Court Blocks Texas Law Aimed at Protecting Children From Online Porn

Naveen Athrappully
By Naveen Athrappully
September 1, 2023USshare
Court Blocks Texas Law Aimed at Protecting Children From Online Porn
Screens displaying a minor child sign and the logo of the pornographic site Pornhub in Toulouse, France, on May 24, 2022. (Lionel Bonaventure/AFP via Getty Images)

A federal judge in Texas has blocked a state law seeking to impose age requirements on adult websites, claiming the bill violates the First Amendment and is a threat to privacy.

Texas’ HB 1181 (pdf) requires adult sites to verify the age of visitors to ensure they are 18 years of age or older. It was signed by Republican Governor Greg Abbott on June 12 and was set to come into effect on Sept. 1.

On Aug. 4, a lawsuit (pdf) was filed against the legislation, arguing that the law violated the First Amendment. Plaintiffs were led by the Free Speech Coalition (FSC) an advocacy group for workers and businesses in the adult industry. Other plaintiffs included PornHub’s parent company Aylo (formerly MindGeek), along with an anonymous porn actress and operators of adult content sites based from Florida to the Czech Republic.

In an Aug. 31 ruling (pdf) on the case, the court sided with the FSC, finding that HB 1181 violated the First Amendment. It prohibited Texas Interim Attorney General Angela Colmenero from “enforcing any provision” of the bill.

“The Court finds that H.B. 1181 is unconstitutional on its face,” senior U.S. district judge David A. Ezra of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas wrote in the ruling.

“The statute is not narrowly tailored and chills the speech of Plaintiffs and adults who wish to access sexual materials … And the law is not narrowly tailored because it substantially regulates protected speech, is severely underinclusive, and uses overly restrictive enforcement methods.”

The court agreed that the state of Texas has a “legitimate” goal in protecting children from explicit sexual material online. However, such goals do not negate the court’s burden in ensuring that laws passed by the state comply with the First Amendment, the judge wrote.

“There are viable and constitutional means to achieve Texas’s goal, and nothing in this order prevents the state from pursuing those means.”

Judge Ezra also pointed to privacy concerns regarding age verification requirements. One of the two permissible mechanisms for age verification under HB 1181 is through government ID.

“Privacy is an especially important concern under HB 1181, because the government is not required to delete data regarding access,” the court stated. “People will be particularly concerned about accessing controversial speech when the state government can log and track that access.”

Judge Ezra stated that by verifying age through government identification, HB 1181 will essentially allow the government to gain access to “the most intimate and personal aspects” of people’s lives.

The bill presents a risk of the state being able to monitor when adults view sexually explicit materials and the kind of websites they visit, he noted.

“In effect, the law risks forcing individuals to divulge specific details of their sexuality to the state government to gain access to certain speech. Such restrictions have a substantial chilling effect.”

Warning Labels, Fines

In addition to age verification, HB 1181 also requires porn websites to display health warnings on their landing pages.

The message, to be attributed to the Texas Health and Human Services, must say that pornography is “proven to harm human brain development,” “is associated with low self-esteem and body image, eating disorders, impaired brain development, and other emotional and mental illnesses,” and may increase the “demand for prostitution, child exploitation, and child pornography.”

Judge Ezra stated in his ruling that although these warnings carry the label of Texas Health and Human Services, the agency appears to have “not made these findings or announcements.”

HB 1181 imposes a civil penalty for violations to the tune of $10,000 per day on any entity that operates a website without age verification as outlined in the provisions of the bill.

The law would also impose a penalty of $10,000 per instance “when the entity retains identifying information.”

In addition, if the entity’s failure to implement age verification results in one or more minors accessing harmful sexual material, an additional amount of up to $250,000 could be levied.

The amount of civil penalty levied will depend on factors like the seriousness of the violation, whether the entity knowingly committed the violation, and the history of previous violations.

“I passed #HB1181 to protect children from being sexualized. Predatory extremists want to steal the innocence of our children & we won’t tolerate it. I will fight these groomers who want to harm our children,” Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano), one of the authors of the bill, said in an Aug. 22 post on X.

Texas isn’t the only state that has passed an age verification law for adult websites. At least five other states have passed similar laws—Arkansas, Mississippi, Virginia, Louisiana, and Utah.

Response to Court Decision, Sexual Agenda

Judge Ezra’s injunction against HB 1181 was welcomed by FSC, with executive director Alison Boden calling it a “huge and important victory against the rising tide of censorship online.”

“We’re pleased that the Court agreed with our view that HB1181’s true purpose is not to protect young people, but to prevent Texans from enjoying First Amendment protected expression. The state’s defense of the law was not based in science or technology, but ideology and politics,” she said in a release on the organization’s website.

The state attorney general’s office immediately filed a notice of appeal to the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

The court ruling comes as a trifecta of powerful global organizations is rigorously executing a plan to teach children as young as kindergarten about sexuality, including encouraging them to say yes to sexual encounters, according to agency documents reviewed by The Epoch Times.

Watchdog groups warn that it’s part of an effort to lower the accepted age of consent for children to have sex.

The organizations pushing the agenda—International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the United Nations—are advancing the sexual agenda on two fronts.

On one side, these groups promote sexual education to children, including teaching them about consent for sex. On the other hand, they are attempting to portray children as “sexual beings” with sexual rights.

A document developed by IPPF states, “Young people are sexual beings … They have sexual needs, desires, fantasies, and dreams.”

“There is a common misconception that young people are not, or should not be sexual beings, with the exception of certain groups, such as married young people or young people above a certain age,” the document, entitled “Exclaim!” states.

“It is important for all young people around the world to be able to explore, experience, and express their sexualities in healthy, positive, pleasurable, and safe ways.”

The document insists that children can make decisions about sex free from parental “interference.”

From The Epoch Times

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