Well, there they go again, carrying water for their army of odd men in raincoats. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Indiana is suing to strike down a state law forbidding convicted sex offenders from using social media such as Facebook.
The state argues that allowing released felons on social media opens up opportunities for them to troll for children on the Internet.
“It’s hard to come up with an example of a sexual predator who doesn’t use some form of social networking anymore,” said Steve DeBrota, an assistant U.S. attorney in Indianapolis who prosecutes child sex crimes, to the Associated Press in defense of the law.
The case, Doe v. Marion County Prosecutor, is in the U.S. District Court for Southern Indiana. The ACLU of Indiana contends that Indiana’s prohibition overreaches, punishing people who have served their sentences.
“To broadly prohibit such a large group of persons from ever using these modern forms of communication is just something the First Amendment cannot tolerate,” Ken Falk, legal director of Indiana’s ACLU chapter, told AP.
Well, here’s hoping it’s not too large a group, given the nature of the offenses. State laws make distinctions for sex offenders, even after release. Convicted sex offenders who have completed their sentences cannot work as teachers, be youth-group leaders or work in jobs that put them in contact with children. Registered offenders in Louisiana, for instance, cannot hold certain jobs, such as operating a taxi, bus or carnival and amusement rides.
“Few sex offenders get treatment for their psychological disorder behind bars,” Patrick Trueman, president and CEO of Morality in Media, told me recently. “Thus, most sex offenders, even those who get treatment, have a very high probability of recidivism, as law enforcement knows. That is why most states require that such offenders be listed in sex-offender registries for a lifetime. Like most every position of the ACLU, this one in Indiana is wrong and dangerous.”
Several states are wrestling with how to protect children online without violating First Amendment rights. In Nebraska, where, according to AP, “a federal judge in 2009 blocked part of a law that included a social networking ban,” an Omaha-area sex offender’s legal challenge to the law will go to trial in July.
Louisiana is taking a second crack at curbing online sex offenders following the ACLU’s success last year in getting a judge to strike down the social-media law.
A new statute that takes effect Aug. 1 allows sex offenders to access certain sites, such as news and government pages, email and shopping sites. Photo-sharing and instant-messaging systems also are allowed.
In 2011, Louisiana legislators, backed by Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, passed a law barring sex offenders from chat rooms, peer-to-peer sharing and other social media that would include Facebook.
Naturally, the ACLU sued Louisiana, an action Mr. Jindal called “disgusting.” In February, U.S. District Judge Brian A. Jackson, based in Baton Rouge, struck down the law, saying it was too broad. The legislature then passed a more tightly drafted bill (H.B. 620) which Mr. Jindal signed a couple of weeks ago, saying:
“Louisiana families should have the comfort of knowing their children are able to access the Internet without the threat of sex predators. We already restrict sex offenders from playgrounds, daycares and schools, and they should not be allowed to prey on our children in our homes through our computers. As technology advances, so too must law enforcement’s tools, so that we can stay ahead of the monsters that prey on our children.”
What a killjoy, that Bobby Jindal.
But he’s in good company. When Jesus warned about divine punishment for corrupting children, he was talking about more than losing Internet access:
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depth of the ocean.” (Matthew 18:6).
Robert Knight is senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a columnist for The Washington Times.