Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Banned Books Week: Call for Display Photos!

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Will your library or bookstore sponsor an event or display in celebration of Banned Books Week 2010 (September 25-October 2)? If so, join the Banned Books Week 2010 group in Flickr to share your photos with other libraries across the country!

Your photo may even be selected for our featured display of the day! One photo of a Banned Books Week display will be spotlighted on the OIF Blog each day during Banned Books Week. In order to increase your chances of being featured, please include the city, state, and name of the library or bookstore where the display is located. If your library is not on Flickr, you can also email your photo to, to be considered for our featured display of the day.

We also encourage you to list your event or display in the Banned Books Week calendar at  To add a new event/display, go to

Thanks for your help in making Banned Books Week 2010 a great success!

The Citizens United Fallout Reaches Ohio

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, state-level laws regulating corporate election spending have been crumbling. Today, yet another bit the dust:

An agreement between Ohio elections officials and an anti-abortion group voids a state ban that kept businesses and unions from funding pre-election broadcast ads in support of specific candidates.

The Wednesday agreement in U.S. District Court in Columbus settles part of a 2008 lawsuit brought by Ohio Right to Life Society Inc. against the Ohio Elections Commission and Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner. It follows a January U.S. Supreme Court decision that strikes down a similar federal ban.

Sarah Palin Revisited: Why Terms of Use Shouldn’t Be Enforced Through Computer Crime Law

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

Last week, we questioned whether Sarah Palin may have violated Facebook's terms of use by using a ghostwriter to update her profile. We also criticized Facebook's attempts to enforce those terms with state and federal computer crime laws — which carry both civil and criminal penalties — in Facebook v. Power Ventures.

As we explained, it's dangerous for a website to claim that users who breach its terms of use also violate computer crime law. Facebook users can easily make uncontroversial choices that nevertheless violate the plain meaning of Facebook's terms. Furthermore, Facebook shouldn't have the discretion to criminalize certain behavior just by forbidding it in terms of use.

In response, Facebook has written to us to point out the Sarah Palin and Barack Obama profiles we mentioned in our earlier post are Pages — or public profiles — rather than personal profiles. Facebook also noted that its general terms of use incorporate by reference another set of terms of use specifically for Pages, which allow the subject of a Page to authorize representatives to administer her public profile. Those representatives can administer the Page using their own accounts.

There's still a problem, though. Facebook maintains that both creators ...

John Doe Strikes Back: New Developments in the US Copyright Group ("Hurt Locker") Cases

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

After months of dragnet litigation and intimidation, some of the thousands of “John Doe” Defendants targeted in mass copyright lawsuits filed in the District of Columbia are fighting back in earnest.

The lawsuits are the brainchild of a Washington, D.C., law firm calling itself the "U.S. Copyright Group" (USCG). USCG investigators have identified IP addresses they allege are associated with the unauthorized uploading and downloading of independent films, including "Far Cry" and "The Hurt Locker." Using those addresses, USCG has filed several "John Doe" lawsuits in D.C., implicating well over 14,000 individuals, and has issued subpoenas to ISPs seeking the identities of the subscribers associated with those IP addresses.

Last week, a group of over 40 Doe Defendants targeted in two of the cases filed an omnibus motion to quash a subpoena seeking their identities and to dismiss the cases against them. The Defendants are represented by Carey Lening, Christina DiEdoardo, Tuna Mecit and Bradford Patrick. Echoing arguments EFF raised in an earlier amicus brief, the Defendants explain that USCG has improperly joined together thousands of defendants and has sued those defendants in the wrong court. In addition, Defendants argue that USCG’s gamesmanship violates the normal procedures for large-scale litigation ...

Censors Ban Media Chat Group

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010
Chinese authorities shut down a popular chat-based media exchange.

Video and media coverage of Saturday’s Quran reading

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

On Saturday, September 11, ALA staged a reading from the Quran, in response to the high-profile threat to burn the book by a Florida pastor. The event demonstrated the library community’s commitment to intellectual freedom and belief that spreading knowledge and information is the best counterpoint to efforts to destroy or restrict access to it.

In 10 days, Banned Books Week starts. ALA will kick off this annual celebration of the freedom to read with a Read-Out! of the most frequently banned and challenged books of 2009. We hope those in Chicago will join us Saturday, Sept. 25 from noon-2:00 in historic Bughouse Square (901 N. Clark). Others around the country should check our website for events in your area.

Below, we are pleased to share the video and media coverage of the Quran reading:

ALA press release

Associated Press: Library Group Holds Reading Of Quran In Chicago

Chicago Tribune: Library group hosts Quran reading

WGN: Local Groups Battle Anti-Islam Sentiment

EFF Says Violating Company Policies Is Not a Computer Crime

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) urged a federal appeals court Tuesday to dismiss charges that would turn any employee use of company computers in violation of corporate policy into a federal crime.

In U.S. v. Nosal, an ex-employee is being prosecuted on the claim that he induced current company employees to use their legitimate credentials to access the company's proprietary database and provide him with information, in violation of corporate computer-use policy. The government claims that the violation of this private policy constitutes a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). Following a decision issued just last year by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, the District Court ruled against the government, holding that violations of corporate policy are not equivalent to violations of federal computer crime law. The government appealed to the 9th Circuit.

In an amicus brief filed in the case on Tuesday, EFF argues that turning mere violations of company policies into computer crimes could potentially create a massive expansion of the CFAA, turning millions of law-abiding workers into criminals.

"Companies' policies often prohibit personal use of company computers. The government's argument here would potentially turn employees into criminals ...

Public Funding of the Arts, Free Speech and Self-Censorship

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010
Tomorrow, September 15 at 6:30 PM, NCAC and the Vera List Center for Art and Politics, presents the first of two FREE panels on art and censorship. Panel 1, “Survival vs. Autonomy: Public Funding of the Arts, Free Speech and Self-Censorship”, examines how the introduction of the decency clause and culture wars over arts funding [...]

