New Mexico governor signs communications decency act

Tuesday, March 10, 1998

New Mexico's governor signed the nation's newest communications decency act into law on March 9, making it illegal in that state to send “indecent” material to minors over the Internet.

Gov. Gary Johnson approved Senate Bill 127, which makes it a misdemeanor to use a computer to knowingly send to anyone under 18 indecent material that “in whole or in part depicts actual or simulated nudity, sexual conduct, or sadomasochistic abuse, and that is harmful to minors.”

The New Mexico law defines “harmful to minors” as sexual material that is “patently offensive” and “lacks serious literary, artistic, political, and scientific value.”

But supporters and opponents alike agree the new law probably won't survive the courts.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the federal Communications Decency Act in part because the term “indecent” was overbroad. The court ruled the federal law would infringe upon free speech by making it illegal to post articles on the Internet for subjects ranging from art to safe sex to breast cancer.

American Civil Liberties Union officials said they will challenge the New Mexico law. The ACLU has been successful in not only challenging the 1996 federal law but also similar ones in several states, including Virginia and New York.

Jennie Lusk, executive director for the New Mexico chapter, said they plan to file a lawsuit on July 2, the day after the law goes into effect.

Lusk said that New Mexico's version of the CDA is “censorship in the guise of child protection. It's censorship in a state with a long history of respect for the arts and many different lifestyles ?. We can't let this censorship act stand.”

Barry Steinhardt, president of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, decried the law, saying it would make fine art and some health issues on the Internet illegal.

In a letter to the governor, Steinhardt said the law is “so broad and so unqualified that it could include everything from a web site's representation of Michelangelo's David to the publication of the Biblical Song of Solomon on a newsgroup.”

Robert Peters, president of Morality in Media, said the “harmful to minors” standard is clearly an obscenity standard, broader than one for adults.

“The 'harmful to minors' clause has some whiskers to it. It's obscene for minors,” Peters said. “Michelangelo's David is not obscene to minors under anyone's definition.”

Although he said his group supports some legislation to keep Internet pornography from minors, Peters said he didn't think the New Mexico law would survive in the courts.

“My prognosis would not be very good,” he said.