Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Ban on ‘Religious’ Clothing

Friday, September 24th, 2010
Uyghurs say government restrictions on traditional attire target the ethnic minority’s culture.

Victory for First Amendment: Nebraska Supreme Court Exonerates Student Charged with "Breach of the Peace" for Two E-mails

Friday, September 24th, 2010

In a victory for the First Amendment, the Nebraska Supreme Court has reversed a college student's conviction for breach of the peace for sending two anonymous e-mails to his professor.

In the e-mails, University of Nebraska student Darren Drahota had criticized the professor, who was also running for the state legislature at the time, for his political views and questioned his patriotism. The professor alerted the police to the e-mails, resulting in a conviction for disturbing the peace that was upheld on appeal by the Nebraska Court of Appeals. In its decision in State v. Drahota, the Nebraska Supreme Court overturned the conviction on First Amendment grounds and exonerated Drahota, who was represented by FIRE ally, renowned legal blogger and UCLA Law School professor Eugene Volokh. FIRE submitted an amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief in this case on behalf of Drahota.

Torch readers may recall that Drahota's case began with a heated political debate between himself and his political science professor, Bill Avery. Avery was also a candidate for the Nebraska Legislature at the time and is currently serving as a state senator. The two first shared their views during a prolonged e-mail exchange, after which Avery told Drahota that he ...

Senate GOP again blocks campaign-disclosure bill

Friday, September 24th, 2010

WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans yesterday stood fast in blocking legislation requiring special-interest groups which run campaign ads to identify their donors.

Mirroring a Senate vote on the bill last July, all 39 Republicans who voted stopped Democrats from bringing the campaign-disclosure bill to the Senate floor. The 59-39 vote fell one short of the 60 needed to advance the Disclose Act. Two Republicans didn't vote.

Republicans dismissed Democratic efforts to revive the measure, S. 3628, as an attempt to win political points before the midterm elections.

The White House-backed measure is a response to the 5-4 Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission last January, which overturned a decades-old law that barred corporations, unions and other organizations from spending on advertising, mass mailings and other forms of political activity.

Democrats warned that the ruling would lead to a deluge of ads from shadowy special-interest groups financed by corporations.

"It's no longer a premonition, it's a reality," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., a main sponsor of the legislation, pointing to special-interest ads already running in states such as Ohio and California that have hotly contested political races.

"We have these nameless, faceless individuals spending huge amounts of money, corporate ...

Congress OKs repeal of SEC open-records exemptions

Friday, September 24th, 2010

WASHINGTON — A proposal that would let the public receive details on the government's oversight of financial-services firms has been passed by Congress.

The House voted yesterday to repeal broad Freedom of Information Act exemptions that were given to the Securities and Exchange Commission in the nation's new financial services law. The measure, H.R. 5924, now goes to President Barack Obama.

The exemptions let the SEC keep secret a range of information collected during inspections of financial-services firms. The commission has argued that companies would be less willing to provide information voluntarily if their competitors could use the open records law to obtain it.

The Senate approved the measure earlier this week.

Congress likely will reopen the issue after the election. House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., said he wants to pass legislation to block companies from using the SEC to get proprietary information about their rivals.

AP’s Curley warns on unlicensed use of news

Friday, September 24th, 2010

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — An enforcement mechanism needs to be created to help curb unlicensed use of news on the Internet, Associated Press President and CEO Tom Curley said yesterday.

Curley said an effort was under way to track websites engaged in content "scraping," and that he planned to name 18 of them at an industry meeting today — including one with revenues approaching $100 million. He refused to name any of the sites in his speech at a training program run by Associated Press Managing Editors at the First Amendment Center.

Any site that "scrapes" AP material "doesn't do any of the work — there's a lot of that going on," Curley said. "That's where we have a lot of work to do, and that's part of us taking control."

When sites post newspaper and AP content without permission, the appropriation also deprives managers of key information on how their stories are being eyed by customers, Curley said.

"We let others walk off with the customer data, and the business that goes with that," he said. "That's one of the things we have to stand up and fight on."

Curley also said 900 newspapers had signed up for the news ...

Tenn. ballot rules too tough on 3rd parties, federal court says

Friday, September 24th, 2010

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A federal judge has found Tennessee’s requirements are too burdensome for third parties to get on the ballot and they violate the First Amendment.

Third parties seeking to run statewide candidates must currently submit a petition signed by 2.5% of the voters in the previous governor’s election, or about 45,500 signatures. The petition must be submitted at least four months before the election, and the signatures must come from people who are members of the party they want to see on the ballot.

U.S. District Judge William J. Haynes Jr. ruled Sept. 20 that the 2.5% standard meets constitutional standards but becomes too much when combined with the deadline and party-membership requirements.

Haynes said the party-membership requirement violates the plaintiffs’ “First Amendment right to associate as a political party and Tennessee voters’ First Amendment right to privacy of their political affiliation.” He also said it was irrelevant that the state does not currently enforce that aspect of the law.

“The chilling effects of the statute arise because to sign the minor political party’s petition for ballot access as a statewide political party requires the voter to join or to be a member of that party,” Haynes wrote.


Media Spotlight Intensifies on Grambling State University

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

By severely restricting political speech through e-mail, Grambling State University is in violation of the First Amendmentand local and national news outlets are now on the case.