Motion for Reconsideration in Valdosta State Case Seeks Recognition of First Amendment, Susbtantive Due Process Violations

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

A major federal court victory earlier this month vindicated the procedural due process rights of former Valdosta State University (VSU) student Hayden Barnes, but not his First Amendment or substantive due process rights. A motion for reconsideration filed last Friday by Barnes' attorneys aims to change that.

More than three years ago, Barnes was expelled from VSU for peacefully protesting the university's construction of a parking garage. Former VSU President Ronald Zaccari labeled Barnes a "clear and present danger" and had him "administratively withdrawn" from VSU for posting a collage on Facebook to protest the environmental impact of the planned parking garage. On Sept. 3, 2010, United States District Judge Charles A. Pannell, Jr. ruled that Zaccari's placing a letter of expulsion under Barnes' door without providing notice and a fair hearing violated his right to due process. This constitutional violation was so obvious, in fact, that Judge Pannell deemed Zaccari personally liable for damages Barnes suffered.

Judge Pannell's decision is a big win for students' due process rights and for students' rights in general. The decision is a warning that administrators like Zaccari can and will be held personally accountable for flagrant constitutional violations. However, Judge Pannell's ...

Revised Opinion in Privacy Case Blurs Clear Limits to Digital Search and Seizure

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

Yesterday, the Ninth Circuit issued an unfortunate revised opinion in United States v. Comprehensive Drug Testing Inc., a case featuring blatantly unconstitutional government action. As the court put it:

“This case is about a federal investigation into steroid use by professional baseball players. More generally, however, it’s about the procedures and safeguards that federal courts must observe in issuing and administering search warrants and subpoenas for electronically stored information.”

One shocking example: the government seized and reviewed the drug testing records for hundreds of players in Major League Baseball—and many other people—even though the judicially authorized warrant was limited to the records of the ten players for whom the government had probable cause.

The Ninth Circuit had in its earlier en banc decision [579 F.3d 989 (9th Cir. 2009)] set forth guidelines meant to ensure that even otherwise lawful warrants authorizing the search and seizure of computers do not give officers too much access to private data that might be intermingled with evidence of a crime: (1) the government must waive the “plain view” rule, meaning it must agree to only use evidence of the crime or crimes that led to obtaining the warrant, and not to use evidence of ...

Jack-Booted Thugs and Copyright Enforcement

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

When it comes to copyright enforcement and the government, EFF frequently warns that giving government agents a reason to censor, search, seize, and indict must be taken very seriously. Without safeguards and a thorough accounting of the consequences, laws and policies targeting so-called "pirates" can be used to pry away human rights and undermine fundamental elements of democracy and freedom.

We saw damning evidence of this unfold this past weekend. On Saturday, the New York Times broke news of Russian law enforcement officers raiding an environmental group's offices and confiscating computers. What excuse did the police officers give for raiding the environmental group? Because Russian security services were investigating claims (unfounded, as it turned out) that the group had unauthorized copies of Microsoft software.

The New York Times article goes on to explain that the raid on the environmental group is only a recent example of a growing pattern: "Across Russia, the security services have carried out dozens of similar raids against outspoken advocacy groups or opposition newspapers in recent years." For those familiar with the hard line copyright maximalist position — which holds that all copyright infringement should be swiftly prosecuted with harsh penalties regardless of the context ...

U.S. judges agree to pilot study of cameras in court

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

WASHINGTON — The nation's federal judges agreed yesterday to a pilot project that could televise some civil trials — 16 years after the judges ended a similar experiment.

Appeals court judge David Sentelle told reporters that many of the details remained to be worked out, but that cameras could not record the faces of witnesses or jurors. Sentelle also said either side in a lawsuit could keep cameras out.

The move by the policymaking body for the federal judiciary, the Judicial Conference, follows an aborted effort to have video recordings of the trial over California's ban on gay marriage posted on the Internet. In January, the Supreme Court nixed a plan by Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker in San Francisco to have cameras record the trial.

Under the terms described by Sentelle, had this pilot project already been under way, the gay-marriage trial would not have been aired because defenders of the ban objected to cameras at the trial.

A three-year pilot project in the early 1990s received generally good reviews from judges. Yet in 1994, the Judicial Conference restored its longtime ban on televised proceedings.

In 1996, the nation's appeals courts were allowed to decide for themselves ...

CFN Launches 2010-2011 Incentive Program

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010
As the new school year begins and students return to campus, the Campus Freedom Network is excited to work with members to spread awareness of FIRE's work on campus. This year is already off to a busy start, with several op-eds penned by 2010 CFN Conference attendees, dozens of new members, and FIRE lectures scheduled at campuses across the country this semester.

The CFN Incentive Program rewards these students who advocate for liberty on campus. Here's how it works: whenever a CFN member engages in liberty-minded activismincluding publishing op-eds on FIRE cases and related issues, hosting FIRE speakers, recruiting new members, and even posting FIRE widgets to a website or bloghe or she earns points. These points accumulate to earn prizes. The point/prize breakdown is as follows:

25 points - A copy of The Shadow University by FIRE Co-Founders Alan Charles Kors and Harvey Silverglate.

50 points - FIRE Nalgene water bottle.

75 points - $15 gift card to Borders, Starbucks, or iTunes.

100 points - A free book on liberty. Choices include Don Downs' Restoring Free Speech and Liberty on Campus, KC Johnson's and Stuart Taylor's Until Proven ...

