Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

John Kluge 1914-2010

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Billionaire philanthropist John Kluge passed away yesterday at the age of 95.  A strong proponent of individual liberty, Kluge was one of the primary forces behind the effort to restore the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in the 1980’s, and in 2006 provided a grant for half the construction costs for a unique monument to the First Amendment built in Charlottesville, Virginia.  The Community Chalkboard and Podium: A Monument to the First Amendment both commemorates the First Amendment right of free speech and also serves as a venue for the exercise of that right. In June 2010, the Thomas Jefferson Center paid tribute to the benefactor of both monuments by commissioning artist Sam Welty to create a chalk mural on the Community Chalkboard illustrating a formative moment in Kluge’s life–his arrival in the United States, an 8 year old immigrant from Germany. Mr. Kluge often recounted his arrival in New York City, wearing a child’s sailor’s suit and holding a Dresden figurine, and seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time. 


Commentary: First Amendment, equal protection can work together

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

The First Amendment protects us from government suppression of speech, including speech that’s offensive, repugnant and even hateful. Now and then, however, government at some level tries to discriminate against a particular type of speech or speaker, thinking it has good reasons to do so.

When that happens, it’s called viewpoint discrimination or content discrimination. The designation depends on whether the law, policy or official suppresses speech because of the particular viewpoint or because of the subject matter. Two constitutional protections can be used to combat this form of selective speech discrimination — one in the First Amendment, the other in the 14th.

Read David Hudson’s commentary in full.

EFF Experts Address Security, Openness, and Privacy at United Nations’ Internet Governance Forum

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Vilnius, Lithuania - Experts from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) will address security, openness, privacy, and other issues at the United Nations' Internet Governance Forum (IGF), set for September 14-17 in Vilnius, Lithuania.

This is the fifth meeting of the IGF, which was established to discuss public policy issues related to Internet governance on a global scale. Approximately 1,500 government policymakers, technologists, politicians, and others will attend.

EFF experts will participate in nine workshops in Vilnius, including "The Future of Privacy," with EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston and EFF International Rights Director Katitza Rodriguez, who is also a member of the Multistakeholder Advisory Group that helped plan the meeting. Also on the agenda is "Governance of Social Media," with EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl and "Why We Need an Open Web," with EFF International Affairs Director Eddan Katz.

For a complete schedule of EFF's participation in IGF see

United Nations' Internet Governance Forum

September 14-17

WHERE: Lithuanian Exhibition Centre LITEXPO Laisves pr. 5 LT-04215 Vilnius, Lithuania

For more on the IGF:


Rebecca Jeschke
Media Relations Director
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Red Alert at Johns Hopkins: No ‘Rude’ or ‘Disrespectful’ Expression Allowed

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Since announcing our full-page advertisement in U.S. News & World Report's college rankings issue last week, in which we publicly shame the six colleges and universities that comprise FIRE's Red Alert list, we have been going through the schools one by one on The Torch to review why they are on our Red Alert list and what they must do to get off of the list. FIRE's Red Alert list is reserved for those institutions that are the "worst of the worst" in the nation when it comes to freedom of speech on campus. The Red Alert list consists of Bucknell University, Brandeis University, Colorado College, Johns Hopkins University, Michigan State University, and Tufts University; at these institutions, as we warn prospective students and their parents in our advertisement, it is dangerous for students to express themselves due to the likelihood of censorship or punishment.

Last week, we covered why Michigan State, Tufts, and Bucknell are on the list, and we described what they must do to put themselves back in FIRE's good graces. Today, we take a look at Johns Hopkins University.

Johns Hopkins earned its place on our Red Alert list with its egregious ...

Federal judge tosses Wash. limit on late campaign spending

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

OLYMPIA, Wash. — State officials are mulling their next steps after a federal judge overturned a state law limiting campaign contributions in the final weeks of ballot-measure campaigns.

If the ruling stands, money could flow even more freely to this year's crop of voter initiatives. Six such measures are on the ballot — the second-most in state history — and state records show the campaigns have raised a combined $32.5 million, with about $10.1 million spent so far.

The law at issue bans contributions larger than $5,000 in the final three weeks of an initiative or referendum campaign. Family PAC, a political group involved in the 2009 referendum on expanded domestic partnerships for gay couples, sued the state last year challenging the contribution limit.

