Ashcroft vs. Free Speech Coalition
Statement from VSDA President Bo Andersen The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the Free Speech Coalition case is a victory for all defenders of free speech, including studios, distributors, retailers, booksellers, and the creative community. VSDA, joining with many other media organizations, submitted a friend of the court brief to the Supreme Court in this case arguing that the Child Pornography Prevention Act was unconstitutional. We are pleased that the Supreme Court wholly agreed with our arguments.
The Supreme Court specifically recognized that mainstream movies that are carried in every video store, such as American Beauty, Traffic, and the 1996 version of Romeo & Juliet, could have potentially violated the Children Pornography Prevention Act. An exemplary excerpt from the Court's opinion reads:
Our society, like other cultures, has empathy and enduring fascination with the lives and destinies of the young. Art and literature express the vital interest we all have in the formative years we ourselves once knew, when wounds can be so grievous, disappointment so profound, and mistaken choices so tragic, but when moral acts and self-fulfillment are still in reach. Whether or not the films we mention violate the CPPA, they explore themes within the wide sweep of the statute's prohibitions. If these films, or hundreds of others of lesser note that explore those subjects, contain a single graphic depiction of sexual activity within the statutory definition, the possessor of the film would be subject to severe punishment without inquiry into the work's redeeming value. This is inconsistent with an essential First Amendment rule: The artistic merit of a work does not depend on the presence of a single explicit scene.
Video stores in particular, risked severe penalties under the uncertain reach of this law for carrying these and less acclaimed works.
It's never easy to argue against a law that claims to be aimed at something as vile as child pornography. This discompfort is one reason we have trade associations -- to argue in favor of unpopular but protected speech. But the issue here was not whether those who argued the Children Pornography Prevention Act was unconstitutional were defending child pornography - we weren't and we condemn it. The question was whether VSDA would defend the rights of video stores and others to offer products that explore human nature in a way that is not obscene and does not harm children. Therefore, VSDA is pleased to have contributed to the overturning of this unconstitutionally vague and overly expansive law.