Media Reactions Regarding Benchmark Student Speech Victory Continue

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

Former Valdosta State University (VSU) student Hayden Barnes' federal court victory has continued to perk up media moguls' ears. As we've reported, Barnes' First Amendment and due process rights were violated when his peaceful protest against former VSU president Ronald Zaccari's plan to spend $30 million of student fee money on new parking garages got him kicked out of school in 2007. Judge Charles A. Pannell Jr.'s Sept. 3 order held Zaccari personally liable for damages against Barnes, and the media aren't wary of calling him out for it.

Since Barnes' victory, Torch and Valdosta Daily Times readers know Zaccari has been striving to save face, slighting the facts of his loss in a comically twisted manner. The Times article, which made the front page of the print edition, breaks down Barnes' case, highlighting his triumph over Zaccari from start to finish.

WorldNetDaily's Bob Unruh also chronicles the steps that led to Barnes' unlawful expulsion, noting again that Zaccari repeatedly ignored the advice of VSU officials:

Another series of meetings followed at which Zaccari repeatedly was told there were no grounds for worry and that if there was any action taken, the student deserved "due process," including ...

Seeking Contestants for the Banned Books Week Trivia Game Show! In Second Life

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

Do you like books? Do you know everything there is to know about the likes of Harry Potter and Holden Caulfield? Then you just may be the perfect candidate to match wits at our Banned Books Trivia Game. ALA Island is looking for contestants for our very first Banned Books Week Trivia Game Show, which will be held on Thursday, September 30, from 12:00 PM to 2:00 PM in Second Life. If you’d like to sign up to be a contestant, Instant Message ALA Island manager, Kay Tairov, in SL by September 21.

In the style of Jeopardy!, our host Bryan Anderton will lead three lucky contestants through three rounds of banned book related trivia. As they play, our contestants will gain (and lose) points. Once Final Jeopardy is played the contestant with the most points is declared the winner. And while winning itself is, of course, a huge honor, that’s not all that’s at stake! First prize takes home 500 L$ as well as those prestigious bragging rights. Not to worry, our runners up will be rewarded as well, as thanks for playing.

For more information about Banned Books Week events occurring in Second Life, please click here.

Privacy and Safety Questions Loom Over Federal Program to Track Preschoolers

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

San Francisco - The ACLU of Northern California (ACLU-NC) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) are calling for answers to critical privacy and safety questions that loom over a controversial federal program to track preschoolers with radio frequency identification (RFID) chips at George Miller III Head Start program in Richmond, California.

In an open letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Contra Costa County Employment and Human Services Department, ACLU-NC and EFF are asking officials to disclose what technical and security measures are used by the system to safeguard the privacy and safety of preschoolers, as well as what data is collected, how long it is retained, and who has access to the information. The letter also calls on officials to publicly address why and how the government decided to track Head Start students, and if the government plans to expand such tracking.

"This program allows for far more invasive surveillance than is required for attendance and other record-keeping for a Head Start program," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Lee Tien. "We want to know how and when privacy and security issues were considered in the development of this program, and how many other schools ...

9th Circuit’s Troubling New State Secrets Decision Demonstrates Need for Reform

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, ruling en banc in a case called Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, yesterday adopted the Bush and Obama Administration's joint Executive Branch power grab in the form of the state secrets privilege. The Court, in a 6-5 en banc ruling, dismissed a case brought by victims of horrendous torture and forced disappearance against a Boeing subsidiary whose employee admitted that they knew they were handling the "torture flights." In refusing to hear the case, even the portions that could be based solely on already public evidence, the Court shunned its role as a co-equal branch of government protecting the rights of individuals against overreaching government. It also demonstrated just how badly we need Congress to step in and reform the state secrets privilege.

EFF had filed an amicus brief in the case, warning about this outcome: "Adopting the government's position would abdicate the Judiciary's Article III responsibility to adjudicate the constitutional and statutory limits on Executive authority."

Unfortunately, abdicating its responsibility is just what the Court did. It ordered summary dismissal of the complaint without allowing any discovery, or presentation of the public evidence or even a plan by the plaintiffs to litigate the ...

Full 9th Circuit orders new hearing in Calif. headscarf case

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court has ordered a new hearing for a Muslim woman who was made to remove her headscarf by Orange County deputies in a courthouse holding cell.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said yesterday that a majority of its 27 judges voted to set aside an earlier 9th Circuit ruling in the case.

The divided three-judge panel of the court decided in May that deputies had not violated Souhair Khatib's religious rights when they ordered her to remove the hijab for security reasons.

Khatib was briefly detained in 2007 while awaiting a probation-violation hearing related to a welfare-fraud conviction.

At issue is whether a courthouse holding cell qualifies as a pretrial detention facility under a federal law that protects inmates' religious practices.

The case is scheduled for rehearing in December before a panel of 11 judges.

Proposed NYC mosque site isn’t ‘hallowed ground,’ imam says

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

NEW YORK — It is two blocks from ground zero, but the site of a proposed mosque and Islamic center shouldn’t be seen as “hallowed ground” in a neighborhood that also contains a strip club and a betting parlor, the cleric leading the effort said yesterday.

Making an ardent case for the compatibility of Islam and American values, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf reiterated that he was searching for a solution to the furor the project has created. But he left unanswered exactly what he had in mind.

If anything, Rauf only deepened the questions around the project’s future, telling an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank that he was “exploring all options” — but declining to specify them — while also arguing that a high-profile site is necessary to get across his message of moderate Islam.

While opponents of the project see it as insulting the memories of the thousands killed by Muslim extremists in the 2001 terrorist attacks, Rauf said he doesn’t see the spot as sacred memorial space.

“It’s absolutely disingenuous, as many have said, that that block is hallowed ground,” Rauf said, noting the nearby exotic dance and betting businesses. “So let’s clarify that ...

