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La. Sex Offender Law Challenged by ACLU Lawsuit

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By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on August 17, 2011 6:47 AM

The ACLU has filed a federal lawsuit challenging a Louisiana sex offender law on the grounds that it is vague and overburdens the First Amendment rights of sex offender registrants.

The law, which went into effect on Monday, limits the ability of sex offenders with juvenile victims to use social networking sites, chat rooms, and peer-to-peer networks.

Arguably, the law also bars usage of traditional news sites, job boards, and e-mail.

While sex offenders are subject to some restrictions, they are still legally entitled to their most basic rights under the First Amendment.

Laws that impede upon their freedom of expression can thus be voided as unconstitutional if they restrict more speech than necessary (overbroad) and if they are unclear as to what they prohibit (vague).

The civil rights group contends that the Louisiana sex offender law does both of these things.

It points out that sex offenders are barred from chat rooms, which are defined to include all websites that grant users the "ability to communicate via text," as well as from social networking sites, which are those that allow the creation of a personal profile or offer communication among users.

Nearly every news site contains comments, which technically fits both of these definitions. So do job boards requiring applicant profiles and e-mail services.

The ACLU argues that this makes the law overbroad because it restricts more speech than necessary and virtually prohibits use of the internet in its entirety. Additionally, the law is vague because its language makes it difficult to tell what is prohibited.

To be clear, the ACLU is not arguing that sex offenders should have access to social networking sites where they can interact with children.

The argument is simply that the Louisiana sex offender law restricts much more speech than is legally permissible.

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