FIRE was the first to draw national attention to GSU's misbehavior, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana (LA ACLU) seconded FIRE's concerns with its own letter sent yesterday. GSU's initial response was so lacking that FIRE and LA ACLU issued a joint statement yesterday bringing further First Amendment issues with GSU's policies to light. (whose coverage heavily informs a subsequent story in the New American) was among the first major national media outlets to report on FIRE's case at GSU. Calling attention to the urgency of the situation, with local and national elections less than two months away, independent mayoral candidate Robert C. Wiley comments:

"We would hope the university would make it clear what student involvement (in politics) should be," said Robert C. Wiley ....

Wiley, the Grambling mayoral candidate, said the stakes are high with local and midterm elections this year, the governor's race next year and the presidential race in 2012.

"We have to get students involved in this electoral process," he said. ...

Despite Temple’s Clarification, Viewpoint Discrimination Still Possible in Student Group Funding

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

As Adam explained here on The Torch on Tuesday, Alvaro Watson, president of the Temple University student group Temple University Purpose (TUP), informed FIRE recently that the Temple Student Government (TSG) maintained an unwritten discriminatory policy. The policy, enforced by the Allocations Board, would deny funding to student groups for speakers who are "offensive"or not "inclusive" and "friendly." When Watson questioned the constitutionality of this unwritten policy with help from FIRE, Allocations Board Chair Mark Quien replied that questions of constitutionality were irrelevant!

Quien added:

If an honorarium insults or offends a large portion of that student body, that speaker will not be funded by Allocations, because the money used was provided by everyone not a special interest group.

Luckily, less than 24 hours after TUP challenged the policy with FIRE's help, the policy was rescinded. Quien backpedaled from his previous implication that funding would be allocated in a viewpoint-discriminatory manner, stating:

Contrary to what was stated on Saturday, allocations' proposals are not reviewed based upon the content of the program.

We at FIRE are glad that Quien acknowledged that the TSG won't discriminate when it comes to allocations. Plenty needs to be improved on paper, however, before ...

ComicsAlliance: Why Video Game Censorship Matters to Comics

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010
Over at ComicsAlliance, David Brothers writes a compelling analysis of the issues at stake in Schwarzenegger v. EMA, and how they are critically important to comics.
This case, Schwarzenegger v. EMA, has nothing to do with comic books, so what's up with Stan the Man and the CBLDF speaking out? Shouldn't they be out there fighting whatever new boogieman is trying to censor comics? But while it may not be immediately apparent, by speaking out against video game censorship, Lee and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (our partner in the Monsters Project) are safeguarding the future of comics as well.
Read the full analysis here.

In ‘Huffington Post,’ FIRE President Explains Importance of Valdosta State Win

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

In a new blog entry for The Huffington Post, FIRE President Greg Lukianoff discusses this month's federal district court victory for former Valdosta State University student T. Hayden Barnes.

Greg assesses the importance of the case for student rights and explains why the court's ruling should be a wake-up call for university administrators who violate the constitutional rights of students. Noting that the decision "has already sent shockwaves through the higher education community," Greg writes:

But most importantly, Barnes v. Zaccari serves as a warning to administrators that might violate the basic rights of their students that they can be held personally financially liable for doing so. As I have been explaining for years, public employees only enjoy "qualified" immunity from liability, not "absolute" immunity. That is, they cannot be held personally liable in a court of law for simply doing their job if they had no reason to know they were violating the Constitution. For example, if a police officer conducts a search of someone's vehicle in a way that is later found to be unconstitutional, he cannot be held personally liable if he has no way to know the action would later be ruled unconstitutional. If, however, ...

FIRE’S Billboard Ad about Bucknell University on Route 15

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

As we mentioned in Monday's press release, FIRE purchased an electronic billboard ad criticizing Bucknell University's poor free speech record. Here it is, out in the wild, with a map to help you see it for yourself.

Anonymity promised for NYC terror-trial jurors

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

NEW YORK — More than 400 prospective jurors filled out questionnaires yesterday aimed at gauging their eligibility for the first civilian trial of a Guantanamo Bay detainee after a judge assured them that they would remain anonymous.

U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan briefly spoke to two separate groups of possible jurors for the trial of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, who is charged in the 1998 bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa that killed 224 people, including 12 Americans. Kaplan said even he wouldn't know the identity of potential jurors, who were identified only by a number. Anonymous juries are not unusual in federal court in Manhattan for trials involving terrorism or organized crime.

The judge told the groups that Ghailani was charged in connection with the bombings of the embassies, "denies all the charges against him" and was presumed innocent.

He warned them not to read, watch or listen to anything to do with the case and prompted a few chuckles when he added: "No tweets or whatever else folks do nowadays."

The trial will begin Sept. 29 when a few hundred prospective jurors who remain after the questionnaires are reviewed will be brought to the courthouse for questioning ...

ACLU urges La. college to rescind e-mail policy

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

NEW ORLEANS — A First Amendment issue is brewing at Grambling State University.

Grambling President Frank Pogue on July 13 issued an e-mail to students, prohibiting political expression via e-mail, said Marjorie Esman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana.

Esman sent a letter yesterday urging Pogue to rescind the policy.

“The First Amendment exists to protect speech, including political speech. Grambling students have the right to make political statements, including those in support of political candidates,” Esman said yesterday. “As a state university, Grambling should encourage its students to respect our Constitution and to exercise their rights. Instead, it has violated those rights by telling students that they may not express their political views.”

Grambling has denied barring political expression by students or employees but had no further comment on the issue.

GSU is “communicating on this matter with legal counsel and the governing board,” said Vanessa Littleton, a spokeswoman for the university.

The university also reissued its e-mail use policy which, among other things, says the university’s e-mail system “shall not be used for the creation or distribution of any disruptive or offensive messages, including offensive comments about race, gender, hair color, disabilities, age, sexual ...

