FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Jennie Lusk, ACLU of NM
Friday, June 19, 1998 (505)266-5915 or 1-800-773-5706
Emily Whitfield, ACLU Nat'l
ALBUQUERQUE -- In a courtroom hearing opening Monday on a challenge to a
state Internet censorship law, a group of Internet users including an
artist, a gynecologist and a librarian will testify that their speech
will be "chilled" by the threat of criminal prosecution if the law goes
into effect on July 1.
Saying that the law would reduce all speech on the Internet to a level
suitable for a six-year-old, the American Civil Liberties Union and the
ACLU of New Mexico filed suit in April 1998 on behalf of 20 Internet
users in New Mexico and around the country.
The law, signed by Gov. Gary Johnson on March 9, makes it a crime to
disseminate online expression that involves "nudity" or "sexual
conduct." Penalties include up to one year in jail or a $1,000 fine, or
At the 9:00 a.m. start of Monday's trial, United States District Judge
C. LeRoy Hansen of the Federal District Court of New Mexico in
Albuquerque is scheduled to hear the government's motions to dismiss the
If the government's motion is denied, the case will go forward and a
hearing will begin on the ACLU's request for a preliminary injunction to
stop the law taking effect. The group plans to present the live
testimony of an expert witness and four individuals who fear prosecution
under the law. The ACLU has also submitted nine affidavits and 72
examples of words and images that would be censored under the law.
"The ACLU is prepared to prove, as we have in every other court that
has ruled on cyber- censorship laws, that the First Amendment does not
allow the government to pull the plug on Internet free speech," said Ann
Beeson, an ACLU National Staff Attorney and member of the legal team
appearing in court on Monday.
Beeson noted that the government will not be presenting any witnesses
or experts to support its case in court. The government has submitted a
single affidavit arguing for a narrow interpretation of the law as well
some examples of client websites.
In addition, she said, the government had agreed not to argue a set of
50 separate facts about the Internet established in the ACLU's
successful Supreme Court challenge a nearly identical federal Internet
The ACLU witnesses are:
- Rebecca Alzofon, a San Francisco artist who teaches
life drawing online
- Carol Brey, Director, Thomas Branigan Memorial Library in
- Dr. Douglas Krell, a Santa-Fe based obstetrician/gynecologist
- Prof. Michael Norwood, Dir. of Computer & Technology Services at the Univ. of New Mexico
- Barry Steinhardt, President, Electronic Frontier Foundation, based in San Francisco
Prof. Norwood is testifying as an expert witness; the other four
individuals represent the plaintiffs named in the lawsuit.
Dr. Douglas Krell, the New Mexico representative of OBGYN.net, plans
to testify that he does not want to censor valuable speech about women's
health available at OBGYN.net website. The site is an online resource
on women's health issues, that often includes explicit discussions of
sexual conduct and the female body.
Rebecca Alzofon, representing Art on the Net, an free online art
gallery, uses nudity in her art work and in the life drawing classes she
teaches online. She plans to testify that she fears prosecution because
the law applies to all depictions of nudity or sexual conduct, including
artwork that she considers socially valuable for adults and minors
Beeson said that the ACLU did not plan to present a courtroom
demonstration of the Internet because Judge Hansen is known to be
cyber-savvy. New Mexico's district court became the only federal court
in the nation that allows attorneys to file documents by e-mail.
In fact, Beeson said, under the New Mexico law, the ACLU could be
prosecuted for sending its court papers in this case via the Internet to
"It is sad that the state of New Mexico is now reduced to spending
taxpayer dollars to defend an indefensible law," said Jennie Lusk,
Executive Director of the ACLU of New Mexico. "The ACLU is bringing
this lawsuit to preserve New Mexico's tradition of free expression and
appreciation for the arts and humanities."
If the case is dismissed on Monday, the ACLU is prepared to appeal the
case to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The 20 plaintiffs in the case are: ACLU, Mark Amerika of Alt-X, Art on
the Net, Feminist.com, Full Circle Books, OBGYN.net, Santa Fe Online,
Sexual Health Institute, Stop Prisoner Rape, Jeff Walsh of Oasis
Magazine, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression,
Association of American Publishers, Electronic Frontier Foundation,
Freedom to Read Foundation Inc., International Periodical Distributors
Association, New Mexico Library Association, Pen American Center,
Periodical and Book Association of America, Publishers Marketing
Association, and Recording Industry Association of America.
Lawyers representing the plaintiffs are ACLU attorney Ann Beeson,
Senior ACLU Staff Attorney Chris Hansen, who will also argue the case in
court, ACLU-New Mexico Co-Legal Director Philip B. Davis, and Michael
Bamberger of Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal in New York. Attorney
Cassidy Sehgal, an ACLU Justice William Brennan First Amendment fellow,
also assisted in the case.
Complete information about ACLU v. Johnson, including the ACLU's
complaint and links to plaintiff web sites, can be found on line at the
ACLU's Freedom Network website, www.aclu.org.