Texas' highest criminal court ruled on Wednesday that sexually explicit communication between adults and children online is protected under the First Amendment and struck down a section of a 2005 law that prohibited it. State lawyers are now worried perverts will run amok.
According to a report in the Houston Chronicle, the ruling now means that propositioning someone younger than 17 remains illegal but "talking dirty" is legal.
Judge Cathy Cochran, author of the ruling, said the law "may protect children from suspected sexual predators before they ever express any intent to commit illegal sexual acts, but it prohibits the dissemination of a vast array of constitutionally protected speech and materials."
According to the Statesman, lawyers for the state had argued that without the ban on sexually explicit communication, "perverts will be free to bombard our children with salacious emails and text messages, and parents and law enforcement would be unable to stop it."
The ruling noted that those concerns were dealt with by other laws. The difficulty with the 2005 law, said the ruling, was that while it made a "whole cornucopia of titillating talk or dirty talk" illegal, it also outlawed online discussions of other sexually explicit content in famous works of literature like Lolita, 50 Shades of Grey, Lady Chatterly's Lover and Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida.
The ruling was triggered by the case of a 53-year-old Harris County man accused of sending sexually explicit text messages to a teenager to gratify or arouse himself.
"It's unclear whether the messages are serious or whether he was joking around," said the man's attorney Grant Scheiner. "Nevertheless, he got charged with a crime."
Wednesday's ruling dismissed the charges against the man.
Mark Bennett, the attorney who argued the case at the appellate level, praised the ruing and said parents should be the ones protecting their children, not the government.
"Parents have the job of dealing with this. This is not the government's job," he said. "Keep track of who your kids are communicating with and teach your kids what's appropriate and what's not."