In a ruling last week, U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton agreed with Family PAC that the limit was an unconstitutional infringement on political speech. But Leighton kept in place a requirement to identify donors who contribute more than $25, turning aside Family PAC's argument that such publicity might improperly dissuade people from giving to campaigns.

James Bopp Jr., a noted campaign-finance attorney who has represented Family PAC, said the Washington state spending limit clearly violated the ...

Plan to burn Quran at church draws outrage

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

MIAMI — Florida pastor Terry Jones will undoubtedly offend and infuriate many people around the world if he follows through on a plan to burn Muslim Qurans at his church this weekend.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution will protect him, in the same way it allows the Ku Klux Klan to burn crosses and for protesters to torch the American flag.

The U.S. Supreme Court has made clear in several landmark rulings that speech deemed offensive to many people, even a majority, cannot be suppressed by the government unless it is clearly directed to intimidate someone or incite violence, legal experts said.

"Are you just saying something or are you trying to incite violence? That kind of becomes the dividing line," said Ruthann Robson, a constitutional law professor at West Virginia University. "You can speak, and express an opinion, and do it in a symbolic way by burning something, but you can't do it in a way that would incite violence."

The incitement exception comes from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), where the Court held that a Ku Klux Klan’s leader’s speech did not incite violence. The opinion said that “the constitutional guarantees ...

ACLU challenges searches of laptops at borders

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

NEW YORK — Civil rights lawyers sued the government yesterday to stop authorities from snooping in the laptops, cell phones and cameras of international travelers without probable cause.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn against the Department of Homeland Security as well as U.S. customs and immigration authorities.

The lawsuit says more than 6,500 people have had their electronic devices searched as they crossed U.S. borders since October 2008. Nearly half of those searched were U.S. citizens.

In May, a graduate student in Islamic Studies at McGill University in Montreal was detained for several hours as his electronic devices were searched, the suit says. The encounter badly frightened the student, according to the suit.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers filed the lawsuit on behalf of the National Press Photographers Association, criminal defense lawyers and the student: Pascal Abidor, a 26-year-old French-American citizen whose laptop computer was confiscated at the Canadian border.

The civil rights groups said photographers regularly travel abroad with cameras, laptops and media storage devices to cover global news stories and rely on their ability to communicate confidentially with sources. ...

Victory in Federal Court for Student Expelled for Peaceful Protest; University President Held Personally Responsible for Rights Violation

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

More than three years after being expelled from Valdosta State University (VSU) for engaging in peaceful protest, former VSU student T. Hayden Barnes has won his federal civil rights lawsuit against former VSU President Ronald Zaccari. In an opinion issued late Friday, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia found that because Zaccari expelled Barnes without notice or a hearing, Zaccari violated Barnes' constitutional right to due process as well as the contract created between VSU and Barnes by the student handbook. The court also found that because Zaccari ignored "clearly established" law in punishing Barnes, Zaccari did not enjoy "qualified immunity" and is personally liable for damagesa landmark for student rights and a dire warning to college administrators that they disregard students' rights at their own peril.

Barnes' ordeal began in the spring of 2007, when he peacefully protested Zaccari's plan to spend $30 million of student fee money to construct two parking garages on campus. By posting flyers and sending e-mails to Zaccari, student, and faculty governing bodies, and the Board of Regents, Barnes expressed his concerns and proposed what he saw as environmentally friendly alternatives. Barnes also penned a letter to the ...

‘California Watch’ on Non-Rehire Case at UCLA

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

Erica Perez, Higher Education Reporter for California Watch, has drawn further attention to the case of UCLA faculty member James Enstrom, who has faced retaliation at UCLA because of his research and activism in the area of air pollution research. FIRE reported on his case last week after UCLA gave Dr. Enstrom an eight-month reprieve while Enstrom appeals a deeply problematic non-rehire decision against him and pursues a whistleblower retaliation complaint. UCLA repeatedly told him that his research on environmental health does not fit the "mission" of the Environmental Health Sciences department and that he had failed to meet unspecified department "minimums" after 34 productive years at UCLA.

FIRE intervened in the case late last month, reminding UCLA that it is unconstitutional to refuse to rehire a faculty member because of the faculty member's protected expression, whether the faculty member is tenured or not.
The case has drawn the attention of about two dozen California state legislators and a fair amount of press.