Breaking News Security Alert – Stop Using Haystack Software Now

Monday, September 13th, 2010

The Censorship Research Center announced on its blog today that it has halted testing of the Haystack anti-censorship software in Iran pending a security review by a third party. Based on this announcement, we recommend that users stop using all versions of the Haystack software immediately.

Zaccari Statement on Federal Court Loss Ignores the Facts and Defies Rationality

Monday, September 13th, 2010

Whatever magical wonder drug has former Valdosta State University (VSU) President Ronald Zaccari feeling so good about the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia's ruling on his unconstitutional expulsion of former VSU student Hayden Barnes, I want it. Then I too will be able to gleefully ignore the less pleasant realities of my existence. If no such thing exists, then perhaps Zaccari should pay a visit to his local optometrist, for his reading of Judge Charles A. Pannell Jr.'s opinion so distorts the reality and gravity of his loss in court as to defy logic.

Zaccari's statement on the district court's opinion is reported in the Valdosta Daily Times in a detailed article on the chronology of Barnes' case. If you don't have time to read Judge Pannell's opinion in full, the Times gives an excellent breakdown of the facts of the case. Whether you read the Times or the full opinion, by the time you reach the end you'll wonder how Zaccari could keep a straight face on his loss. We break down his statement line by line here.

"Being president of Valdosta State University carried with it the awesome responsibility of looking out for the ...

EFF Welcomes New Attorneys to Transparency Team

Monday, September 13th, 2010

EFF is pleased to announce two new additions to our FOIA Litigation for Accountable Government (FLAG) Project: staff attorney Jennifer Lynch and Open Government Legal Fellow Mark Rumold. Our FLAG Project uses the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and other tools to uncover and expose important government information, protect individual liberties, and hold government agencies accountable.

Jennifer is already well-known in cyberlaw circles. Before joining EFF, Jennifer was the Clinical Teaching Fellow with the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic at UC Berkeley School of Law. At the Samuelson Clinic, Jennifer specialized in privacy and intellectual property issues, including privacy and the smart electrical grid, digital books, open source and biotech, fair use in educational materials, and government use of social media in criminal investigations. Before the Clinic, Jennifer practiced with Bingham McCutchen in San Francisco, where she focused on commercial litigation and represented several California prisoners in a large civil rights case against state prison wardens.

Mark recently received his law degree from University of California, Berkeley School of Law, and his legal interests include the First Amendment, information privacy, and the ways technology can improve how we structure government. He worked previously as an judicial ...

University of Wyoming to Host Much-Needed Discussion on Freedom of Expression

Monday, September 13th, 2010

We haven't been that nice to the University of Wyoming here on The Torch in recent months. Then again, the university's recent anticsbanning education professor and former Weather Underground leader William Ayers from speaking on the campus and then losing $86,000 of Wyoming taxpayer money trying to defend this indefensible decision in courthaven't made it the easiest to love.

After being dragged through the mud here and elsewhere, however, I'm encouraged to see UW's announcement that it will hold a forum on the subject of freedom of expression on its campus. The university's press release states that the event "will explore issues surrounding the role of speakers invited to universities and colleges, including who can and should speak on campus, what the university's responsibilities to its public are and whether speakers contribute to the education of students." The four panelists taking part (as stated in the press release) are:

Joan DelFattore, an award-winning author and professor of English and legal studies at the University of Delaware; author of "Knowledge in the Making: Academic Freedom and Free Speech in America's Schools and Universities."

Kenneth Lasson, professor of law at the University of Baltimore; author of ...

Sherman Alexie novel officially banned from Missouri school

Monday, September 13th, 2010
A disappointing ruling came out last night regarding Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian in Stockton, Missouri. The Stockton School Board voted 7-0 holding firm in its decision to remove the book from school classrooms, notwithstanding pressure from many educators to keep it. The board also ruled in favor of banning [...]

“Magic Words” Trump User Rights: Ninth Circuit Ruling in Vernor v. Autodesk

Monday, September 13th, 2010

In a major blow to user rights, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a decision that will go a long way toward ensuring that software buyers will rarely be software owners.

In a triumph of legal formalism over reality, the Court held that the copyright’s first sale doctrine – the law that allows you to resell books and that protects libraries and archives from claims of copyright infringement – doesn’t apply to software (and possibly DVDs, CDs and other “licensed” content) as long as the vendor saddles the transfer with enough restrictions to transform what the buyer may think is sale into a mere license.

Here's the back story: Timothy Vernor bought four packages of Autodesk's AutoCAD software at a garage sale and tried to sell them on eBay. Autodesk threatened Mr. Vernor with a copyright lawsuit, claiming that its software is only “licensed,” never sold and pointing to the fine print on the agreement it had with the original purchaser. With the assistance of the public interest litigators at Public Citizen, Vernor filed suit in Seattle against Autodesk, asking the court to clarify his right to resell the AutoCAD software packages that he paid good money ...

The DISCLOSE Act’s Second Chance

Monday, September 13th, 2010

As Congress returns to work this month, the Senate will likely have another chance to vote on the DISCLOSE Act, legislation meant to mitigate the damage of Citizens United by requiring full disclosure of corporate spending in elections.

The House passed the DISCLOSE Act in June. In July, it sank in the Senate, when not a single Republican was willing to break a filibuster on the bill. Moderate Republicans Scott Brown, Susan Collins, and Olympia Snowe, despite previous support for clean election legislation, all sided with their party to kill the bill.

In the Washington Post today, E. J. Dionne writes that the support of those three senators is key to the passage of the DISCLOSE Act—though the pressure they face to oppose it is greater than ever:

As moderate Republicans, Snowe and Collins are undoubtedly looking over their right shoulders, fearful that they may go the way of Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Bob Bennett. This helps explain why they went south during negotiations over the health-care bill.

