quick hit: SCOTUS on young peoples' free speech rights

I'm in Michigan for a whirlwind visit to attend my brother and sister-in-law's wedding celebration. I thought I might have fun photos to share with you today, but not yet. Instead, I'll post this story that I heard on National Public Radio this afternoon.

The Supreme Court on Monday struck down a California law banning the sale of violent video games to children, saying it ran afoul of the First Amendment right to free speech.

In one of the most closely watched cases this term, in a 7-to-2 vote, the justices said governments did not have the authority to "restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed."
I was struck, when I heard the story on All Things Considered, that the issue was being framed as a free-speech issue. That is, that children have a constitutional right to information...even if its information we find disturbing and wish to protect them from on a legal level.

This may be the first (and only!!) time I find myself agreeing with Antonin Scalia:

Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said the country has no tradition of restricting depictions of violence for children. He said California's law did not meet a high legal bar to infringe on the First Amendment or the rights of parents to determine what's best for their children.
Note that parents still have the authority to determine what their children can and cannot access; it's just that the government cannot legislate one particular type of parental values for all children.

The article goes on to note:

Although regulating children's access to depictions of sex has long been established, Scalia said there was no such tradition in the United States in relation to violence. He pointed to violence in the original depiction of many popular children's fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella and Snow White.

"Certainly the books we give children to read — or read to them when they are younger — contain no shortage of gore," Scalia added.
Read the whole thing over at NPR.

While I agree with Scalia that as a society we routinely expose children to a high level of violent stories and imagery (not to mention leaving them vulnerable to actual physical and emotional violence), I think it's interesting that the question of restricting access to sexual materials was left unquestioned. If children have a constitutional right to play first-person shooters, don't they also have a constitutional right to see images of people making love, if that is what they wish to do? (Most young children are probably more interested in violence than sex ... but for the sake of legal consistency they should be allowed either).

I have a lot of questions about the nuances of this ruling, and no time in the next 48 hours to do any background reading. But I'll let you know if there are further developments!


  1. Oh but Anna, don't you know sex is evil and disgusting whereas violence is a deeply-held American value? Silly lady, thinking sex might be nicer than shooting somebody.

    Which movies get PG ratings and which get R, for instance, makes me batty: it seems as though 'bad words' or--gasp!--a naked person are somehow worse than, say, assault and suchlike. I don't get it. I'm naked at some point every day, but I can stick with that and just keep not assaulting anybody, right?

  2. @Molly I dunno ... I think you're probably headed down the slippery slope to degradation with all that casual nudity. Some day when you least expect it you will find yourself assaulting someone!

    Although ... if sex leads to violence then does that make it okay because it's violence and not sex? o_O