FCC examines complaint about Skechers cartoon

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission is looking into complaints that a new television show based on characters first created to market Skechers shoes to kids would violate government rules that limit advertising in children's programming.

The FCC is seeking public comment on a petition filed last week by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood seeking to block the cartoon series "Zevo-3," which premieres on the cable network Nicktoons on Oct. 11. It features three superheroes from comic books and TV commercials promoting Skechers.

The Boston-based group says the program would violate both a requirement in federal law that cable companies air no more than 12 minutes of commercial material per hour of children's programming, and FCC rules mandating a separation between commercial content and programming.

In its petition, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood argues that the cartoon should be considered an advertisement for Skechers footwear because its three superheroes — Kewl Breeze, Elastika, and Z-Strap, who battle the evil Dr. Stankfoot. — promote specific lines of shoes.

"For children, the characters embody the shoe lines they represent, so much so that retailers report that kids often refer to the shoes by character name rather than by the shoe ...

Ga. library system bans teen for pestering patrons

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

COLUMBUS, Ga. — A 16-year-old who officials said was bothering patrons by evangelizing outside a library after he was warned to stop has been banned from the Chattahoochee Valley Regional Library System for six months.

Kirsten Edwards, acting manager of the North Columbus Public Library, said in a letter that Caleb Hanson repeatedly asked patrons about their religious faith and offered biblical advice.

Hanson said he was warned to stop speaking to patrons inside the library. Then library employees “took me into an office and told me not to do it," he said.

He said he then began talking to people outside the library, and patrons continued to complain.

Claudya Muller, director of the library system, said the ban had nothing to do with what the teen was saying. "As people came in, he would approach them. He prevented people from simply using the library."

The letter from Edwards states Hanson's library card has been blocked, and that if he returns before Feb. 28, he will be criminally trespassing.

Caleb's parents, Tim and Elizabeth Hanson, are ministers outside the U.S. They are living with Elizabeth's parents, Raymond and Janet Jacobs, who are retired missionaries.

Elizabeth Hanson says she has contacted ...

Patent Office Agrees With EFF’s Arguments on C2 VoIP Patent

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

Continued good news in the fight to bust bad software patents: the Patent Office has issued an encouraging office action in the reexamination of the C2 patent, one of EFF's "Most Wanted" patents. The C2 patent claims to cover a “Method and Apparatus for Implementing a Computer Network/Internet Telephone System,” broad enough to essentially wholesale claim using the Internet to call someone’s phone.

The Patent Office has agreed with many of the arguments EFF put forth in its petition for reexamination, and preliminarily found the C2 patent invalid as obvious. This first office action is non-final, which means that C2 still has the chance to respond and make its own argument in support of its patent. While this office action is not a final victory, it’s an important first step in busting a patent that stifles innovation and the use of VoIP as a free speech tool, and further cripples the progress of VoIP developers who seek to ease online communications.

This news comes on the heels of two recent cases highlighting the usefulness of reexamination proceedings like the ones that EFF has used in our Patent Busting Project. In one case, a federal district court in Arizona ...

Scalia’s Selective Originalism

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

Earlier this week, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told an audience of law students that the Constitution does not protect against sex discrimination. In a great column for Time today, Adam Cohen outlines what has gone so wrong with the trend toward vehement--but inconsistent--Constitutional originalism that Scalia represents:

The Constitution would be a poor set of rights if it were locked in the 1780s. The Eighth Amendment would protect us against only the sort of punishment that was deemed cruel and unusual back then. As Justice Breyer has said, "Flogging as a punishment might have been fine in the 18th century. That doesn't mean that it would be OK ... today." And how could we say that the Fourth Amendment limits government wiretapping — when the founders could not have conceived of a telephone, much less a tap?

Justice Scalia doesn't even have consistency on his side. After all, he has been happy to interpret the equal-protection clause broadly when it fits his purposes. In Bush v. Gore, he joined the majority that stopped the vote recount in Florida in 2000 — because they said equal protection required it. Is there really any reason to believe that the drafters ...

Controversial Tibetan Art on Display

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010
A new exhibit in China’s capital shows the work of nearly 50 artists who have lived or currently reside in Tibet.

Decency, Respect and Community Standards: What Offends Us Now?

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010
TONIGHT, NCAC and The Vera List Center for Art and Politics at The New School have invited several prominent visual artists to participate in a discussion about visual expression that provokes controversy today. Some of these artists are associated with the culture wars of the 90′s, others were more recently censored during the War on [...]

Is “controversy” a dirty word for arts institutions?

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010
Last Wednesday NCAC and the Vera List Center for Art and Politics at The New School were joined by Bill Ivey, Beka Economopoulos, Magdalena Sawon, Nato Thompson, Martha Wilson, and moderator Laura Flanders of GritTV, to discuss public funding of the arts, free speech and self-censorship, and the impact of the Decency Clause. (Check out [...]

Will FIRE Be On Your Campus This Semester?

