Judges and legislators love to be tough on sex offenders. As a group, sex offenders are about as reviled as they come. Over the past two decades, policy-makers have come up with more and more ways to isolate sex offenders who are not subject to the physical isolation of prison. We make them register with local authorities and have made that process progressively more onerous and expensive with each year. In many cases, we've made the penalties for not registering correctly or at all far worse than the penalties for the initial sex offense conviction. We've ordered them not to turn on their lights on Halloween so children won't come trick-or-treating. They're not allowed to dress up like Santa. They can't live within so many feet or yards of a school or a park or a day care. There are some parts of this country where the only place sex offenders can live is under a bridge. Literally. As it's the only spot not within the prohibited distance of a prohibited facility.
But Facebook is a bridge too far. According to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals anyway. In 2008, Indiana passed a law prohibiting registered sex offenders from using Facebook or other social networking sites. (No Goodreads?!) The three judge panel found the ban to be overbroad and therefore unconstitutional. While states can restrict speech through content neutral laws if the restrictions are reasonable as to time, place, and manner of speech. But the restrictions must be narrowly tailored. That is where this law failed in the eyes of the panel. Most of what happens on Facebook is entirely innocuous communications, they say. This broad ban is kind of like bombing a house to kill a spider. And since it restricts people from engaging in communications (aka speech), the complete ban that is not narrowly tailored to address a legitimate state interest runs afoul of the First Amendment.
In Indiana, registered sex offenders are already prohibited from engaging in improper communications with minors. There's no reason to think that Facebook or Google+ or other similar sites are such hotbeds of inappropriate activity that all registered sex offenders should be totally banned from participating at all, even to like their favorite movies or read about their aunt's sinus surgery. So, Indiana Legislature, all you did here was waste the time and money that went into passing this law. And there was time and money put into litigating this lawsuit. All because you wanted to be as harsh to sex offenders as you could, and isolate them as much as possible. Maybe instead of just passing whatever damn fool idea someone comes up with to further push sex offenders into social exile, legislators should start to be a little (no, a lot) more thoughtful about how to deal with sex offenders. For starters, let's try to identify the real, actual, legitimate public safety concerns instead of tilting at every bogeyman windmill anyone can think of.