Kentucky's social media ban for sex offenders struck down

Published: Oct. 20, 2017 at 1:28 PM EDT
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A federal judge ruled Friday that

have the constitutional right to use social media, such as Facebook and Twitter.

The decision strikes down state restrictions on Internet access for registered sex offenders.

kept sex offenders from using sites accessible to children.

required sex offenders to keep probation and parole officers up to date on email addresses and online identities.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by a registered sex offender listed only as "John Doe," who sued Fayette County prosecutors and the state Justice and Public Safety Cabinet in 2015. He argued the state's internet access restrictions for sex offenders violated his First Amendment right to free speech and his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process under the law.

In an 11-page opinion, Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove, a U.S. District Judge in Frankfort, frequently referred to a

that struck down a similar law in North Carolina.

The Supreme Court said in that case that the law created an unprecedented and unconstitutional burden on sex offenders' First Amendment free speech.

Additionally, Judge Van Tatenhove said Kentucky's law was too vague, sweeping up too many websites in its net - not just Facebook and Twitter, but even the comments section on news sites.

In his opinion, Judge Van Tatenhove quoted U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote in the majority opinion in the North Carolina case: "A fundamental principle of the First Amendment is that all persons have access to places where they can speak and listen, and then, after reflection, speak and listen once more."

Attorney Scott White, who represented "John Doe" in the case, said the judge's decision is significant, because it does not allow registered sex offenders' First Amendment rights to be trampled. He said as a parent himself he understands folks' concern, but he says kids are no less safe now than they were when the ban still stood.

"In fact," White said in a phone interview on Friday, "they are less at risk because, again, you're taking people on the registration and treating them in a way that doesn't keep putting them in a corner, which makes them even more a risk of re-offending."

A spokesperson for the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet said in a statement Friday afternoon that their attorneys are still reviewing the decision.