Category Archives: Censorship

Supreme Court Strikes Down Calif. Video Game Law

Reprinted from my blog, Cyber-Esq.  The full Supreme Court opinion is in the Box under “Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Video Game Case:”

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in a 7-2 opinion, that a 2005 California law aimed at banning the sale of violent video games to children went too far.  Created by California state Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), the law imposed a fine of up to $1,000 on retailers found to be in violation.  However, because of the litigation, the law never went into effect.

This is the highest-level decision to date on the subject of legal restrictions on violent video games.  In the wake of the Court’s decision, one thing is now clear – video games are entitled to the same First Amendment protections as books, plays and movies.  Moreover, the Court emphasized that First Amendment protections are subject only to historically limited categories of speech such as obscenity, incitement or fighting words.  These protections do not wane with the advent of new technologies.  As a result, the state – as California did – cannot create a wholly new category of speech that is unlawful unless it can meet the “strict scrutiny” test; i.e., justify its law with a “compelling state interest.”

On the question of “strict scrutiny,” the Court found that California failed to meet its burden.  Of specific interest, the Court doubted the strength of psychological evidence that claims such games cause children to behave violently or aggressively, at least more than any other available media.  In addition, the Court found that the voluntary rating system – known as the Entertainment Software Ratings Board‘s (ESRB) classification system – already achieved the needs of parents without the government enacting legislation that infringes on free speech.

According to an article in ZDNet:

“the majority of video game resellers in the United States – including major retailers like GameStop and Best Buy – support the use of the…(ESRB) classification system, which rates games based on content and applies an age rating, which is featured on the video game box. It’s a purely voluntary system modeled after the Motion Picture Association of America’s ratings for movies.”

What do you think of the Court’s decision?  In particular, the Court mentioned the fact that California had not limited access to “Saturday morning cartoons” in support of its decision, indicating that this raised the possibility that the state was singling out a particular industry or speaker for sanction.  Is this a defensible analogy to violent video games?

 

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Supreme Court Declines “Vamos a Cuba” Case

Vamos a Cuba
Image via Wikipedia

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear a bitterly contested First Amendment case arising out of Miami-Dade County, Florida, and which has come to be known as the “Vamos a Cuba” Case.  “Vamos a Cuba,” or “A Visit to Cuba,” is a children’s book at the center of the controversy, which school board officials removed from the school library.

As reported in yesterday’s Christian Science Monitor, school board officials determined that the book portrayed an inaccurate picture of life in Cuba, based largely on one parent’s offense to the following statement:  “People in Cuba eat, work, and go to school like you do.”  “Vamos a Cuba” is part of a 24-volume set of books intended to introduce U.S. children to life in other countries.

The ACLU filed suit against the school board claiming that the board’s actions constituted censorship in violation of the 1st Amendment.  The U.S. District Court agreed, issuing an injunction commanding the school board to restore the book to the library shelves.  The school board then filed an appeal, and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with the trial court’s ruling and lifted the injunction.

By refusing to take up the case, the Supreme Court will let the 11th Circuit’s ruling – and the school board’s actions – stand.

Miami-Dade County has a long history of political controversy, first making headlines with Anita Bryant‘s prominent campaigning in 1977 to repeal a local ordinance that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

What is remarkable about this case, in my opinion, is the fact that the school board convened not 1, but 2, panels to review the book and decide if it should stay or go.  The first panel consisted of 8 individuals, voting 7 – 1 in favor of the book staying on the library shelves.  Apparently, not to be dissuaded, the board convened a second, larger panel of 16 individuals.  They voted 15 – 1 in favor of the book.  Despite these resounding vote totals, the school board then voted 6 – 1 in favor of removing the book.

Another point that bears mentioning is that the school board also rejected any argument that the library could acquire other books about Cuba that might present a more “well-rounded” view of the country.

The U.S. Supreme Court has tinkered with Tinker v. Des Moines School District for years now, gradually whittling away at young people’s freedom of expression and First Amendment liberties.  This time, I fear, they struck a potentially worse blow to the First Amendment by not getting involved.

Do you agree with the school board’s actions in this particular case?  Should a local school board be permitted to remove a book from the public school’s library because the board believes it paints an inaccurate viewpoint about another nation?  What if a school board decided that the Holocaust did not actually happen, and banned any books referencing it?

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