Judge stops Virginia Net content law

A federal judge on Wednesday issued a preliminary injunction halting enforcement

of a Virginia law that seeks to impose restrictions on Internet content

deemed "harmful" to minors.

District Court Judge James Michael ruled in favor of 19 plaintiffs who

filed suit to stop the law from taking effect. The plaintiffs include Internet

service provider PSINet Inc., along with bookstores, authors, electronic

businesses and the advocacy group People for the American Way.

The plaintiffs argue that the law imposes criminal penalties on constitutionally

protected speech and would harm both Internet speech and interstate electronic

commerce. They further contend that the law would affect the dissemination

of information other than pornography, including health and sex education

and works of art, and that it would extend beyond the borders of Virginia

because of the ubiquitous nature of the Internet.

Similar legislation has been struck down as an unconstitutional violation

of the First Amendment right to free speech in Michigan, New York and New

Mexico. Laws passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton

also have been ruled unconstitutional by federal courts, including the U.S.

Supreme Court.

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