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

As you can see from the map above, the Campus Freedom Network's (CFN's) Speakers Bureau is going to have a busy fall semester! Through the Speakers Bureau, students can invite FIRE speakers to their universities to tell their fellow students about threats to liberty on campus and teach them how to defend their rights. Some highlights on our fall schedule include:

  • On September 16, Samantha Harris addressed students and faculty at West Chester University as part of the Political Science Department's Constitution Day celebration.
  • Azhar Majeed will participate in a panel hosted by the Atheists, Agnostics & Freethinkers (AAF) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on September 28, appearing alongside Professor Ken Howell.
  • Azhar will also give two speeches in Michigan hosted by the Center for Inquiry, including at Michigan State University on September 29 and a joint event with Grand Valley State University and Grand Rapids Community College on September 30.
  • Robert Shibley will speak as part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill celebration of First Amendment Day on September 30.
  • Will Creeley will be hosted by the Tufts University Primary Source on October 6.
  • Adam Kissel will visit two Atlanta schools, the Georgia ...

Citizens United Impacts Ohio Senate Race

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

Senator Sherrod Brown, in this morning's debate over the DISCLOSE Act, noted an article in today's Columbus Dispatch demonstrating the great need for this law:

Before a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in January, the most Cincinnati billionaire Carl Lindner could directly contribute to Senate candidate Rob Portman was $4,800.

But because of a decision opening campaigns to corporate contributions, Lindner's American Financial Group was able to give 83 times that amount, $400,000 ... to American Crossroads, a group that former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove helped create to aid GOP candidates. In mid-August, American Crossroads launched a statewide TV ad backing Portman's Senate candidacy.

In this case, a newspaper exposed the corporate spending. But that disclosure to the voters is the exception, not the rule. DISCLOSE would change that - and that's why Senate Republicans are fighting it tooth and nail.

It's worth noting that Portman's Democratic opponent, Lee Fisher, has signed People For the American Way and Public Citizen's Pledge to Protect America's Democracy and supports a constitutional amendment to correct Citizens United.



ACLU sues Pittsburgh police over post-G-20 conduct

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

PITTSBURGH — City police wrongly arrested 25 people — and used unnecessary force against some — to "punish" them for participating in or being near an anti-police brutality protest after the Group of 20 summit ended in the city last year, the American Civil Liberties Union said in a lawsuit.

The ACLU filed a 42-page federal lawsuit yesterday alleging police created most of the problems when they surrounded about 100 people and then ordered them to disperse. Many who tried to leave couldn't and were instead ping-ponged between groups of advancing police in riot gear, the ACLU said. Five people not even at the protest were arrested blocks away, the lawsuit states.

"It appears that these police were simply looking for anybody who was young and maybe looked like a demonstrator and then rounded them up," Witold "Vic" Walczak, the ACLU's legal director in Pennsylvania, said at a news conference yesterday.

The ACLU announced the lawsuit, Armstrong v. City of Pittsburgh, at a plaza near the University of Pittsburgh campus where the protest was staged on Sept. 25, 2009.

"When people see video of peaceful demonstrations in places like Russia and Iran where the police all of a sudden declare ... says it won’t drop adult-services ads

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

HARTFORD, Conn. — The classified-advertising website says it will not close its adult-services section despite a call to do so from 21 state attorneys general.

Village Voice Media-owned said in a blog posting yesterday that it would not drop the category because it had increased efforts, including working with law enforcement officials, to block ads promoting prostitution and child-trafficking.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal announced earlier that he and 20 other colleagues had sent a letter to Backpage calling for the removal of its adult-services ads because of concerns the site couldn’t effectively screen out illegal ads. Blumenthal said he planned to meet with the other state officials about Backpage's decision.

Craigslist closed its adult-services section earlier this month after the attorneys general and others raised similar concerns.

Blumenthal estimates that Backpage makes $17.5 million from prostitution ads. A message left with a spokesman for Village Voice Media was not returned in time for this story.

Attorneys general from Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia also signed the Sept. 21 letter.

In a related story in Missouri, a girl who ...

4th Circuit hears whistleblower-secrecy case

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

RICHMOND, Va. — The secrecy part of a federal whistleblower law undermines the nation’s open court system and tramples on the right to free speech, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union told an appeals court yesterday.

Attorney Christopher A. Hansen urged a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reinstate the ACLU’s lawsuit, which claims the government has used the whistleblower law to keep allegations of Iraq war profiteering and other fraud hidden from the public, in some cases for years.

The law, known as the federal False Claims Act, allows citizens to collect damages for reporting contract fraud against the U.S. government.

The Civil War-era law was amended in 1986 to require whistleblowers to file their federal court complaints in secret. Claims must remain under seal for 60 days to give the Justice Department time to evaluate the allegations and determine whether to intervene. After 60 days, the government can ask a judge to extend the secrecy period.

In July 2007, the Justice Department estimated more than 1,000 False Claims Act lawsuits were under seal. That means the cases can’t even appear on court dockets.

“One of the dangers of this statute is ...

Censorship of the Internet Takes Center Stage in "Online Infringement" Bill

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

Senator Patrick Leahy yesterday introduced the "Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act" (COICA). This flawed bill would allow the Attorney General and the Department of Justice to break the Internet one domain at a time — by requiring domain registrars/registries, ISPs, DNS providers, and others to block Internet users from reaching certain websites. The bill would also create two Internet blacklists. The first is a list of all the websites hit with a censorship court order from the Attorney General. The second, more worrying, blacklist is a list of domain names that the Department of Justice determines — without judicial review — are "dedicated to infringing activities." The bill only requires blocking for domains in the first list, but strongly suggests that domains on the second list should be blocked as well by providing legal immunity for Internet intermediaries and DNS operators who decide to block domains on the second blacklist as well. (It's easy to predict that there will be tremendous pressure for Internet intermediaries of all stripes to block these "deemed infringing" sites on the second blacklist.)

COICA is a fairly short bill, but it could have a longstanding and dangerous impact on freedom of speech, current Internet ...

