Americans for a Society Free from Age Restrictions

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Americans for a Society Free from Age Restrictions, also known as ASFAR Youth Liberation, is an organization dedicated to increasing the rights of youth under American law. The purpose of ASFAR is to "defend and advance the civil and human rights of young people through promoting the elimination and reform of laws that limit the freedom and self-determination of young people in the United States, and empowering young people to act on their own behalf in defense of their rights and freedoms."[1] ASFAR is associated with the youth rights movement, which advocates more freedom for young people and protection of their rights under law, in order to allow them the greatest degree of self-determination possible. As of November 2003, the organization's website at NearlyFreeSpeech.NET had stopped responding to requests.

History and schism

ASFAR, originally an email list organization, was founded in 1996 by Matt Walcoff and Matt Herman, two individuals who felt that age restrictions in the U.S. had gone too far. The small project grew into what could be called a legitimate organization. In 1999, ASFAR was incorporated in Missouri.

Within a year of its founding, ASFAR developed internal conflicts that would ultimately split the organization. Disputes over internal affairs and over the Declaration of Principles would lead to the creation of two factions. One group, which included the majority of the membership at that time, called for a detailed and radical declaration of principles and a high degree of membership involvement in the formation of policy. This faction took the name of the group literally and insisted the organization oppose all age restrictions as a matter of principle.

The other faction, led by Herman and Walcoff, called for a more traditional organization, led by a board of directors and with a smaller, more pragmatic set of policy positions. This latter group would leave to form the more visible and active National Youth Rights Association (NYRA).[2] Matt Walcoff writes:

When I created ASFAR, I had no idea how pressure groups were run. So I wrote up a utopian "Declaration of Principles" and wrote a "constitution" that stipulated that by-laws and positions would be voted on online. All one had to do to join the organization was sign up on the website. It didn't take to long to realize this was a bad way to run a group. The reliance on the mailing list limited active participation to about a dozen people, since more people than that made the list too busy. I spent a session as a legislative aide in Annapolis and learned that the way to make changes is not to set out a list of demands for a perfect world but rather to try to find one or two policy changes that could find widescale approval in the near term and build a coalition to convince lawmakers of the need for the change.

Most importantly, the lack of any central authority, or control on new members, allowed the "organization" to be hijacked quite easily. This became apparent when pedophiles began to join the group and prevented the group from taking a stand against child pornography.

It was at that point that several people met on IRC and decided to turn the group into a normal organization, with a board of directors, real-world chapters and an agenda that actually had a chance of being successful. As it happened, I wound up leaving the "movement" to focus on my real-world career before the new organization got off the ground.

An exchange between rival factions within ASFAR took place on the talk page of the Wikipedia article concerning the organization. Max Harmony writes:[3]

Svend la Rose is the former president of ASFAR. He is unwilling to accept that he was removed from the board by the membership, and believes that he remains president. As such, he refuses to turn over control of the domain to the current board of directors. The membership of the organisation therefore voted to use as our website until such time as the domain is returned. I already have a statement of support from six board members (Julian Gutierrez, Matthew Keefe, James Rottnek, Kevin Schmidt, Ralph Verma, and myself) and two members (John Lockwood and Ryan Luchs) for listing as our site on Wikipedia, and shall seek further support when other members are available to speak.

Svend la Rose responds:

I am the president of ASFAR, notwithstanding a series of disputed meetings at which the above acts are alleged to have taken place. As such, I am the chairman of the Board of Directors and control the website under that authority. I have filed legal papers in the Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles, for the purpose of extinguishing the opposing claim to the presidency. Neither Kevin Schmidt nor Max Harmony has been appointed to the ASFAR Board of Directors in accordance with the ASFAR bylaws. The membership has not met for the purpose of adopting a new domain name. The domain is controlled by past ASFAR president G. Justin Mallone, who has assured this writer that he has no intention of moving the nameservers over to the site anytime soon. I also control the members database, and I have no evidence of a member named John Lockwood.

MaxHarmony replies:

Svend, the 'dispute' you mention comes entirely from yourself. You are, as far as I am aware, the only person who has made a claim of illegitimacy. As you are rather personally vested in maintaining your presidency (it's apparently a large portion of your law school application), you'll forgive me for having difficulty in accepting your ability to remain neutral.

Present status

ASFAR opposes a wide variety of laws that limit the freedom of young people, such as voting age limits, curfew laws, compulsory education, child labor laws, age of consent laws, minimum drinking ages, and minimum ages for firearm possession. They support a non-age-based alternative to every age-based law, and believe that the rights of all people to freedom and self-determination outweigh the cost of implementing non-age-based laws.

The animosity that led to the schism with NYRA has largely subsided, and ASFAR enjoys amicable and cordial relations with NYRA. While neither organization has gone on record as supporting formal reunification, neither organization has formally renounced the prospect.[2]

ASFAR published an internet zine, Youth Truth, that was nominated for the Utne Alternative Press Award for "General Excellence -- Zine" in 2006. Youth Truth was suspended in 2007 by order of its Board of Directors. In the January 2010 board meeting, the Board of Directors appointed Susan Wishnetsky to restart the zine. Meanwhile, ASFAR's opposition to the age of consent continues to attract members to ASFAR, as NYRA objects to taking a position on the issue.[4] ASFAR is currently in the process of forming new positions on the age of consent, students' rights, the drinking age, and the treatment of young people by the media.


External links