On August 31, 2023, a federal judge in Texas by the name of David Ezra struck down the Texas law that restricts minors’ access to internet pornography, on the grounds that it violates the First Amendment. The law in question would have required verification of users’ identities via government-issued transactional data to ensure they are 18 years or older. It also mandated that these companies post a warning about the alleged harms of pornography and provide the number to a mental health hotline. The harms included being “potentially biologically addictive,” potential mental health problems, and “[increasing] the demand for prostitution, child exploitation, and child pornography.” Despite these statistics, the Free Speech Coalition challenged the Texas law on behalf of various porn companies, including Pornhub.
Pornography use in the United States is exceedingly prominent; the average age of porn exposure is estimated to be between the ages of 11 and 12. The Texas law intends to protect children from the many dangers of viewing porn, including self-objectification, aggression, lessened sexual satisfaction, and lower rates of use of contraceptives. Additionally, pornography fosters unrealistic ideas about sex and intimacy, damaging one’s brain in the same fashion as hard drugs. Such severe risks attached to pornography usage indicate that the Texas law would be nothing but beneficial to young Americans. , The government is obligated to protect its people, especially the most vulnerable, from such severe dangers to both mental and emotional well-being. Judge David Ezra struck down this law due to “First Amendment violations.” The justification of his decision is shaky at best. Ezra calls the law “severely underinclusive [in protecting minors]… it pursues forbidden viewpoint discrimination under false auspices, or at a minimum does not serve its purported purpose.” However, this law would prevent access to the most prominent pornography-exclusive websites on the internet such as xvideos.com and pornhub.com, which are ranked 12th and 13th for overall internet traffic in the US.
Judge Ezra claims that the “least restrictive” course of action would be instituting parental controls on devices to prevent children from accessing pornographic content, in addition to content filters established by the manufacturers of said devices. This, however, poses a new set of issues. Researchers at the University of Oxford revealed that internet filters are largely ineffective at restricting children to age-appropriate content. In fact, truly effective measures available to parents are few and far between. The “least restrictive” option in this context therefore seems to be the least effective as well. Here’s a round of applause for Ezra’s new solution for concerned parents.
Judge Ezra points out that the Internet is a “unique means for communication, different from both television broadcast and physical sales” in an attempt to justify allowing children to view or access pornography via the Internet. It is important to note that cannabis, lottery tickets, tobacco, and adult novelty merchandise all require an ID to be purchased in-store, obviously because these items are both inappropriate and harmful to children. The government did not violate the people’s right to “freedom of expression” by restricting such purposes; rather, it was fulfilling its obligation to protect its people. The exemption from any ID requirement given to pornography is utterly disingenuous.
Ezra claims that it also violates people’s First Amendment rights. He explains that people may not want their employers to know that they access porn, because it could threaten their reputation. However, this should be irrelevant. Pornography is taboo for a good reason and is not particularly essential. It’s absurd to characterize the verification of pornography online as violating freedom of speech because it potentially collects data on the individual. These websites already collect data on everyone to access the website. IDs don’t make a large difference in privacy. Such a weak argument should have a minimal impact on the ruling; voting records are also published and may impact employment and relationships, but no similar controversy has arisen in this situation.
Ezra makes a case for strict scrutiny due to the Ashcroft v. ACLU decision, which confirmed that governments had to prove that laws would have the “least restrictive means.” Ashcroft v. ACLU was enacted because certain methods of providing online filters were less restrictive than the Child Online Protection Act, which decided that the federal government could not institute laws on children’s access to pornography. However, Ashcroft v. ACLU did not declare that states could not make decisions regarding pornography companies. Ashcroft v. ACLU should not have much bearing on an issue that has to do with a state’s right to limit access to pornography.
The justification for striking down Texas’s law regarding pornography is absurd. It is particularly disheartening that the government has chosen to disregard the extensive negative consequences of pornography, particularly for children. The special privileges that the Texas court of law has enabled for pornography sites are even more disturbing. The Texas law was in no way a violation of the First Amendment, due to the compelling government interest that Texas had when signing this law. Due to the dangers of unrestricted porn usage and the faulty legal basis for this decision, the striking down of Texas’s law is a mistake.
The opinions expressed within this piece represent the views of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jefferson Independent.