Attend a Judith Krug Fund-supported Banned Books Week event

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

The Freedom to Read Foundation (FTRF), via its Judith F. Krug Memorial Fund, awarded grants to seven organizations in support of “Read-Out!” events during Banned Books Week, Sept. 25-Oct.2, 2010. We encourage you to check them out, if you’re in the neighborhood.

Iowa City Public Library

Event: Carol Spaziani Intellectual Freedom Festival, including Read Out and “Rolling Read Out” during the University of Iowa Homecoming Parade.

When & Where: Sept. 23 – Oct. 7; Iowa City Public Library, 123 South Linn St., Meeting Room A (Homecoming Parade in downtown Iowa City)

Contact: Kara Logsden, 319-887-6007,

ACLU of Pennsylvania

Event: Banned Books Reading – Pittsburgh

When & Where: Monday, Sept. 27, 7:00 p.m., Frick Fine Arts Building, University of Pittsburgh

Contact: 412-681-7736 or

Canisius College

Event: “Read-Out! It’s Your Right”

When & Where: September 28 to October 1, Noon-1:30 pm, Innovation Alley (Bouwhuis Library), Buffalo, NY

Contact: Kathleen M. DeLaney, 716-888-2916,

Dayton (Ohio) Metro Library East Branch

Event: “Book Club in a Box” in conjunction with local school libraries

Contact: Kimberly Bishop, 937-496-8930,

St. Catharine College

Event: Third annual “Read-Out!”

When & Where: Sept. 27-29

Contact: Laura Satterly,

Santa Monica Public Library

Event: ...

A Reasoned Debate on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

Another popular, common-sense, pro-equality measure ground to a standstill this afternoon as a unified minority of Republican Senators, joined by two Democrats, succeeded in filibustering a bill that included a repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy.

Let’s take a look at some of the arguments for and against a repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.


Federal Court Ruling Recognizes First Amendment Protection for College Newspapers under Illinois State Law

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

A lawsuit filed by the former faculty advisor and the former student editor of a campus newspaper at Chicago State University (CSU), alleging violations of the First Amendment by the CSU administration, is still alive after a federal court ruled on the case last week.

As Inside Higher Ed reported, the federal district court denied both the plaintiffs' and the defendant administrators' motions for summary judgment, citing the need to resolve material disputes of facts. More importantly, in handing down its decision, the court expounded on the free speech protections afforded to university student newspapers under Illinois state law. Specifically, the court cited the Illinois College Campus Press Act, enacted by the state legislature following the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals' 2005 decision in Hosty v. Carter, a case that undermined the expressive rights of student journalists on college campuses and has been strongly criticized by FIRE and other First Amendment advocates.

Though the court's opinion provides a larger picture of the dispute at CSU, Inside Higher Ed summarizes the pertinent facts of the case as follows:

Last week's ruling came in a suit by the former faculty adviser and the former student editor of Tempo, ...

CBLDF & Dark Horse Cheer Free Speech Victory in Ninth Circuit!

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010
The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and Dark Horse Comics applaud a decision issued by United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit holding that two Oregon statutes that criminalize distributing sex education and other non-obscene materials to minors are unconstitutional in violation of the First Amendment. The State of Oregon argued that the statutes applied only to “hardcore pornography,” but the Ninth Circuit found that they applied to much more, including Kentaro Miura’s manga “Berserk,” Judy Blume’s “Forever,” and Margaret Atwood’s “A Handmaid’s Tale.” The plaintiffs did not challenge Oregon’s existing law making it a crime to contact a minor with the intent of having sexual contact. CBLDF and Dark Horse were among the plaintiff group challenging the statutes. Mike Richardson, publisher of plaintiff Dark Horse comics says, "We were extremely happy to see these statutes overturned. Our Constitution's First Amendment was intended to keep the hands of the government off the printing presses of America. Creators everywhere can breath a sigh of relief that these laws, open to interpretation and likely to be abused, have been put down." Full announcement and text of decision follow the jump!

Temple Student Government Backs Down from Discriminatory Funding Policy

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

Temple University's student government has backed down from a viewpoint-discriminatory funding policy for student events. Temple Student Government (TSG) had told all student organizations that speakers who are "offensive"or not "inclusive" and "friendly"would not be funded. A student government leader also stated that the new rule would "not be found in any documents, but will be enforced by the [allocations] committee." Less than 24 hours after the student group Temple University Purpose (TUP) challenged the policy with FIRE's help, the policy was rescinded.

On Saturday, September 11, 2010, at a meeting for student organization leaders, TUP President Alvaro Watson was told by TSG Allocations Committee Chair Mark Quien about a new policy governing funding for student groups out of the General Activity Fee (GAF), which is paid by all Temple students. As Watson recalled hearing, Quien informed the group leaders that under this new policy, funds would not be allocated for student group events featuring speakers whom Student Activities Program Coordinator Maureen Fisher found controversial.

Given that Temple has violated the rights of TUP for hosting outside speakers twice in the past year and has shown no concern about fighting against the First Amendment and one ...

On Twitter? Use #bannedbooksweek

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

OIF is using the hash tag #bannedbooksweek for tweets about Banned Books Week related news and activities.

You can help us raise awareness of Banned Books Week over the next 12 days by tweeting (frequently!) about the week, the freedom to read, and efforts to oppose censorship.

Just remember to use #bannedbooksweek, and, of course, be sure to follow @oif!

