Amitai Etzioni


Are children entitled to the same First Amendment rights as adults? This Article explores the constitutionality of limiting children's access to objectionable materials assuming that both free speech rights and the protection of children are two core values that, like all other social values, must be balanced. When used to assess specific court cases and public policies, the balancing principle is a helpful guide in determining whether voluntary or incentives-based programs are sufficient to remedy the problems at hand or whether government regulation of free speech is necessary. The Article analyzes five court cases involving Internet filters in libraries, the Children's Internet Protection Act of 1996, tobacco advertising, and the V-chip. Here the issues regard the consumption, rather than the production, of speech. The argument is not whether a seventeen-year-old student should be prevented from making a political statement, but whether children in kindergarten should be exposed to all the violent and vile materials that flood the Internet, the media, and video games. This Article will show that if protecting children requires some limitations on the First Amendment rights of adults, then regulatory measures are justified only when the harm is substantial and well documented.