- Associated Press - Thursday, May 26, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A man with a history of filing longshot lawsuits is challenging on religious grounds a Utah law allowing Internet service providers to charge for filtering pornography. And some experts say this latest argument could have merit.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of an anti-porn crusade in Utah that was most recently capped in a resolution declaring pornography a public health crisis.

The lawmaker behind that effort, Republican Sen. Todd Weiler, said he plans to introduce a bill during next year’s legislative session that’s similar to the lawsuit. He said it could require that Internet service providers add filters so everyone in Utah has to opt-in to view pornography.

The complaint filed earlier this month in the predominantly Mormon state by Salt Lake City resident Chris Sevier challenges Utah’s law allowing service providers to charge for pornography filters.

“It punishes people of faith that don’t want to be exposed to this content by making them have to go out to have the filter have to be installed,” he said.

Although Weiler acknowledged that the complaint did raise some valid points, he is worried about it undermining his own proposal. He said it could keep his bill in limbo until after the case has been resolved.

University of Utah law professor Shima Baughman said if residents have to buy something in order to protect their religious rights, that could be considered unconstitutional.

“It’s possible that a court would buy it,” she said. “I just think there’s not a ton of precedent, but it could be an issue of first impression that ends up winning.”

Daniel Burton, a spokesman for Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, said the office would not comment on the pending complaint due to ethics rules.

Sevier has filed a multitude of lawsuits across the country, including one in Tennessee urging Apple to sell all of its products with a pornography filter and another in Texas in which he petitioned the courts to allow him to get married to his laptop.

He was found guilty in 2014 of harassment threats in connection with country singer John Rich and sentenced to six months of unsupervised probation, according to Nashville’s District Attorney spokesman Ken Whitehouse.

Sevier said Wednesday that he didn’t do anything wrong, and that the case came after a variety of lawsuits between the two men.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah said Sevier’s porn filter lawsuit could be problematic from a First Amendment standpoint, but it said it couldn’t comment until after it had had time to investigate the lawsuit.

Sevier argued that the law in Utah is punishing people who don’t want to view pornography.

“This is not a prohibition on pornography, we’re not legislating morality,” he said. “We’re just making it so that it’s behind a filter.”

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