FIRE on WILK Radio This Morning

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010
This morning, FIRE's Adam Kissel will be on WILK Newsradio, 103.1 FM in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area, to discuss FIRE's new Bucknell billboard. If you're not in the area, you can stream Adam's interview live here. Adam will be on the air at 10:05 a.m., right after the news. Tune in!

Federal judge backs Minn. campaign-disclosure law

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

ST. PAUL, Minn. — A federal judge refused yesterday to interfere with a new Minnesota law that revealed political donations from Target Corp. and other companies, saying the public has an interest in knowing who speaks and who pays for those messages as the election approaches.

U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank denied a temporary injunction in a lawsuit brought by supporters of Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, including an anti-abortion group and an anti-tax organization. They sued to overturn the law on free-speech grounds and had asked Frank to suspend the disclosure requirements immediately.

Frank answered with a firm no.

“Invalidating the election laws at issue here would likely result in corporations making independent expenditures without any reporting or disclosure on the eve of the upcoming general election on November 2, 2010,” Frank wrote in Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life v. Swanson. “This result so close to the election would clearly harm the state, Minnesota voters, and the general public interest.”

Frank’s ruling came the day before independent political funds, including those collecting corporate dollars, are required to file their latest campaign-finance reports with state regulators. They must list donors who gave more than $100 and show how they’re spending ...

9th Circuit strikes down Ore. limits on sexually explicit material

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

PORTLAND, Ore. — Booksellers and sex educators won an appeal yesterday against Oregon laws intended to keep adults from using pornography to groom young people for sex.

In Powell’s Books, Inc. v. Kroger, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned major portions of the 2007 laws, saying they could apply to furnishing standard sex-education literature or novels for children or young people by author Judy Blume.

State legislators tried to craft laws against adults using hardcore pornography to lower the inhibitions of young people, the court said. But, the three-judge panel said, the laws they wrote were too broad and violated free-speech protections. The court said: "Good intentions cannot trump the language of the statute."

Booksellers and groups such as Planned Parenthood, the Association of American Publishers and the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the laws, which a federal judge had upheld.

"This is an important victory permitting readers — both younger and older — to obtain what they are constitutionally entitled to read," Michael Powell of Powell's Books said in a statement. "It is also a victory for booksellers who do not want to ask 13-year-olds for identification or risk going to jail for selling a Judy Blume ...

Report says FBI gave inaccurate info to justify surveillance

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

WASHINGTON — The FBI gave inaccurate information to Congress and the public when it claimed a possible terrorism link to justify surveilling an anti-war rally in Pittsburgh, the Justice Department's inspector general said yesterday in a report on the bureau's scrutiny of domestic activist groups.

Inspector General Glenn Fine said the FBI had no reason to expect that anyone of interest in a terrorism investigation would be present at the 2002 event sponsored by the Thomas Merton Center, a nonviolent anti-war and anti-discrimination group.

The surveillance was "an ill-conceived project on a slow work day," the IG stated in a study of several FBI domestic terrorism probes of people affiliated with organizations such as Greenpeace and the Catholic Worker.

Earlier, in statements to Congress and in a press release, the FBI had described the Pittsburgh rally surveillance by one agent as related to a terrorism investigation.

In a letter to the IG, FBI Deputy Director Timothy Murphy said the FBI regrets that inaccurate information was provided to the FBI director and Congress regarding the basis for the agent's presence at the rally.

Speaking generally of the FBI probes it studied, the IG said a domestic-terrorism classification has far-reaching impact because ...

Despite accidents, natural-gas pipeline info is elusive

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO — Public records can reveal a lot about a neighborhood: who's not paying their taxes, where sex offenders live, whether a house for sale has lead paint. Yet if a 2½-foot-wide pipeline carrying highly pressurized, explosive natural gas runs beneath the neighborhood, it's a different story.

Citing fears that terrorists might try to blow up the nation's natural-gas pipelines, federal regulators and the industry have made it extremely difficult for homeowners to learn the location of pipelines and any history of inspections and repairs — information that safety advocates say could save lives.

In the wake of a deadly pipeline blast earlier this month in San Bruno, Calif., and serious leaks in Michigan and Illinois, the secrecy surrounding the nation's 2.5-million-mile network of gas-transmission lines is facing criticism.

Many of these tightlipped practices sprang up after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, out of fear of another catastrophic attack. Before 9/11, for example, there were no restrictions on who could look at maps of the nation's gas pipelines, but since then, full access to the information has been limited to industry and local, state and federal officials.

The federal government also has asked utilities to remove maps of pipeline ...

Techland Previews The Liberty Annual!

Monday, September 20th, 2010
Our friends over at Techland offer up an exclusive preview of all the great stuff coming in this year's Liberty Annual! Liberty Annual arrives on October 6 -- be sure to ask your retailer to set aside your copy!

FIRE Places Billboard Criticizing Bucknell University’s Free Speech Record

Monday, September 20th, 2010

As today's press release notes, FIRE has purchased a billboard advertisement to publicize Bucknell University's poor record on free speech.

Bucknell, which used two policies to shut down the expression of the Bucknell University Conservatives Club (BUCC) on three separate occasions, is on FIRE's Red Alert list as one of the worst violators of free speech on campus. Two Bucknell presidents, including new president John C. Bravman, have so far refused to renounce Bucknell's censorship or revise the policies. Therefore, as of today, trustees, alumni, and others traveling northbound on Route 15 will see the electronic billboard near Bucknell's campus.

Torch readers know the story. In March 2009, a Bucknell administrator stopped BUCC from distributing "Obama stimulus dollars" expressing opposition to President Barack Obama's economic policies. The administrator also claimed that students need prior permission to distribute "anything from Bibles to other matter" on campuscompletely contradicting Bucknell's public promises of free speech on campus.