But repairing Citizens United is not an ideological question, although some cast it that way. Fiscal conservatives should be as worried as anyone about corporations using their newfound power to extract ...

Hartford City Council says no to Muslim prayer

Monday, September 13th, 2010

HARTFORD, Conn. — Hartford officials now say they won't include Muslim prayers before City Council meetings in September, after getting mostly negative feedback from the public on an earlier plan to invite Islamic invocations.

The reversal has prompted the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Connecticut to plan a prayer vigil tonight at City Hall in protest.

Some city councilors suggested including Islamic prayers in September along with convocations from representatives of other faiths. City councilors had planned to go ahead with the Muslim prayers despite receiving a flood of negative e-mails. The Hartford Courant reported they decided Sept. 10 to hold an interfaith moment of silence instead.

The Islamic relations council is requesting that an imam be allowed to say a Muslim prayer at the City Council's Sept. 27 meeting.

Mongi Dhaouadi, executive director of CAIR's Connecticut chapter, said calling off the imam's prayer creates an impression that Connecticut Muslims were involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Courant reported.

Federal judge lifts donation limits for Ky. school board races

Monday, September 13th, 2010

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A federal judge late last week suspended a law limiting campaign contributions in Kentucky school board races to $100, making candidates in those races eligible for the $1,000 cap from individual contributors allowed in other races.

U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves in Frankfort ruled that the limit unconstitutionally restricts a candidate’s right to free association.

The preliminary injunction against the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance comes in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a college professor and one-time candidate for the school board in Louisville. The ACLU and school board candidate claimed the limit was unconstitutional and hindered the right to free speech in a political campaign.

Kentucky had barred anyone from donating more than $100 to school board candidates. Violating the prohibition is a felony. The individual contribution limit in most other races is $1,000.

Kentucky’s campaign-finance regulators argued, in part, that the $100 limit in school board races was in place to keep political influence out of the schools.

“The Court does not find the justification of ‘eliminating political influence in schools’ sufficiently important to justify the abridgment of individuals’ associational rights,” Reeves wrote.

The ACLU brought the ...

5th Circuit turns back GOP-led campaign-finance challenge

Monday, September 13th, 2010

NEW ORLEANS — A divided federal appeals court in New Orleans has rejected a Republican-backed challenge of federal campaign-finance restrictions.

U.S. Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao of Louisiana and the Republican National Committee filed suit in November 2008. At the heart of the lawsuit is the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, which among other provisions, limits what state and national parties can spend in coordinated efforts on behalf of a candidate — about $42,000 each in Cao's case.

The state and national parties cannot consult with each other on money spent beyond that limit, a problem that state party leaders have said can lead to duplicative or contradictory messages.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Sept. 10 that the ban on coordinated campaign speech doesn’t violate candidates’ free-speech rights.

The ruling in In Re: Cao, is likely to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Five judges of the 16-member court disagreed with the ruling, writing: “The majority employs a meat cleaver instead of a scalpel in the most sensitive constitutional area of political speech.”

The 5th Circuit sent the case back to the trial court with instructions to decide the case in a way consistent with ...

Federal judge throws out N.D. Ten Commandments suit

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

FARGO, N.D. — A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit over a Ten Commandments monument in downtown Fargo.

The lawsuit by the Red River Freethinkers group claims the city gave the monument a religious purpose in voting three years ago to keep it. The city argued that the case should be dismissed for lack of merit.

U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson ruled on Sept. 8 to accept the recommendations of U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Klein, who said the Freethinkers should not be allowed to challenge the city's decision to keep the marker.

The city originally had voted to move it.

The monument was donated to the city in 1958, to commemorate an urban renewal project. It was installed on its current site near the Fargo Civic Auditorium in 1961.

Mo. school board keeps ban on award-winning book

Saturday, September 11th, 2010

STOCKTON, Mo. — A southwest Missouri school board voted to keep in place its ban on a National Book Award-winning novel about a Native American boy after hearing from parents who object to its strong language and sexual imagery.

The Stockton School Board voted 7-0 Sept. 8 to continue to ban The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. The board also voted against a proposal to return the book to the high school library with restrictions.

The book was read in high school classes last school year until the board voted in April to ban it, after the parent of an elementary school student complained about its content. About 200 people attended the Sept. 8 public meeting on the issue, including many who want the ban rescinded.

The book by Sherman Alexie is about a young boy who leaves his school at an Indian reservation to attend a mostly white high school. Supporters of the book say it includes issues that all teens deal with, but is aimed at teens in low-income, mostly rural areas. It includes sexual language, off-color jokes, and discussions of masturbation, racism, alcoholism and violence. It also tells how the boy tries to realize his ...


Friday, September 10th, 2010
Berkeley, CA - 10 September 2010 - Image Comics and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund are proud to launch the most exciting edition of their annual benefit anthology yet! THE CBLDF PRESENTS LIBERTY ANNUAL 2010 is powered by the donated time and energy of comic book luminaries to benefit the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. CBLDF’s LIBERTY ANNUAL 2010 boasts 48 incredible pages of story and art celebrating Free Expression! Previous volumes, published by Image Comics under the title CBLDF's Liberty Comics, have so far raised more than $50,000 for the Fund.

Time for Colorado College to get off FIRE’s Red Alert List

Friday, September 10th, 2010

For the third consecutive year, Colorado College is called out for its shameful disregard of free speech in FIRE's full-page U.S. News & World Report advertisement. As with its fellow Red Alert list members, we would dearly like to take it off the list, and for Colorado College to earn its way off would be simple. First, though, the matter of how it got on the list to begin with.

Torch readers may remember that in 2008 Colorado College student Chris Robinson, along with one other student, parodied a flyer called "The Monthly Rag," which had been distributed on campus pseudonymously by a group calling itself the "Feminist and Gender Studies Interns." The Monthly Rag contained items of interest to its authors, including, for example, a promotion for an upcoming lecture on "feminist porn" and a harmless reference to "male castration."

