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State appeals Net sex ruling

Virginia is appealing a federal court decision that struck down its law prohibiting state employees from using the Net to view sexually explicit material.

Virginia is appealing last week's federal court decision striking down its two-year-old law that prohibited state employees from using the Net to view sexually explicit material.

On Thursday, U.S. Eastern District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema ruled in favor of the American Civil Liberties Union and six college professors, stating that the 1996 law violated the First Amendment by restricting access to online art, literature, history, and philosophy. The judge also said the criminal statute was unnecessary because the state already has content-neutral laws in place that forbid using a computer for activities that are not related to work.

State Attorney General Mark Earley said Friday he is challenging the ACLU's victory against online restriction, calling it "a decision that would seriously undermine the ability of the Commonwealth to supervise the conduct of its employees."

Earley said taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for state workers to download pornography and that allowing access to adult-oriented Web sites will create a hostile work environment. The law called for employees to receive written approval before accessing via computer any material containing nudity.

"This case is not about censorship or about regulating the Internet. It is about the appropriate use of taxpayer funds," he added in a statement.

But the plaintiffs in the case say the law stifled their free speech rights and academic freedom. The ACLU brought the case on behalf of six college professors who charged that the law denied their right to seek, post, print, or store sexual information--material that could include topics such as AIDS, human sexuality, popular culture, or poetry.

Judge Brinkema agreed. She rejected the argument that the law was designed to curb the display of material that is derogatory toward women because she said the statute only targeted electronic material, ignoring its print counterparts such as "pin-up calendars."

The state also overstepped its bounds, she added, by burdening "those employees who wish to speak or educate the public on topics within their areas of expertise. It also inhibits such employees from obtaining the information needed to inform their views."