Then, in April 2009, Bucknell administrators shut down BUCC's "affirmative action bake sale" due to an alleged paperwork error. A video recording shows Associate Dean of Students Gerald W. Commerford (now retired) informing BUCC that the supposed error gave him the "opportunity" to ...

So Much for "Prompt Disclosure"

Monday, September 20th, 2010

When the Supreme Court decided earlier this year to allow corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections, the justices in the majority (save Justice Clarence Thomas) took care to note that “prompt disclosure” of political spending would allow citizens to hold candidates, and their funders, accountable. It’s a nice idea…but things haven’t exactly worked out that way.

Instead, Public Citizen reported last week, in the first election after Citizens United, groups funneling money to political activities have increasingly been hiding where their money comes from.

Only 32 percent of the organizations broadcasting electioneering communications in the 2010 primary season revealed in their filings with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) the identities of donors funding their advertisements, according to Public Citizen’s analysis of FEC filings. In contrast, nearly 50 percent revealed their donors in the 2008 election cycle, and close to 100 percent did so in the 2004 and 2006 cycles. Electioneering communications are campaign ads run shortly before elections that focus on candidates but don’t expressly urge a vote for or against them.

Only 10 percent of Republican groups disclosed their funders, in contrast to 50 percent of Democratic groups.

This shouldn’t come as a ...

Ninth Circuit Ruling Creates Unjust Barrier for First Amendment Plaintiffs

Monday, September 20th, 2010

Last week, a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Court reversed a federal district court's ruling that the Los Angeles Community College District's (LACCD's) speech code violates the First Amendment. The reason for the reversal was not that LACCD's speech policy is, in fact, constitutional. Instead, the Ninth Circuit held that plaintiff Jonathan Lopez, a student at one of LACCD's member institutions, does not have the proper standing to challenge LACCD's speech code. The Ninth Circuit's erroneous holding conflicts with other courts of appeals and undermines the purpose behind the relaxed standing requirement for First Amendment plaintiffs.

The doctrine of standing refers to the requirement that plaintiffs must suffer a legally-recognized harm before they can seek relief in court. In the First Amendment context, the standing requirement is relaxed considerably so that those whose speech may be chilled by unconstitutional speech restrictions can bring suit on behalf of everyone subject to the restriction. Lower standing requirements in First Amendment cases are critical to ensuring that citizens do not censor themselves out of fear of being punished under an unconstitutional law.

This is why the trial court ruled in Lopez v. Candaele that Lopez, who ...

STORYLINE 2010: See it Now

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

 In the summer of 2009, a handful of organizations and individuals, in the Charlottesville community collaborated on the creation of STORYLINE.  The project joins local artists, designers and historians with youth in the Charlottesville Parks and Recreation Summer Camp program to explore and interpret the places where they live through the the exercise of their right of free expression.  In 2010 the students transform their experiences into a public work of art displayed on the First Amendment Monument. This is their story.

Celebrating Constitution Day: Towards a More Perfect Union

Friday, September 17th, 2010

My Constitution Day started out great. I watched the Schoolhouse Rock "Preamble" song a few times to get into the Constitutional spirit (until I thought Peter would send a cease-and-desist letter from his office next door).

The wise and catchy Schoolhouse Rock gang tells us the brief history of the Constitution. But the real story lies in how we--The People--interpret the founders' words today. Their aspiration to a more perfect union rings a little hollow when I read headlines like this morning's: Student tears down "Free Speech Wall."

Just like that, my buoyant mood crashed, Hindenburg-style, before I had finished my morning coffee. A free speech wall was one of the ideas I encouraged students to try on the Torch earlier this month, but these were not the photos I had envisioned.


That this Pepperdine University student's first impulse was to censor by destroying the free speech wall because he disagreed with some of its statements proves that the advocacy FIRE engages in on Constitution Day and throughout the year is essential to changing the anti-liberty culture that exists on too many campuses.

The Constitution Day events going on today give me cause to hope. Students are holding ...

20 Percent of Students Feel Having Unpopular Views on Campus is Unsafe

Friday, September 17th, 2010

If I told you that that 35% of Americans strongly agreed that it was safe to hold unpopular views in this country, while 65% didn't know or thought otherwise, how would that make you feel about the culture of freedom in the United States? At first that seems pretty good, right? What if I then told you that an additional 45% somewhat agreed that it's safe to hold unpopular views? That's 80% of people who more or less agree that it's safe to hold unpopular views in this country. That doesn't sound too bad, right?

That is, until you realize that this means that 62 million of this nation's 310 million people feel that it's unsafe to hold unpopular views. That's equivalent to the entire population of the United Kingdom. It's not looking so good now, is it?

That's certainly not the perspective that the headline writer at The Chronicle of Higher Education took. An article on a survey of college students that came up with these very percentages was headlined this way: "Most Students Say It's Safe to Hold Unpopular Views on Their Campuses." The article, by Paige Chapman, is a pretty good summary of what's in the report, ...

California Ban on Violent Videogames Violates First Amendment

Friday, September 17th, 2010

Washington, D.C. - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and The Progress & Freedom Foundation (PFF) urged the United States Supreme Court Friday to protect the free speech rights of videogame creators and users, asking the justices to uphold a ruling throwing out unconstitutional restrictions on violent videogames.

