Wendy Kaminer

Wendy Kaminer is a former senior correspondent for The American Prospect and a contributing editor at The Atlantic Monthly. She also serves on the national board of the American Civil Liberties Union.

A lawyer, social critic, and former Guggenheim Fellow, she writes about law, liberty, feminism, religion, and popular culture. Her latest book is Free for All: Defending Liberty in America Today. Other books she has written include Sleeping with Extra-Terrestrials: The Rise of Irrationalism and Perils of Piety; True Love Waits: Essays and Criticism; It's All the Rage: Crime and Culture; I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional: The Recovery Movement and Other Self-Help Fashions; and A Fearful Freedom: Women's Flight from Equality. Kaminer's articles and reviews have appeared in many other publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Nation, and Newsweek, and her commentaries have aired on National Public Radio.

Before embarking on her writing career, Kaminer practiced law as a staff attorney in the New York Legal Aid Society and the New York City Mayor's Office.

Wendy Kaminer retains copyrights to all her articles.

Recent Articles

Screen Saviors

P rotecting civil liberties is an exercise in déjà vu. On March 20, 2001, for the third time in five years, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia seeking to enjoin a federal law aimed at protecting children from the ravages of the Internet. First, the ACLU successfully challenged the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which prohibited "indecency" in cyberspace and was struck down by a nearly unanimous Supreme Court. Then Congress enacted the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), criminalizing the commercial dissemination of speech deemed "harmful to minors;" the ACLU went back to the Third Circuit, which invalidated COPA (in a decision that may also be reviewed by the Supremes). Now, along with the American Library Association, the ACLU is challenging the Children's Internet Protection Act (CHIPA), which conditions federal support for the nation's public schools and libraries on the installation of blocking software on...

Courting Unsafe Speech

I t is possible, of course, that computer-simulated images of virtual children having virtual sex may encourage pedophiles to act on their impulses or may assist them in seducing children. There is, however, little or no empirical evidence that these images have such dire effects. Congress criminalized virtual child porn anyway. The Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 (CPPA) prohibits computer images that "appear" to show actual children engaged in sex; it also bans advertising, promoting, or describing any sexually explicit images "in such a manner that conveys the impression" that actual children are depicted. Antiporn activists insist that this ban on virtual porn is essential to protecting children and enforcing laws against actual child pornography, since prosecutors may not be able to distinguish the actual from the virtual variety. Free-speech advocates charge that the CPPA allows for the prosecution of thought crimes, by criminalizing non-obscene renderings of imaginary...

Judge-Made Rights

O n October 2, 2000, the European Convention on Human Rights will be incorporated into English law through the Human Rights Act. Britain ratified the international convention some 50 years ago, but did not codify it domestically and give English courts and English judges the power to enforce it. Litigants have had to travel to Strasbourg, France, to the European Court of Human Rights, in order to have claims under the convention vindicated. The European convention, adopted shortly after World War II, is hardly an unequivocal declaration of rights: A few rights are absolute, notably the rights not to be tortured or enslaved, and the convention is fairly forthright in its guarantee of fair-trial and due-process rights; but expressive rights--freedom of thought, religion, speech, and assembly--are greatly qualified. Speech rights, for example, are expressly limited by whatever restrictions are "prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national...

Taking Liberties

The New Assault on Freedom

"F ree speech is a bourgeois prejudice," Lenin explained to Emma Goldman in 1920. If only it were so. With the approval of the bourgeois press and public, Goldman had been deported to Russia in 1919, after serving two years in prison for criticizing the U.S. government during wartime and opposing mandatory conscription. The American bourgeoisie—intolerant of free speech—strongly supported the prosecution, imprisonment, and exile of pacifists, anarchists, socialists, and other dissidents who opposed America's entry into the First World War. In wartime, the federal government criminalized mere rhetorical exhortations and expressions of unpopular ideals. The Espionage Act, enacted in 1917, prohibited willful interference with recruitment, enlistment, or service in the military, which was broadly construed to include political advocacy. In most instances, the Supreme Court upheld these draconian wartime restrictions on speech. But the Espionage Act cases also helped to transform Justice...

Mob Rules:

Campus speech codes have been discredited in recent years, and talk about political correctness has waned, but self-righteous intolerance of dissent remains distressingly common among supposedly progressive students on liberal campuses. It surfaced most recently in efforts to prevent student newspapers from disseminating a now notorious political ad by right wing provocateur David Horowitz denouncing reparations for slavery. At Brown University, what The Boston Globe described as a "mob of students," seized the entire press run of The Brown Daily Herald and demanded formal apologies and financial compensation from Herald staffers for accepting Horowitz's ad. The young journalists, denounced as "student opportunists and careerists," held their ground, quite literally (they barricaded the door of the pressroom). At the University of Wisconsin, journalists at the Badger-Herald resisted a censorious mob with equal resolve. But student journalists on other campuses have shown little...

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