Federal appeals panel upholds law prohibiting use of Internet to coax minors into sex

Wednesday, October 4, 2000

A federal law that makes it a crime to use the Internet to try to
persuade minors to have sex does not violate the First Amendment, a federal
appeals court panel has ruled.

Robert Owen Bailey was charged and convicted under 18 U.S.C. d 2242(b)
which provides:

“Whoever, using any facility or means of interstate or foreign
commerce … knowingly persuades, induces, entices, or coerces any
individual who has not attained the age of 18 years to engage in prostitution
or any sexual act for which any person may be criminally prosecuted, or
attempts to do so, shall be fined … .”

Bailey appealed his conviction in federal court, contending that the
law violates the First Amendment by punishing mere sexual banter on the

On appeal, a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals affirmed Bailey’s conviction and rejected his First Amendment arguments
in U.S. v. Bailey.

Bailey had argued that the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1997 decision in
Reno v. ACLU supported his argument
that the federal law he was convicted under violated his free-speech

In Reno v. ACLU, the high
court struck down two provisions of the Communications Decency Act of 1996,
which punishing the knowing sending of indecent or patently offensive online
communications. The high court ruled that the law, while designed to protect
children from harmful messages, infringed on adult free-speech rights.

The 6th Circuit panel easily distinguished Bailey’s case, writing:
“The statute only applies to those who ‘knowingly’ persuade, or entice, or
attempt to persuade or entice, minors. Thus, it only affects those who intend
to target minors: it does not punish those who inadvertently speak with minors
or who, as in Reno, post messages for all internet users, either adults or
children, to seek out and read at their discretion.”

The panel concluded in its Oct. 3 opinion that “the Defendant simply
does not have a First Amendment right to attempt to persuade minors to engage
in illegal sex acts.”

Calls to attorneys for Bailey and the government were not

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