Free Speech on the Internet

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Free Speech on the Internet  (1997) 
by Jerrold Lewis Nadler

Source: 1997 Congressional Record, Vol. 143, Pg. E513
Concerning the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which was later replaced with the 2000 Children's Internet Protection Act

Free Speech on the Internet



Wednesday, March 19, 1997

Mr. NADLER. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to support the efforts of citizens everywhere to protect free speech on the Internet.

Today, the Supreme Court heard arguments to determine the constitutionality of the Communications Decency Act [CDA], which criminalizes certain speech on the Internet.

It is because of the hard work and dedication to free speech by netizens everywhere that this issue has gained the attention of the public, and now, our Nation's highest court.

I have maintained from the very beginning that the CDA is unconstitutional, and I eagerly await the Supreme Court's decision on this case.

I was one of the few Members of this body to vote against the Telecommunications Act, in large part, due to the CDA provision that imposes unacceptable limits on free speech.

While the stated intent of this provision is to limit minors' access to indecent material, in fact, its effect will be much farther reaching. This so-called decency language will dangerously constrain electronic free speech. I still believe that it is the cyberspace equivalent to book burning.

When this bill first became law, I turned my web page black to protest this dangerous assault on free speech. I have been working actively to overturn the CDA ever since. I received thousands of e-mail messages from around the world from people concerned with the threat to free speech imposed by the CDA. I pledged to join with concerned citizens all across the country to fight the CDA in Congress, in the courts, and in the chat rooms and online forums of the Internet itself. And we have. We won in Philadelphia, we won in New York, and we are now poised to win in the Supreme Court of the United States. We promised not to give up the fight, and to continue our efforts to keep the Internet free, and we have done just that.

Now this case is finally before the Supreme Court. Soon we will learn of the outcome of our efforts. Have we successfully challenged this unjust act? Will the Supreme Court uphold the lower court's ruling which struck down the CDA? Will the Justices join the choir of voices who have declared this bill an indecent assault on American liberty? I believe they will.

I believe they will recognize what the lower courts have already determined, that 'as the most participatory form of mass speech yet developed, the Internet deserves the highest protection from governmental intrusion,' that the CDA is unconstitutional, and that it dangerously constrains electronic free speech.

I applaud everyone who has taken action to support the first amendment, and who has spoken out against this bill to ensure that future generations are able to enjoy the same rights and liberties on the Internet that we have enjoyed in other arenas of expression for the past two centuries.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).