Court rules state’s sex offender Facebook ban is unconstitutional

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A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday the Indiana law banning registered sex offenders from using Facebook and other social networking sites often visited by children is unconstitutional.

Wednesday, the 7th U.S. Circuit of Appeals in Chicago overturned a federal judge’s decision to ban sex offenders from visiting the websites, saying the “blanket ban” was too broad and did not protect children.

Last June, U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt wrote an 18-page order, stating Indiana had a strong interest in protecting children. In her ruling, Pratt wrote the social networking sites and chat rooms created a “virtual playground” for sexual predators to lurk.

The class-action lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana (ACLU) on behalf of a man convicted of child exploitation, along with several other offenders who were no longer on probation.

“There is no doubt that the State has a paramount interest in protecting children,” said ACLU of Indiana Legal Director Ken Falk, the attorney, in a news release. “But the Court properly recognized that the State cannot do this with a law so broad that it prevents someone convicted of an offense years, or even decades ago, from engaging in a host of innocent communications via social media.  Indiana already has a law that prohibits inappropriate communication with children, and the law in this case served no purpose but to prohibit communication protected by the First Amendment.”

ACLU of Indiana Executive Director Jane Henegar said lawmakers need to heed the constitution when crafting laws in a statement Wednesday.

“Enacting laws to govern our society, including protecting our children, is an awesome responsibility that requires our lawmakers balance our need for order with our need for liberty. In this instance, the State of Indiana overstepped and unnecessarily burdened one of our most important rights, the freedom to share and receive information and ideas.”

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