POLITICS + GOVERNMENT

SCREEN Act reintroduced to protect children from pornography

Nov 17, 2023, 7:30 AM | Updated: 9:30 am

Image of Utah Sen. Mike Lee. Mike Lee has introduced the SCREEN Act to protect children from online...

Utah Sen. Mike Lee is proposing the SCREEN Act to protect children from online pornography. (Kristin Murphy /Deseret News)

(Kristin Murphy /Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, has reintroduced a motion aiming to protect minors from online pornography exposure. 

The Shielding Children’s Retinas from Egregious Exposure on the Net Act would require pornography websites to have a thorough age verification process, according to a press release from the senator’s office.

The SCREEN Act is one of many bills centered on online pornography to be introduced in Congress. Previous bills were overturned by the Supreme Court, according to the release.

That’s because pornography is generally protected speech under the First Amendment. According to the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech.” That makes it hard for the government to limit online pornography. 

According to the release, in this case, bills can’t meet the First Amendment’s “least restrictive means” test.

Limiting pornography with strict scrutiny

Strict scrutiny” is the process of determining whether or not specific speech has protection under the Constitution. It also helps define if measures should be taken to limit the time, manner, or place that said speech is allowed.

Step one is determining if a government actor is present in the issue. The SCREEN Act is a congressional measure and therefore a government actor is present. 

Step two is proving “compelling interest.” Compelling interest is when action against an issue is necessary rather than just something based on preference. According to the release, the Supreme Court has acknowledged Congress’ compelling interest in protecting children.

If the issue gets to step three, it still has to pass the “least restrictive means test.”

According to this test, a bill needs to have clear limitations that don’t restrict rights. Bills that restrict anything besides time, manner, or place are unconstitutional and the Supreme Court will throw them out.

What’s new with the SCREEN Act?

Lee’s office emphasized the pressing need for legislative action against children viewing pornography. It said traditional methods like blocking and filtering software aren’t enough to combat the widespread exposure of teenagers to online pornography.

In the release, Lee’s office said laws must evolve with technological advancements to ensure the safety of children on the internet. 

“The SCREEN Act addresses the urgent need to protect minors from exposure to online pornography and stop those who profit from stealing the innocence of America’s youth,” Lee wrote in the release.

Rep. Mary Miller, R-IL, said in an X, formerly known as Twitter, post that she is proud to introduce the SCREEN Act.

As a mother and grandmother, she expressed her dedication to defending parental rights in the release. Miller also sponsored a companion bill in the House of Representatives.

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SCREEN Act reintroduced to protect children from pornography