Peacefire was created to advocate for First Amendment rights of people under 18 on the Internet. Courts and politicians are generally hostile towards rights of minors (the U.S. is one of only five countries in the world that has the death penalty for people under 18), but courts have said that people under 18 do have First Amendment rights, though most judges believe that minors' rights are not as broad as those of adults.

Already you cranky old geezers over 23 are yelling that even if minors do have First Amendment rights, it doesn't matter because when they're using a computer paid for by their parents, the First Amendment doesn't apply. But by the same logic, do you think that most parents who use blocking software on their home computer, would agree that if their kid goes to someone else's house, the owner of that house can let the kid look at anything they want to on that computer, because they paid for it? Most parents would not follow that argument through to its obvious conclusion; the issue of "who paid for the computer" is a red herring, since the real issue is whether people under 18 should have no right to look at anything that their parents don't want them to, regardless of who's paying for it.

This idea is so widely taken for granted that we may be the only site on the Internet that asks people to question it, but we are. Most parents are, of course, wiser than their children -- but you could pick any two people on the street, and one of them would probably be wiser than the other. That doesn't mean the first person should decide what the second person is allowed to read.

For the second person's right to read to be taken away, they would have to be so mentally incompetent -- having a mental age of about 5 -- that they be unable to distinguish fantasy and reality, that they would put themselves or other people in danger if they made their own reading choices. An adult with a mental age of 14, on the other hand, is still allowed to read what they want, so why not a real 14-year-old? In fact, millions of teenagers have parents who do let read whatever they want on the Internet, with the benefit to them being overwhelming -- and they aren't the most mature or the most deserving, just the ones who have their parents' permission. If half the teenagers in the U.S. can read whatever they want with no problem, then why isn't it simply a right for all of them?

The most vocal opponents of free speech rights for minors, are the groups that would have the most to lose if people under 18 could read whatever they wanted. Yes, lots of people pay lip service to the notion that "Parents have the right to control what their kids see", but the groups that really fight the hardest for it -- trying to pass a constitutional "parental rights" amendment in their state, or demanding parental permission to let minors use library computers -- are the same groups that advocate teaching children things that would not hold up to scrutiny, if their kids were able to read both sides of the debate. There is a large overlap between groups that want parents to have maximum control over what their kids see, and groups that believe:

All of the groups that advocate these things, would be set back the most, if people under 18 were granted full freedom to read both points of view and decide for themselves. But just about everybody else would be better off in the long run.

The world is frankly a much better place because of past generations of teenagers that grew up and rejected some of the ideas of the adults living at the time. All of the really abhorrent ideas that have mostly faded into the past -- women as inferior, blacks as property, Jewish people as evil -- were widely believed at one time; by definition they only faded out because successive generations refused to incorporate them into their core moral beliefs, which for most people are formed in their teenage years. That doesn't mean that those teenagers were saints or that their parents were bad; it's just extremely hard to cast off ideas that you have been raised to believe all your life. But it does mean that it's part of a healthy democratic process for people under 18 to look critically at their parents' beliefs and decide for themselves; otherwise, we'd still be stuck in the 1950's, or the 1750's, or worse.

Traditionally, teens' First Amendment rights have been defended mostly by sneaking around the rules, and our "How to disable your blocking software" page is just an extension of that. Since freedom to read and free speech rights for people under 18 are a part of social progress, they ought to be simply recognized by law, instead of the ridiculousness of telling a 16-year-old who holds two jobs and places first in their class, that they are not mature enough to use an Internet terminal at the local library, so they have to sneak off to a friend's house to check their email. At some point, most people will probably support the legal and moral rights of people under 18 to free speech and freedom to read, but that point is still a long way off, and until then, "guerilla" tactics like the blocking software disabling page will still be necessary.