In response, Robinson and the other student circulated their flyercalled "The Monthly Bag"under the pseudonym "The Coalition of Some Dudes." The Monthly Bag riffed on such manly topics as "chainsaw etiquette," "tough guy wisdom," and the specifications of a sniper rifle.

What happened next? Here's how I described Colorado College's staggering overreaction earlier:

Shortly after ...

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” violates First Amendment says federal judge

Friday, September 10th, 2010

A federal judge said she will issue an order to halt the military’s "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy, after she declared the ban on openly gay service members unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips ruled Thursday that the prohibition on openly gay service members was unconstitutional because it violates the First and Fifth Amendment rights of gays and lesbians.

Read more.

FIRE Announces Exciting New Career Opportunity

Friday, September 10th, 2010
FIRE is pleased to announce an immediate opening for an Assistant to the President. This position, which may be based either in the New York City area or at FIRE's headquarters in Philadelphia, will provide an individual with a unique experience at FIRE. In addition to serving as the president's personal assistant, one of the main duties for this position will be to assist in researching and writing articles, opinion pieces, academic writings, and even books. The Assistant to the President will gain a wide range of experience in nonprofit operations. This rare opportunity is perfect for an individual who cares about furthering FIRE's defense of basic rights on campus and is seeking to gain experience in the nonprofit sector. It is also ideal for someone who already has that experience but may be looking for the flexibility of working from home. If you are interested, please review the job posting on FIRE's website. If you know someone who might be interested, please pass along the link.

"Don’t Ask Don’t Tell" Is Held Unconstitutional

Friday, September 10th, 2010

Yesterday in a California courtroom, the already decaying edifice of anti-LGBT discrimination crumbled just a little bit more: U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips ruled that Don't Ask Don't Tell violates the United States Constitution. Specifically, she held that DADT violates servicemembers' Fifth Amendment due process rights and their First Amendment speech rights.

With regard to the due process aspect, Judge Phillips cited Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 case where the Supreme Court struck down the Texas law criminalizing consensual sex between two people of the same sex. In Lawrence, the Court held that intimate consensual sex is part of the fundamental constitutional right to privacy.

Since a fundamental constitutional right is at stake, Judge Phillips analyzed DADT using a higher level of scrutiny than rational basis: In order for DADT to stand, (1) it must advance an important governmental interest, (2) the intrusion on constitutionally protected intimate conduct must significantly further that interest, and (3) the intrusion must be necessary to further that interest.

Recognizing that judicial deference to Congress is traditionally highest in the context of legislation regulating the military, Judge Phillips correctly noted that "deference does not mean abdication." She carefully examined the evidence provided by ...

Quran-burning on again, off again

Friday, September 10th, 2010

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — As thousands of Afghans protested a tiny Florida church's plan to burn the Quran, the church's pastor said he wouldn't follow through with the burning if he were able to meet tomorrow with the organizers behind a mosque planned near ground zero in New York.

In Afghanistan, at least 11 people were injured today in protests against the planned burning.

Speaking to NBC's "Today" show, the Rev. Terry Jones said if he met with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf in New York, he wouldn't burn copies of the Muslim holy book. It wasn't clear if he meant the burning would be halted indefinitely or just for tomorrow.

Imam Muhammad Musri, the president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, told CBS' "The Early Show" he had a commitment for Jones and himself to meet in New York with Rauf there.

However, Rauf later said he had no plans for such a meeting, even as he seemed to leave the door open for one.

"I am prepared to consider meeting with anyone who is seriously committed to pursuing peace," Rauf said in a prepared statement. "We have no such meeting planned at this time. Our plans for the community ...

Afghan war book delayed over ‘classified’ material

Friday, September 10th, 2010

WASHINGTON — A former Army intelligence officer's attorney is questioning whether a new Defense Department security review of his client's memoir on the Afghanistan war is a retaliatory move that has forced a delay in the book's publication.

Anthony A. Shaffer's book, Operation Dark Heart: Spycraft and Special Ops on the Frontlines of Afghanistan — and the Path to Victory, was to be released by St. Martin's Press on Aug. 31. Shaffer's lawyer, Mark Zaid, said the Army Reserve cleared the manuscript for publication before it went to press.

However, Zaid said the Defense Department rescinded the approval shortly before publication, claiming the text contained classified information. About 9,000 copies of the book now sit in a warehouse.

A cleared version is back on press with sections blacked out by defense officials. Its publication date is unclear.

The New York Times reported on its website last night that the Pentagon is seeking to buy and destroy all copies of the book's first printing.

The newspaper had obtained a copy of the book, which it described as "a breezily written, first-person account of Colonel Shaffer's five months in Afghanistan in 2003."

Shaffer was a civilian Defense Intelligence Agency officer based near ...

Federal judge: ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ is unconstitutional

Friday, September 10th, 2010

LOS ANGELES — A federal judge yesterday declared the U.S. military's ban on openly gay service members unconstitutional and said she would issue an order to stop the government from enforcing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy nationwide.

U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips said in her 86-page opinion in Log Cabin Republicans v. Gates that the ban violates the First and Fifth Amendment rights of gays and lesbians.

The "don't ask, don't tell" policy prohibits the military from asking about the sexual orientation of service members. Under the 1993 policy, service men and women who acknowledge being gay or are discovered engaging in homosexual activity, even in the privacy of their own homes off base, are subject to discharge.

In yesterday’s order, Phillips said the policy doesn't help military readiness and instead has a "direct and deleterious effect" on the armed services by hurting recruiting during wartime and requiring the discharge of service members with critical skills and training.

