the most important student free speech case to reach the Court in 20 years.

National Coalition Against Censorship Urges Full First Amendment Protection for Student in "Bong Hits for Jesus" Case
(February 21, 2007) - FEPP was co-counsel on a friend-of-the-court brief to the the Supreme Court, arguing that school officials had no right to punish a student who held up a controversial banner on a public street.

Federal Judges Have Hard Questions for FCC Censors
(Dec. 20, 2006) - At oral argument before the U.S. Court of Appeals, the FCC's lawyer struggled to defend the agency's rules banning "profanity" and "fleeting expletives" on the airwaves.

Filmmakers, Writers, Free Speech Groups Urge Court to End FCC Censorship
(November 30, 2006) - 20 organizations, led by the Brennan Center, have filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that the FCC's rules banning "profanity" and "fleeting expletives" on the airwaves are unconstitutional.

First Post-CIPA Lawsuit Filed
(Nov. 21, 2006) - The ACLU of Washington has sued a library district for refusing to dismantle Internet filters.

FCC Faces Judicial Challenges to Its Indecency Regime
(Sept. 29, 2006) - Two federal courts are poised to decide whether "fleeting expletives" or "wardrobe malfunctions" can be banned from radio and television.

The Disconnect Between Fact and Rhetoric
(August 2, 2006) - A recent conference, "Beyond Censorship," touts ratings and filters, and buys into myths about proven harm from sexual or violent content.

Movie Censors Are Also Copyright Infringers
(July 11, 2006) - A federal court has ruled against the fair use arguments of CleanFlicks and fellow sanitizers.

Internet Filters: A Public Policy Report
(May 2006) - Internet filters categorize expression without regard to its context, meaning, and value. Yet these sweeping censorship tools are now widely used in schools and libraries. This fully revised and updated report surveys nearly 100 tests and studies of filtering products through 2006. An essential resource for the ongoing debate.

America's Culture Czars
(March 21, 2006) - The FCC's latest "indecency" rulings are so radical as to beg for court review.

Sanitizing Movies
(April 19, 2005) - The "Family Movie Act" (which was passed into law shortly after this testimony was given) singles out filmmakers for lesser copyright protection in order to encourage the movie-censoring industry.

Internet Filters Are Now a Fact of Life
(September 2, 2004) - But a new guide for libraries explains that some are worse than others.

The Right Result; the Wrong Reason
(July 1, 2004) - In ruling that Internet filters are a "less restrictive alternative" to COPA, a criminal law restricting sexual material online, the Supreme Court endorsed a technology with the potential for far greater censorship.

Congress Weighs In On Movie Filters
(May 21, 2004) - Threats to change copyright law if directors and studios don't allow censorware to blur, cut, and bleep.

What's Wrong With Censoring Youth?
(April 19, 2004) - Law professor Kevin Saunders' new book proposes radical restrictions on minors' First Amendment rights.

Fact Sheet on Sex and Censorship
(March 2004) - Where did the exception to the First Amendment for "obscenity" originate? What other ways have government officials found to control erotic speech? And why do some of them continue to do so, in the face of ever more sexual explicitness all around us? FEPP's fact sheet summarizes the history and current status of restrictions on sexual expression in America.

The Latest "Indecency" Row: Super Bowl Half Time
(February 3, 2004) - What is the fuss about Janet Jackson's breast?

Ignoring the Irrationality of Internet Filters, Supreme Court Upholds CIPA
(June 2003) - The justices say that to the extent that erroneous blocking of "completely innocuous" Internet sites raises a constitutional problem, "any such concerns are dispelled" by the law's provision giving libraries the discretion to disable the filter upon request from an adult.

Media Literacy: An Alternative to Censorship
(2002; second edition, 2003) - FEPP's survey of media literacy education and why it is preferable to TV ratings, Internet filters, "indecency" laws, and other efforts to censor the ideas and information available to the young.

Not In Front of the Children: "Indecency," Censorship, and The Innocence Of Youth
(2001, 2nd edition 2007) - From Huckleberry Finn to Harry Potter, Internet filters to the v-chip, censorship is often based on the assumption that children and adolescents must be protected from "indecent" speech. In Not In Front of the Children, FEPP Director Marjorie Heins explores the history of indecency laws and other censorship aimed at youth. Not in Front of the Children won the 2002 American Library Association's Eli M. Oboler Award for the best published work in the area of intellectual freedom.

For Additional Materials on "Harm to Minors" and Censorship of Youth in 2001-03, go to the Archives Page.


The Free Expression Policy Project began in 2000 as a project of the National Coalition Against Censorship, to provide empirical research and policy development on tough censorship issues and seek free speech-friendly solutions to the concerns that drive censorship campaigns. In 2004-2007, it was part of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. Past funders have included the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Educational Foundation of America, the Open Society Institute, and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

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