Soup, Sandwich and Censorship

"Questionable" material is filtered off the menu at Saint Louis Bread Co.

Sarich added: "About a year or so ago [a] veterinarian contacted us to complain about not being able to access a veterinary newsletter because SonicWall [Panera Bread's filtering software] was blocking it. No doubt the theory here was that it might contain something like animal surgery photos that could be uncomfortable for other customers to inadvertantly [sic] see while eating. Nonetheless, after a close examination by SonicWall, the newsletter was cleared for access."

Sarich encouraged Cannon and his colleagues to submit Web sites to SonicWall for reassessment.

Bill Taverner was one of the first to follow the instruction, only to learn that SonicWall's site characterizes www.aasect.org and www.sexetc.org as "sex education" content.

"They have it right," Taverner says. "So the assessment is not the problem. The censorship is."

AASECT member Marty Klein, a Palo Alto-based therapist and author of the e-newsletter Sexual Intelligence, suspects the problem is greater than most people realize. Several months ago Klein was at a FedEx Kinko's outlet working on his forthcoming book, America's War on Sex, when the company blocked him from accessing his own informational Web site, www.sexualintelligence.org.

Wonders Klein: "Who knows how many people had been denied access to my site without me knowing?"

After Klein complained, FedEx Kinko's agreed to open up his site, but the company refused to discuss "the bigger issue" of censorship with him, he says.

"The idea that the Internet has to be made 'safe' for adults who don't want to look at sexual content is a complete repudiation of American pluralism and democracy," Klein continues. "There're all these apocryphal stories about people going to a library and jacking off while looking at porn. That's crazy! Whoever is going to do that? If there are ten people who do that in a year, that's a lot."

A quick tour of local hotspots reveals a mixed bag when it comes to viewing sex-related Web sites.

Locally owned businesses, including Perc on the Park in Lafayette Square, Gelateria on Washington Avenue and Coffee Cartel in the Central West End, allow unfettered access to the 'Net, including www .hoes.com, where one gets a localized invitation that reads: "Girls From Saint Louis Want to Fuck You!"

The Riverfront Timescouldn't access the 42-square-block Wi-Fi network in downtown St. Louis (it was being repaired), but a city spokesman confirms that the hotspot filters out pornography Web sites.

Federal law allows for open expression in "all-purpose public forums" like parks, notes Mark Sableman, a St. Louis attorney specializing in First Amendment issues. But there is no precedent on the books that classifies a municipal wireless network as a public forum.

AASECT executive director Stephen Conley expects his board to take action against Panera Bread by the time the group gathers in St. Louis next month for its 38th annual convention. One form of protest could include emptying AASECT's investment portfolio of Wi-Fi providers that censor.

Meanwhile, Linda Weiner, a St. Louis sex therapist, says she's joining other AASECT members in boycotting Panera Bread. "I go for business lunches and to get my bread fix," Weiner says. "But if we're not able to iron this out, it might definitely affect my willingness to eat there in the future."

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