688 text messages exchanged between a 30-year-old teacher and a 13-year-old student became the contentious grounds of a free speech debate in Texas.
Sean Arlis Williams, now 31, was arrested for online solicitation of a minor, later changed to improper relationship between an educator and student. Williams and Lo, his student at a junior high school, began exchanging innocuous texts that changed to “sexts” over a six-day period in October 2012, the Star-Telegram reports.
According to the affidavit, the text messages included “talking about if either of them walked around naked in their homes, keeping the relationship secret until the victim graduates, dreams that each of them had about each other, virginity and showing restraint while they are in the classroom.” The student, called Mary Swan in court documents, also sent Williams a picture of herself without a shirt on.
Now the court has dismissed the case based on a recent ruling about a similar case in a Harris County appeals court. In that case, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that a 2005 statute that banned explicit online communication between an adult and a minor violated the First Amendment right to free speech.
“Sexting” is therefore a Constitution-protected right, even if it’s between an adult and a child, a teacher and a student.
The ruling came out of a similar case, in which choir director John Christopher Lo was accused of sending naughty messages to a student in a school outside of Houston. A motion for rehearing his case is pending.
State Rep. Bill Zedler (R-Arlington) said the 2005 statute was meant to protect children from online predators. If it’s a question of the letter of the law, lawmakers may have to change the language so as not to violate free speech.
“The purpose of the First Amendment was to allow political dissent, not to allow adults to be vulgar with minors,” Zedler said.