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Free Speech Coalition asks judge to delay Utah’s online porn age verification law

The Utah State Capitol is shown during the final day of the Utah Legislature Friday, March 3, 2023, in Salt Lake City.
Rick Bowmer
/
AP
The Utah State Capitol is shown during the final day of the Utah Legislature Friday, March 3, 2023, in Salt Lake City.

Attorneys representing adult entertainers, erotica authors and sex educators on Wednesday asked a judge to put on hold a Utah law requiring porn and other adult websites verify user ages.

The Free Speech Coalition and its co-plaintiffs argued the new state law violates their clients' First Amendment rights and intrudes on the privacy of individuals who want to view sexually explicit materials. Their request to put the law under injunction comes less than a month after Utah's age verification law took effect and prompted them to file a lawsuit.

"The Act is a poorly crafted solution to a poorly articulated problem, and the public interest is not advanced by the endurance of an overly restrictive, vague, and overbroad statute that imperils the rights of Utahns to provide and receive constitutionally-protected material over the internet," they argued in a request to delay implementing the law that was filed in federal court on Wednesday.

Free Speech Coalition attorney Gill Sperlein said the hold was needed because the First Amendment and financial harms the law inflicted on publishers of websites subject to the law were well underway and would continue over the course of the two or three years it takes to resolve the case. The state now has time to file a response before the judge makes a decision.

The request to delay the law echoes the Free Speech Coalition's original complaint because requests for injunctions are evaluated in part on parties' chances to succeed in their lawsuits. They argued that the law unconstitutionally burdens website operators, content creators and anyone who peruses certain corners of the internet.

Those groups, the request to put the law on hold said, incur "constitutional injury every day the Act remains in effect.”

“The State of Utah, meanwhile, has no legitimate interest in the enforcement of a patently unconstitutional statute that has been in effect for just a few weeks,” it adds.

It's currently illegal under federal law to show children pornography, though limits are rarely enforced and courts have for decades weighed the restrictions against concerns brought up by enforcement mechanisms.

States have recently attempted to strengthen enforcement, with lawmakers in Utah making the state the second in the nation to require adult websites verify the ages of visitors earlier this year. The lawmakers argued that the widespread availability of explicit materials online could harm children. Republican state Sen. Todd Weiler, the law's sponsor, likened it to identification requirements for alcohol or online gambling. But opponents, like the Free Speech Coalition, distinguished the age verification restrictions as a First Amendment concern that would affect people beyond just minors.

The law marks Utah’s latest attempt to combat pornography, building off years of anti-porn efforts in the state's GOP-controlled Legislature, where a majority of representatives are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It comes seven years after Utah became the first state to declare pornography a “public health crisis” and two years after lawmakers passed a measure paving the way to require internet-capable devices be equipped with porn filters for children.

Louisiana enacted a similar law last year. Absent legal challenges, similar proposals are slated to take effect in Mississippi and Arkansas later this summer


This story was written by Sam Metz of the Associated Press

Founded in 1846 in New York City, The Associated Press is a not-for-profit news agency.
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