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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 6/6/08

Equal Justice Alliance Opposes Internet Censorship Bill

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Today, the Equal Justice Alliance, together with the Liberty Coalition and the International Association of Whistleblower (IAW), announced that recent California legal developements threatens freedom of the speech everywhere in the United States.

Assembly Bill No. 2296 – Animal Enterprise Protection Act recently introduced in California would impinge on citizens' First Amendment rights to post information on the Internet. It provides, among other things, for a private right of prior restraint over another citizen from posting information on the internet of which they disapprove. This can be done without due process and without a court's review or determination. Since the Internet goes beyond state lines, it is possible that this bill can affect U.S. citizens in other states.

The California State Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to analyze the Bill next week. We urge that all citizens concerned with freedom of expression on the internet write to oppose this on an emergency basis.

Draft of letter to California Senate Judiciary:

June 9 , 2008
The Honorable Ellen CorbettChairSenate Judiciary CommitteeState CapitalRoom 2187 Sacramento, CA 95814The Honorable Tom HarmanVice ChairSenate Judiciary CommitteeState CapitalRoom 2187 Sacramento, CA 95814

Re: Disapproval of Assembly Bill No. 2296 – Animal Enterprise Protection Act

Dear Senators Corbett and Harman: We write on behalf of the Equal Justice Alliance (the “Alliance”) to oppose AB 2296, the California Animal Enterprise Protection Act (the “Bill”). The Alliance is a coalition of organizations formed to educate the public about legal issues relating to civil liberties of U.S. citizens. The Bill, even with recent changes, weakens civil liberties and threatens free speech rights on the Internet. It creates a private right of action against any individual who posts on the Internet the home address, home telephone number or image (hereinafter, collectively, “information,” except that with respect to a demand letter, “information” relates only to the home address and home telephone number) of any animal enterprise employee, or anyone residing with that employee.

1. The Demand Letter is an Unconstitutional Prior Restraint on the Internet. The demand letter, as described in Section 2 (adding Section 52.6 (b) (1) to the Civil Code), is an unconstitutional prior restraint on future expression, and the specter of being served with a demand letter would chill citizens’ rights to post lawful information on the Internet. That the Bill allows an individual to serve a demand letter if he or she has a “reasonable” fear of harm is misleading. The subjective emotions of the individual serving the letter would appear to be a sufficient basis for the drastic measure of prior restraint – without due process or prior judicial review. Instead, the demand letter usurps the role of an impartial and detached judiciary, and allows private citizens to choose whenever and against whomever to brandish this extra-legal sanction.

2. The Demand Letter Would Cause Irreparable Harm.The demand letter would serve as a poison pill for everyone who would otherwise seek to defend their First Amendment right of protest, and thereby seriously chill those rights. A citizen would be forced into three untenable choices: 1) continue to post the information and face costly legal fees and court expenses to defend their First Amendment rights; 2) seek declaratory relief on the propriety of the demand letter, and face costly legal fees and court expenses, without any prevailing plaintiff reimbursement benefit otherwise afforded to the other side or; 3) engage in self censorship to spare themselves the costs of (1) and (2) above, and thereby experience irreparable harm to their First Amendment rights. Also, there is no stated penalty for serving an untruthful demand letter, despite the potential for violating a U.S. citizen’s First Amendment rights.

3. The Bill is Over Inclusive and Unconstitutionally Punishes Viewpoints.The Bill is over inclusive since it imposes penalties on speakers based on their viewpoints. This violates R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul (505 U.S. 377, 393-94 (1992)), where the Court held that favoring one group in a debate by forbidding the speech of an opposing group is unconstitutional. The Bill, for example, would likely impose no penalties on an individual posting information about animal researchers if this information was on a website applauding animal researchers. Issues of public concern are at the heart of the First Amendment. How animals are treated in research experiments under the Animal Welfare Act is, of course, a subject of legitimate public concern.


If you support the above letter, please contact:

Odette J. Wilkens, Esq.
Executive Director
Equal Justice Alliance

Working for freedom of speech and assembly

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James J. Murtagh, Jr. is a doctor of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine, and the Medical Director of several sleep laboratories in Southern Ohio. Dr. Murtagh extensively writes on medical ethics. Dr. Murtagh is the founder of a new (more...)
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