The Log Cabin Republicans, a 19,000-member group that includes current and former military members, filed a lawsuit in 2004 seeking an injunction to stop the ban's enforcement. Phillips said that the group should submit a request for an injunction by Sept. ...

Calif. city can’t ban tattoo parlors, 9th Circuit rules

Friday, September 10th, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court struck down a city ban on tattoo parlors yesterday, ruling the artistic expression is entitled to free-speech protection under the U.S. Constitution.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the Southern California city of Hermosa Beach to allow tattoo parlors to operate.

The city had argued that the operations threaten public health and attract an unsavory clientele prone to crime.

Several state courts and federal trial courts have upheld similar bans in other cities across the country.

However, the ruling yesterday was the first by a federal appeals court, meaning such bans are now unconstitutional in the nine western states that must comply with 9th Circuit rulings.

Judge Jay Bybee, writing for the unanimous three-judge panel, said the city’s ordinance targeted protected speech.

“We hold that the tattoo itself, the process of tattooing, and the business of tattooing are forms of pure expression fully protected by the First Amendment,” Bybee wrote in Anderson v. Hermosa Beach.

Bybee also said the city’s ban wasn’t “a reasonable ‘time, place, or manner’ restriction because it is substantially broader than necessary to achieve the city’s significant health and safety interests and because it entirely forecloses a ...

Red Alert at Brandeis University: Administration Must Clear Professor’s Name

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

Following last Tuesday's full-page advertisement in U.S. News & World Report's annual "Best Colleges" issue, FIRE has been detailing why individual rights are in serious jeopardy at each of the six schools on our Red Alert list. For those of you just tuning in to this blog series, the Red Alert list is reserved for universities which, in FIRE's estimation, have displayed severe and ongoing disregard for the fundamental rights of their students or faculty members and are the "worst of the worst" when it comes to liberty on campus. This year's list includes Brandeis University, Bucknell University, Colorado College, Johns Hopkins University, Michigan State University, and Tufts University.

Brandeis will remain on FIRE's Red Alert list so long as it refuses to clear the name of Professor Donald Hindley, whom the administration found guilty of harassment in 2007 after he uttered the the word "wetbacks"in order to explain and criticize the use of the termin his Latin American politics course. Without a formal hearing or any statement of the charges against him, Hindley was notified that he had violated the university's anti-harassment policy by making "statements in ...

New York and Pennsylvania Attorneys: Last Chance to Register for FIRE’s First Amendment Continuing Legal Education Course!

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

A friendly reminder to attorneys in New York and Pennsylvania that time is very quickly running out to register for FIRE's first-ever Continuing Legal Education (CLE) course. Our CLE will be offered next Tuesday, September 14, 2010 in New York City from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m.

The course, entitled "Free Speech 101: Protecting Free Expression and the First Amendment at our Nation's Colleges and Universities," will provide a comprehensive analysis of the state of free speech protections as they pertain to college campuses. The course will focus on campus speech codes, recent developments in speech code litigation, and college administrators' responses to judicial rulings. The course will be taught by FIRE's Will Creeley and Azhar Majeed and will confer CLE benefits for members of both the New York and the Pennsylvania bars. A detailed description of the course and its instructors can be found here.

In accordance with the requirements of the New York State CLE Board, the course has been approved for 2 credit hours in "Areas of Professional Practice." The Pennsylvania CLE Board also approved the course for 1.5 hours of substantive law, practice, and procedure CLE credit. The course is appropriate for both newly admitted and ...

Alabama County Brings the Voting Rights Act to Court

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

An 87% white county in Alabama is arguing that some of the anti-discrimination protections in the Voting Rights Act are no longer necessary…and its case might end up in the Supreme Court.

Shelby County is protesting Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires counties with a history of discriminatory election practices to run new election rules by the Justice Department.

"For Congress to continue to interfere with Shelby County's electoral autonomy in 2010 based on conditions that existed in 1965 is both arbitrary and without constitutional justification," according to one of the county's written arguments in the case.

Shelby County's complaint is that Section 5 of the law -- which says the Justice Department has to make sure election-related changes don't discriminate against minority voters -- is no longer necessary and that complying with the law is a significant legal expense for county taxpayers.

The county, however, does not provide any details about the "taxpayer dollars, time and energy" it has spent over the years asking the federal government to pre-approve things like new district lines or polling place changes. The U.S. Justice Department, the defendant in the lawsuit, argues the claim about expenses is vague and unsupported ...

European Parliament Asks EU ACTA Negotiators to Protect Citizens’ Fundamental Rights

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

In a victory for democracy and transparency, the European Parliament adopted Written Declaration 12/2010 (WD 12) on the proposed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement earlier this week. WD 12 calls on EU negotiators to ensure that ACTA does not weaken citizens' fundamental rights of freedom of expression, privacy, and judicial due process, and will not require Internet intermediaries to act as copyright police at the behest of the entertainment industry. WD 12 also calls on EU negotiators to make the ACTA negotiation texts public, and to ensure that ACTA's proposed border measures do not interfere with access to affordable medicines.

WD 12 became the official position of the European Parliament on ACTA when it was signed by 377 Members of the European Parliament prior to today's deadline — more than the required majority of MEPs (369). While the written declaration is not binding on the European Parliament, its adoption by a clear majority sends an important political signal to EU ACTA negotiators at a critical time — just before the next, and possibly final, round of ACTA negotiations taking place in Japan later this month. The European Parliament must give a "consent vote" for the EU to be bound by ACTA; WD ...

Military blasts video game, won’t allow sale on bases

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

WASHINGTON — Military bases across the U.S. have banned the sale of a new video game that lets a player pretend to be a Taliban fighter and "shoot" U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Gamers are scoffing at the decision, saying that advanced technology has made it commonplace in the gaming world to let players switch sides and play the bad guy.

