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A federal judge strikes down a Texas law requiring age verification to view pornographic websites

Sep 1, 2023, 7:58 AM

FILE - In this Jan. 14, 2019 file photo, a large Texas flag hangs from the Texas State Capitol in A...

FILE - In this Jan. 14, 2019 file photo, a large Texas flag hangs from the Texas State Capitol in Austin, Texas. A federal judge has struck down a Texas law requiring age verification and health warnings to view pornographic websites and blocked the state attorney general's office from enforcing it. U.S. District Judge David Ezra on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023 agreed with claims that the bill signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott in June violates free speech rights, is overbroad and vague.(AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

A federal judge has struck down a Texas law requiring age verification and health warnings to view pornographic websites and blocked the state attorney general’s office from enforcing it.

In a ruling Thursday, U.S. District Judge David Ezra agreed with claims that House Bill 1181, which was signed into law by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in June, violates free speech rights and is overbroad and vague.

The state attorney general’s office, which is defending the law, immediately filed notice of appeal to the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

The lawsuit was filed Aug. 4 by the Free Speech Coalition, a trade association for the adult entertainment industry and a person identified as Jane Doe and described as an adult entertainer on various adult sites, including Pornhub.

Judge Ezra also said the law, which was to take effect Friday, raises privacy concerns because a permissible age verification is using a traceable government-issued identification and the government has access to and is not required to delete the data.

“People will be particularly concerned about accessing controversial speech when the state government can log and track that access,” Ezra wrote. “By verifying information through government identification, the law will allow the government to peer into the most intimate and personal aspects of people’s lives.”

Ezra said Texas has a legitimate goal of protecting children from online sexual material, but noted other measures, including blocking and filtering software, exist.

“These methods are more effective and less restrictive in terms of protecting minors from adult content,” Ezra wrote.

The judge also found the law unconstitutionally compels speech by requiring adult sites to post health warnings they dispute — that pornography is addictive, impairs mental development and increases the demand for prostitution, child exploitation and child sexual abuse images.

“The disclosures state scientific findings as a matter of fact, when in reality, they range from heavily contested to unsupported by the evidence,” Ezra wrote.

The Texas law is one of several similar laws passed in other states, including Arkansas, Mississippi, Utah and Louisiana.

The Texas law carried fines of up to $10,000 per violation that could be raised to up to $250,000 per violation by a minor.

The Utah law was upheld by a federal judge who last month rejected a lawsuit challenging it. A lawsuit challenging the Louisiana law is pending.

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A federal judge strikes down a Texas law requiring age verification to view pornographic websites