This is a complex case, but Perez makes the main story reasonably clear and adds helpful links:

UCLA officials had planned to end epidemiologist James Enstrom's appointment August 30 but extended it until March 2011 after ...

Breaking News on EFF Location Privacy Win: Courts May Require Search Warrants for Cell Phone Location Records

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

This morning, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia issued its highly anticipated ruling in a hotly contested cell phone location privacy case. EFF filed a friend-of-the-court brief and participated at oral argument in the case, arguing that federal electronic privacy law gives judges the discretion to deny government requests for cell phone location data when the government fails to show probable cause that a crime has been committed.

The Third Circuit today agreed with EFF, holding that federal law allows judges the discretion to require that the government obtain a probable cause search warrant before accessing cell phone location data. The Court further agreed with EFF that location information that can be used to demonstrate or infer that someone or something was in a private space such as the home may be protected by the Fourth Amendment, rejecting the government's argument that the privacy of location records held by phone companies is never constitutionally protected. Although the court did not definitively rule on the Fourth Amendment status of cell phone location information, it made clear that under some circumstances the privacy of such data could be constitutionally protected, and that judges have the discretion to require a warrant ...

Sign the Pledge: Stand for Religious Freedom and Against Intolerance

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

The past month’s attacks on Muslim Americans have marked a disturbing break from the core American values of religious freedom and tolerance. The National Security Network, a leading foreign policy organization, is calling on Americans to affirm those values by signing a pledge in the week before the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks:

We are proud to live in the United States, a country founded on the principles of tolerance and religious freedom as embodied in the U.S. Constitution.
We affirm America's commitment to these principles.
We condemn bigotry and intolerance by any and all, especially those who murder others in the false name of their religion.
We condemn the act of burning the Koran, a sacred text for millions of Americans and others around the world, as we would condemn the burning of all sacred texts.
We pledge to remember Americans and others from around the world, including Muslims, Christians, Jews, and people of other faiths, who were murdered on September 11, 2001, American service men and women of all faiths who have lost their lives in the wars since then, and innocent civilians, of all faiths, who have died in those wars, and to honor their sacrifice ...

Student Newspapers at George Washington, Rutgers Take Note of Their Institutions’ Speech Code Ratings

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

The student newspapers at George Washington University (GW) and Rutgers University have reported on FIRE's Spotlight ratings for the speech codes at their respective institutions.

A September 2 article in The GW Hatchet, an independent student newspaper at GW, discusses the university's yellow-light rating in Spotlight. As the article points out, there are three policies that earn GW this rating: a "Disorderly Conduct" policy, a policy on "Demonstrations," and a policy on "Poster/Flyer Distribution." With regard to the Disorderly Conduct policy, which in relevant part prohibits "acting in a manner that annoys, disturbs, threatens or harasses others," the article notes:

The University's policy was recently reworded for clarification, Student Association President Jason Lifton said. The old policy prohibited "acting in a manner ... offensive to others," while the new policy omits the word "offensive" and includes "harass" and "threaten."

University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard said the disorderly conduct policy was edited to "clarify the wording and emphasize the need for students to conduct themselves in a civil and respectful manner toward others."

"It is not intended to restrict the ability of students to express their opinions, engage in debate or support causes using orderly means that do not disrupt ...

Under pressure, Craigslist nixes adult-services ads

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

Craigslist appears to have surrendered in a legal fight over erotic ads posted on its website, shutting down its adult-services section Sept. 4 and replacing it with a black bar that simply says “censored.”

The move came just over a week after a group of state attorneys general said there weren’t enough protections against potentially illegal ads promoting prostitution. It’s not clear if the closure is permanent, and it appears to only affect ads in the United States.

The listings came under new scrutiny after the jailhouse suicide last month of a former medical student who was awaiting trial in the killing of a masseuse he met through Craigslist, a popular site that lets users post classified ads, often for free.

Craigslist’s adult-services section carried ads for everything from personal massages to a night’s companionship, which critics say veered into prostitution.

Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster said in a May blog posting that the company’s ads were no worse than those published by the alternative newspaper chain Village Voice Media. He cited one explicit ad which included the phrase: “anything goes $90.”

Craigslist has been caught for years in a murky legal fight that centers on how much responsibility the company ...

Tenn. police mulling plans to enforce anti-gang law

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Nashville police are trying to protect a relatively new law that allows them to ban gang members from certain areas.

