Recognizing our duty to protect all young children from harm, we stood with the State of Georgia and won a significant victory protecting children from online sexual exploitation.
Earlier this year, I was appointed as a Special District Attorney for the State of Georgia, and represented the State in its defense of a law protecting young children from online sexual exploitation. I led a team of senior attorneys who prepared and filed three briefs on behalf of the State, and in February, I presented oral arguments in this case directly before the Supreme Court of Georgia.
Yesterday, we achieved an important victory: Georgia’s High Court agreed with us and upheld the critical law against a misguided legal assault. The Court’s ruling was unanimous.
We succeeded, not only in protecting children, but also in protecting the First Amendment from distortion and abuse.
Here’s what was at stake: Georgia enacted a law prohibiting the crime of “obscene Internet contact with a child.” A defendant indicted for that crime challenged the law’s constitutionality. Unsuccessful in the trial court, he appealed to the state’s highest Court.
The criminal statute prohibits one of the most reprehensible forms of child abuse. We knew that the outcome of this case would have a dramatic impact on how states are equipped to protect the most vulnerable in our society.
In his appeal, the defendant argued that the law violated his First Amendment right to free speech. He claimed the First Amendment gave him (and others) the right to use the Internet to exploit and abuse children.
He couldn’t have been more wrong.
A watered-down First Amendment that allows perpetrators to intentionally exploit children for sexual gratification is not the First Amendment enacted by the Founders.
As we explained to the Court in our Brief and as I argued to the Court:
This case is not about merely offensive speech, or even sexual “speech” between adults or between adults and children. Rather, this is a case about explicitly sexual internet contact knowingly made to the targeted child and intended to cause sexual arousal or satisfaction for the defendant or the child. The State has the right and the duty to protect children from this type of harmful contact.
The Court agreed, and held that the challenged statute “does not prohibit a real and substantial amount of constitutionally protected expression.” According to the Court:
Though creative attorneys may dream up “fanciful hypotheticals” under which the statute here reaches protected expression, . . . we are not convinced that these scenarios are sufficiently numerous or likely to warrant the statute’s wholesale invalidation.
The bottom line is this: There is no right to sexually abuse children for one’s own demented gratification. It’s child exploitation, plain and simple. We could not stand by and allow the Constitution to be perverted at the expense of children’s innocence.
This type of conduct may not bother the defendant, but as I told the Court, “It bothers the State of Georgia.”
The people of Georgia want to protect their children from this kind of child exploitation. The law passed in the Georgia General Assembly with just one “nay” vote. The legislature carefully drafted the statute in keeping with its duty to protect children from online sexual abuse. Georgia Law Enforcement and District Attorneys are working hard to enforce the law and shield children from the disturbing exploitation. This law gives the State a critical tool to protect children. This is why I agreed to defend this important law before the Supreme Court of Georgia.
Standing with Georgia to protect its children is important enough. But it’s not just Georgia’s children who are subjected to this type of exploitation. By passing this law in recognition of the unique dangers presented by the Internet, Georgia is ahead of the curve. In light of the evolving threats modern technology poses to children, Georgia’s law – now approved by a unanimous Georgia Supreme Court – stands as a shining example to other states. We are honored to have stood with Georgia as it stood to protect its children.
Thank you for standing with us. By supporting the ACLJ and the work we do, you had a hand in this victory. Not only did you help us protect children, but you also helped us protect the First Amendment.
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