Patricia Nell Warren

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Patricia Nell Warren

Statement on the Child Online Protection Act (COPA)

1.9 mb PDF (Right-click to save)

Sent to the ACLU on 10/12/06 as ACLU v. Gonzales went to trial. Warren is an ACLU plaintiff in this case. The lawsuit is with the Justice Department over the constitutionality of the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), signed into law by President Clinton in 1998 and never yet enforced.

Every American should actively fight for free speech. It is no accident that this right is established by the First Amendment, not the Second or Third. If we don't have free speech, we don't have the freedom to protect other rights. American authors need to be especially protective of all free speech, because the print media are such a fundamental vehicle for thought and expression in any culture. That is why I — as a novelist and journalist — decided to be an ACLU plaintiff against COPA.

COPA seeks to criminalize the sale, on the World Wide Web, of content that might be deemed "harmful to minors." Supposedly this legislation will protect minors from purchasing hard-core pornography online. But the United States already has the legal power to prosecute pornographers. COPA, if found constitutional, will be given a much broader interpretation. As the American political climate grows ever more reactionary, there are people who would brand "harmful to minors" any content that deals with sexuality, sexual orientation, sexual and reproductive health, women's issues, and non-Christian religion and spirituality, to name just a few.

COPA will be used as a weapon of uncontrolled censorship. As a student of history, I notice that censorship has always been a hallmark of repressive governments. Free societies don't fear questions and debate among their citizens. Many teens have legitimate questions about human life, and seek answers through what they read.

As the author of several novels about gay life—including The Front Runner, a novel that can found in chain bookstores, public libraries, college libraries, college reading lists and counseling work by psychotherapists and ministers ever since it was published in 1974 — I fear for the future of my ability to publish. I know that the reactionary element in American society would like to see the sale of books like mine "criminalized," so they become unavailable to minors for purchase online. Censorship of books online will inevitably affect what is available in brick-and-mortar bookstores.

As an author of "literary speech," I take free speech very personally — as well as the freedom of young people to choose for themselves what they may read.