At issue is a California law that bans the sale or rental of "violent" videogames to anyone under the age of 18, among other regulations. While the law was passed in 2005, it has never taken effect, as courts have repeatedly ruled that it is unconstitutional. California appealed its loss at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court

In the amicus brief filed today, EFF and PFF explain how the current videogame content rating system empowers parents to make their own decisions without unconstitutionally restricting this new and evolving form of free speech.

"Videogames are fully protected speech, and both the 'violence' and 'interactivity' feared by California's law are expressive aspects of books, plays, and movies -- not just videogames," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Lee Tien. "The government can't regulate speech content, even to protect children, if there are reasonably effective private rating systems and parental control tools that ...

On Writing, Funding, and Distributing Software to Activists Against Authoritarian Regimes

Friday, September 17th, 2010

Writing software to protect political activists against censorship and surveillance is a tricky business. If those activists are living under the kind of authoritarian regimes where a loss of privacy may lead to the loss of life or liberty, we need to tread especially cautiously.

A great deal of post-mortem analysis is occurring at the moment after the collapse of the Haystack project. Haystack was a censorship-circumvention project that began as a real-time response to Iranian election protests last year. The code received significant levels of media coverage, but never reached the levels of technical maturity and security that are necessary to protect the lives of activists in countries like Iran (or many other places, for that matter).

This post isn't going to get into the debate about the social processes that gave Haystack the kind of attention and deployment that it received, before it had been properly reviewed and tested. Instead, we want to emphasize something else: it remains possible to write software that makes activists living under authoritarian regimes safer. But the developers, funders, and distributors of that software need to remember that it isn't easy, and need to go about it the right ...

Adam on American University’s New Conduct Code: Same Problem, New University

Friday, September 17th, 2010

Much of the September 14 issue of the American University student newspaper The Eagle concerns recent revisions to AU's "Student Conduct Code." Of particular concern to AU students is the vague expansion of AU's ability to punish off-campus behavior. It's not hard to see why; the revised regulation simultaneously gives AU more authority to police off-campus behavior and gives AU students less of an idea of what may be punished. According to the new code (with emphasis on "may"):

[T]he university may take disciplinary action for off-campus infractions of the Code when a student's behavior threatens or endangers the safety and well-being of the campus community; when a student is the subject of a violation of local, state or federal law; or when, in the judgment of university officials, a student's alleged misconduct has a negative effect on the university's pursuit of its mission or on the well being of the greater community.

The Eagle has published an op-ed ("Same Problem, New University") by FIRE's Adam Kissel, which draws parallels between AU's new policy and a proposed policy FIRE encountered in the University of Wisconsin system in 2009, which FIRE helped to rectify:

[O]ne of the problems ...

FIRE’s Robert Shibley Blasts Harrisburg University’s Social Networking Ban in ‘Pajamas Media’

Friday, September 17th, 2010

Over at Pajamas Media, FIRE Senior Vice President Robert Shibley pokes fun at Pennsylvania's Harrisburg University's recent decision to block social networking tools such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and AOL Instant Messenger from university network connections for the duration of this week. The university apparently did so in order to give students, faculty, and staff a "shared experience" that will allow them to "see how they can use social media in a more positive and efficient way."

Of this silly and misguided bit of campus paternalism, Robert writes:

Don't call it censorship, though! Eric D. Darr, Harrisburg's executive vice president and provost, says it's not: "We're not denying students, staff, and faculty the right to connect to Facebook since the university network is only one avenue to get to these sites," he said. "They can drive down the road to a place with wireless if they really want."

As exercises in censorship go, this is not exactly North Korean in its ambition. But the lack of awareness of the nature of censorship that Darr's comment displays is stunning. Darr is right that they are "only" censoring the university network. But that makes it no less a form of censorship ...

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund Urges Supreme Court to Reject New Restrictions on Speech in Video Game Censorship Case

Friday, September 17th, 2010
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund today filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Schwarzenegger v. EMA, urging the Supreme Court to affirm the Ninth Circuit's decision that a California law banning the sale or rental of any video game containing violent content to minors, and requiring manufacturers to label such games, is unconstitutional. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund submits that, if allowed to stand, California's law would reverse fundamental First Amendment principles by creating a new category of unprotected speech, diminishing the First Amendment rights of minors, and reducing First Amendment protection for new media. The CBLDF argues that the law under review is the most recent example of government improperly attempting to regulate content by using junk science, and calls upon a history of moral panics against media that includes the 1950s crusades against comics that crippled the industry and harmed the art form. The CBLDF asks the Supreme Court to deny California this attempt to roll back protections guaranteed by the First Amendment, as it and other courts have correctly done in the past. Read on for the full release, and brief.

Obama Speaks Out, Again, on Citizens United

Friday, September 17th, 2010

While addressing a fundraiser in Connecticut for Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who is running against self-funding multimillionaire Linda McMahon, President Obama laid into the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and its devastating consequences. With the possibility of the Senate passing a new version of the DISLCOSE Act, which would mitigate the Supreme Court’s ruling by requiring political organizations to publicly disclose its financial backers, President Obama reminded us again on why Citizens United is so dangerous to democracy:

This is a tough election season. People are hurting and they are understandably frustrated. And a lot of them are scared. And a lot of them are anxious. And that means that even when people don't have ideas, if they've got enough money behind them, they may be able to convince some folks that, you know what, just cast a protest vote, throw the bums out. That's a mentality that has an appeal. And you can't blame folks for feeling that way sometime. But that's not a future for our country, a country that's more divided, that's more unequal, that's less dynamic, where we're falling behind in everything from investment in infrastructure to investment in R&D. That's not a vision for the ...