Patricia Nell Warren is the only individual American author who has consistently been a plaintiff in litigation defending freedom of expression. She and her publishing imprint Wildcat Press were declared "Champions of Free Speech" by the ACLU in 1996.
Warren's first major involvement as a plaintiff was ACLU v. Reno in 1996. This lawsuit opposed the Communications Decency Act (CDA) all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, who declared the CDA to be unconstitutional. Congress then passed the Child Online Protection Ac (COPA), which was immediately challenged by the ACLU and its plaintiffs, including Warren. The case is heading for trial in mid-2005. COPA would punish commercial online distributors of material deemed "harmful to minors" with up to six months in jail and a $50,000 fine. A third lawsuit that Warren joined was an ACLU action against the state of Arizona for attempting Internet censorship (the ACLU won this case).
When Warren testified in federal district court in Philadelphia, she was asked by Judge Stewart Dalzell how she would be affected by a ruling that the CDA was unconstitutional. She responded: "What I'm concerned about is that certain people in this country will perceive the entire area of gay literature to be indecent or patently offensive."
Warren has spoken out widely on many aspects of censorship. In a recent interview by Alexander Renault on Pornographic Pulsar, she said:
"If free speech starts losing out in the high court, then we will probably see broad restrictions of online content. It isnâ€™t clear what might be considered â€œharmful,â€ but we all know that GLBT content is high on the religious rightâ€™s hit list. In my case, Wildcat Press could be in trouble for website sales of gay-themed novels to minors... books that have been in print for many years, that show up on school reading lists, etc. The religious right also want to ban content in many other areas as well. They want feminism off the web, along with New Age and non-Christian ideology, alternative views of American history, etc."
In a 2005 article for the Independent Gay Writer she said:
"Many gay people are so absorbed by the battles for same-sex marriage that you don't hear much about censorship in the gay community any more. Yet freedom of speech is even more important than freedom to marry. Why? Because without the First Amendment right to publish or express our views, we can't participate in public debate on marriage or any other topic. The First Amendment is first for a very good reason!"
In an interview in Oasis Magazine online:
"The religious right are fighting for access to the next generation. In their minds, it's a question of who is going to control those kids. So, the issues of censorship are bigger than gay youth, although they include gay youth. Issues about privacy, sex life, making your own decisions about your life, how the criminal justice system is going to treat young people, censorship of school publications. These are all different areas where the religious right want to get their way with controlling young people."
In the essay "How Real Is Our Sense of History?":
"Today our young people — high school and college age — enter the [gay] community with minds and memories that are understandably blank of any sense of our long history. ...As censorship becomes more a fact of American life, they are less and less likely to hear that Walt Whitman was gay, that Eleanor Roosevelt was bisexual, that homosexuals died in Nazi death camps, or that transgendered people enjoyed an extraordinary respect among many native tribes."
In the essay "Youth — Seen But Not Heard", posted at Annoy.com:
"Grownups don't necessarily love kids. But many are avid to have control of kids to indoctrinate them, punish them, molest them, idolize them, pry out their secrets, even put them in protective custody or institutions till they promise to be "good". ...Anything but listen to what teenagers might have to say about AIDS, education, sexuality, crime, Bosnia, religion, rain forests, prisons, gay-bashing, abortion, welfare, drugs, world hunger, unemployment, censorship."
Warren doesn't limit her criticism to Republicans who support censorship. In the New York Blade, Warren's editorial "Stealth Behind the Headlines" commented on censorship efforts by the Clinton administration:
"Washington knows that the public is easily bored by censorship stories. Speech fights don't have the "star appeal" of airline crashes or mass murders. So some legislators are taking shameless advantage of the Clinton [impeachment] uproar to quietly push their pet censorship bills... Sad to say, even President Clinton, who has hoped the media would tell his side of the story about the alleged blow jobs, curries favor with right-wing voters by supporting Net censorship. Vice President Gore shares these pro-censorship sentiments of the current administration."
In another essay, "Internet Genie," Warren commented further on Clinton's censorship policy:
"I am following the "censorware summit" at the White House with some concern. It appears that our President — who uncorked the magic bottle of the Information Superhighway with such flair just a few years ago — is now struggling to stuff the genie back in the bottle. The blocking software available to parents, while radical in itself, is not enough for the President. The White House would have the Net submit to a rating system.
"...How ironic that a Democratic President should be adopting a fascist model of censorship! In his haste to steal issues from the right, and use them for his own political purposes, President Clinton is about to shoot his own genie in the foot. Let's hope that the genie is too fast for him. Let's hope that enough Americans want the genie to stay free."
In the Alexander Renault interview, Warren commented on the alliance between pro-censorship feminists and the religious right concerning pornography:
"If you study the history of Banned Books in America, you'll see both liberals and conservatives trying like mad to ban certain books. Gay people have their own problems with wrong-headed censorship. A few years ago, lesbian feminists were up in arms against lesbian author Jan Clausen when she published her book Apples and Oranges: My Journey to Sexual Identity, about how she fell in love with a man and got married. The book was promptly thrown out of GLBT library collections and yanked off lesbian reading lists. ...There are people who would deny me a forum because I've dared to talk about some of the no-no's in AIDS politics."
In the essay "Internet Genie" she commented on autocensura — "self-censorship":
"The term dates from the Franco [fascist] years, when Spanish publishers did their own quiet suppressions of material — for fear that anything questionable would bring raids by the "grises" (state police). A single sentence, a wrong word, could land you in Carabanchel Prison... It wasn't pretty, but it certainly "protected" Spanish schoolchildren from anything you could name, from sexy pictures to mention of birth control. The Spanish people joked about how they didn't take their culture seriously, and the black market in forbidden publications from abroad was lively. But behind the jokes, this Puritanism devastated Spanish culture for decades... literature, the arts, journalism, films, the media, everything."
One final Warren comment on censorship:
"Through history, some U.S. parents did not let their kids go to dances or movies. They had the right to do this. But they didn't have the right to make the whole country stop dancing. Likewise, Prohibition failed because the puritanism of some was foisted on all of us. Today the Puritans don't have the right to put the whole Internet back in a bottle simply because their 10-year-old might see an undraped David or Playgirl on the computer screen."