"Medal of Honor" by Electronic Arts, a major game developer based in Redwood City, Calif., hits stores Oct. 12.

After public protests, including by British Defense Secretary Liam Fox, U.S. military officials decided not to stock the game in any of the nearly 300 base exchange shops.

The game also won't be sold at any of the 49 GameStop stores located on various military bases. Troops will be allowed to own copies, but they would have to buy them off-base.

"We regret any inconvenience this may cause authorized shoppers, but are optimistic that they will understand the sensitivity to the life-and-death scenarios this product presents as entertainment," said Maj. Gen. Bruce Casella, who commands the Army & Air Force Exchange Service, which oversees more than 180 base exchange shops.

Casella made the decision last week, with the Navy quickly following ...

Obama implores minister to call off Quran-burning

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is exhorting a Florida minister to "listen to those better angels" and call off his plan to engage in a Quran-burning protest on Sept. 11.

Obama told ABC's "Good Morning America" in an interview aired today that he hoped the Rev. Terry Jones of Gainesville, Fla., would listen to the pleas of people who have asked him to call off the plan. The president called it a "stunt."

"If he's listening, I hope he understands that what he's proposing to do is completely contrary to our values as Americans," Obama said. "That this country has been built on the notion of freedom and religious tolerance."

"And as a very practical matter, I just want him to understand that this stunt that he is talking about pulling could greatly endanger our young men and women who are in uniform," the president added.

Said Obama: "Look, this is a recruitment bonanza for al-Qaida. You could have serious violence in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan." The president also said Jones' plan, if carried out, could serve as an incentive for terrorist-minded individuals "to blow themselves up" to kill others.

"I hope he listens to those better angels and ...

Muhammad cartoonist receives German prize

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel commended the bravery of a Danish cartoonist who caricatured the Prophet Muhammad at an award ceremony honoring his achievements for freedom of speech.

In her speech praising illustrator Kurt Westergaard, who, she said, “has had to fear for his life since the publication of the cartoons in 2005,” Merkel emphasized yesterday that media freedom is an important element of rights in Europe.

“It does not matter if we think his cartoons are tasteful or not, if we think they are necessary and helping or not,” Merkel said at the ceremony in the city of Potsdam. The question, she said, was, “Is he allowed to do this? Yes, he is.”

There have been at least three attempted attacks on the 75-year-old Westergaard or his newspaper, Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten, since he and 11 other artists angered Muslims around the world by creating the Muhammad cartoons four years ago. Protesters in Muslim countries have torched Danish and other Western embassies.

Westergaard’s cartoon, which he said took 45 minutes to draw, was considered by many Muslims the most offensive of the 12. He has rejected calls to apologize, saying poking fun at religious symbols is protected by Denmark’s freedom ...

Fla. pastor cancels Quran bonfire on Sept. 11

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The leader of a small Florida church that espouses an anti-Islam philosophy says he is canceling plans to burn copies of the Quran on Sept. 11.

The Rev. Terry Jones said today he had decided to cancel his protest because the leader of a planned Islamic Center near ground zero had agreed to move its controversial location. Any such agreement was unconfirmed. CNN reported that the developers of the mosque complex had denied the location would be moved.

Jones said yesterday that Americans opposed the mosque being built at the location and that Muslims did not want the Quran burned. He said instead of his plan to burn the books on Saturday to mark the ninth anniversary of 9/11, he would be flying to New York to speak to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf about moving the mosque.

"We are, of course, now against any other group burning Qurans," Jones said in a news conference. We would right now ask no one to burn Qurans. We are absolutely strong on that. It is not the time to do it."

Jones said Imam Muhammad Musri of the Islamic Society of Central Florida told him that officials would guarantee that the ...

Press and Academic Community React to Federal Court Victory in Georgia

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

News of the federal court victory for former Valdosta State University (VSU) student Hayden Barnes is making its way through the media today. The prospect of a university administrator being held personally liable for damages for violating clearly established law regarding student rights must be that much scarier, now that it has happened to former VSU president Ronald Zaccari. As Judge Charles A. Pannell, Jr.'s order last Friday explained, Zaccari is personally liable for damages against Barnes after ignoring the advice of both VSU's attorneys and VSU's written policies and expelling Barnes without even the most minimum elements of due process. Torch readers, of course, remember the instigating incident that precipitated Zaccari's draconian response: a peaceful campaign against Zaccari's plan to spend $30 million of student fee money on new parking garages; you can see our video chronicling Barnes' travails at VSU here:

Inside Higher Ed and NBC affiliate WALB 10 of Albany, Georgia are among those to carry early word of Barnes' victory. In addition, Sara Lipka, writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education, offers a rundown of the casedocumented extensively over the past three years here on The Torchas well as the ...

Beyond "Censored": What Craigslist’s "Adult Services" Decision Means for Free Speech

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

On Saturday, after years of pressure from law enforcement officials, Internet classified ad web site Craigslist bowed to demands to remove its "Adult Services" section which critics charged encouraged prostitution and other sex-related crimes. Or at least it appears that it did. Without explanation, following the latest in a series of open letters from state attorneys general decrying the third party content permitted on the site, Craigslist replaced the "Adult Services" link that formerly appeared on the front page of the site with a white-on-black "censored" bar. Whether this move will substantially affect the rate of illegal prostitution across the country remains to be seen. Many, even some of Craigslist's critics, appear to have their doubts. If nothing else, however, this latest turn in the AGs v. Craigslist saga underscores the misguided nature of the AGs' tactics as well as the fundamental disagreement that we (and Congress) have with the AGs' vision of how the Internet should operate.

Through this now years-long struggle, Craigslist's legal position has been and remains absolutely, unequivocally correct: the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (or CDA) grants providers of "interactive computer services" an absolute shield against state criminal law liability stemming from material ...