In another headline from the information age, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has saved a young woman from being prosecuted under child pornography laws for her own stupidity. The teen was among several girls whose pictures in various stages of undress were found on student cell phones at a Tunkhannock, PA high school. The district attorney in the northeastern Pennsylvania county threatened to prosecute the young women for distributing pornography unless they attended a class and wrote an essay about their misguided actions. Several girls complied with the edict, but this young woman’s parents refused to have her participate.
In a precedent setting opinion and the first in the nation to address sexting, the Third Circuit held that the district attorney violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments by attempting to compel speech and coerce the children and parents into “permitting him to impose on their children his ideas of morality and gender roles.” The Third Circuit declined to address whether “sexting” is free speech.
While I agree with the Third Circuit that it is not for the local district attorney to involve himself in parenting and threaten prosecution on dubious grounds, every parent should nevertheless be very concerned about “sexting” and the grave danger these young women place themselves in by enabling others to misuse their photographs (not to mention the possible impact on college applications and future employment). I hope the parents of the young woman taught her their own lesson on personal responsibility and did not condone “sexting” as a proper form of expression.