In response to growing concerns that gangs were disrupting the safety and quality of life of Tennessee’s citizens, the state enacted a nuisance law in 2009 that would allow police to file civil suits against gang members. Those suits would ban known gang members from hanging out in certain areas, patronizing certain businesses or associating with certain people.

Violating those civil orders could then become a criminal charge.

But police said recent flooding, a major racketeering case and, in what has been the biggest factor, concerns about legal challenges, have delayed efforts to file civil injunctions against gang members.

“We don’t want to be the ones to go out and do a half-attempt at it and ruin it,” Lt. Gordon Howey, head of Metro police’s Gang Unit, told The Tennessean. “There’s going to be a lot of scrutiny.”

Howey said his unit has consulted with other police departments so they can bulletproof cases from legal challenges.

“We just want to make sure that we have all of our information, all the documentation that we’re going to need,” ...

Feds have mixed record on openness, report says

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

WASHINGTON — A group that opposes secrecy in government says the federal government significantly reduced its backlog of document requests from the public last year but also slowed its pace of opening previously confidential material to public view.

A report today from said the government’s record is mixed, but suggested the Obama administration could be less secretive than its predecessor, the Bush administration.

“The record to date is mixed, but some indicators are trending in the right direction,” the report from a coalition of 75 public interest groups said.

The biggest improvement was in the processing of requests under the federal Freedom of Information Act. The backlog of requests declined by 40%, although more than 77,000 cases remained open at the end of the 2009 government spending year on Sept. 30.

At the same time, the rate at which the government declassified documents previously stamped “Top Secret,” “Secret” or “Confidential” declined by 10% from 2008 to 2009. There was, however, a 10% drop in decisions to classify documents initially. The 183,224 decisions to mark new material classified were the fewest since 1999, the group said.

Newspaper gets records detailing remote Idaho shootout

Monday, September 6th, 2010

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — Public records recently obtained by the Post Register detail a strange incident in which four Idaho State Police officers were left scrambling for safety when they were shot at by an unknown assailant at a remote mining claim.

No one was hit by the gunfire and no arrests were made, but the Jan. 14, 2009, incident was shrouded in secrecy until the Idaho Falls newspaper won a nine-month court battle to unseal the Idaho State Police documents.

The documents, ordered released by 7th District Judge Gregory S. Anderson, say that the police were responding to a citizen’s report of possible illegal drug activity when they rode snowmobiles to a shed on a mining claim at the remote central Idaho ghost town of Gilmore. The ghost town, made up of about two dozen buildings, was once at the heart of Idaho’s largest silver-lead mining district outside of the Coeur d’Alene region.

The officers’ pace was leisurely, according to the reports. Before going to the shed’s door, they ate their lunches while sitting atop their snowmobiles.

Though they knew who owned the building, the officers didn’t have a search warrant and didn’t announce their presence before trying to ...

Federal judge won’t dismiss KKK suit

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

ST. LOUIS — A federal judge in St. Louis has rejected a state request to dismiss the lawsuit filed by a Ku Klux Klan group.

Frank Ancona, imperial wizard of the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, is seeking to rent a pavilion at the Fort Davidson Historic Site in southeast Missouri.

The group filed a lawsuit as it sought to use the site for an April 14 gathering. The KKK group was unable to meet the insurance requirements imposed by the Department of Natural Resources and held the picnic on private property.

Ancona alleges that the requirements violated his right to free speech.

Judge Rodney Sippel in St. Louis wrote in his ruling Aug. 31 that the issue isn’t moot although the April 14 event has passed. He noted that the KKK group is now seeking to use the pavilion on Oct. 3.

Breast-cancer bracelets cause stir in schools

Saturday, September 4th, 2010

BALTIC, S.D. — Rubber bracelets aimed at raising awareness about breast cancer and emblazoned with "I love boobies" are raising eyebrows among school officials in South Dakota.

This week, Baltic High School joined several schools nationwide to ban the popular bracelets with a message some say is in poor taste.

"I do think there are more proper ways to bring this plight to the attention of people, and I don't think this is a proper way," Principal Jim Aisenbrey told the Argus Leader.

Officials at O'Gorman High School in Sioux Falls have also told students not to wear the bracelets in school.

"Our concern is that the issue the wristbands are meant to address is a serious one, but the language used on the bracelets trivializes the issue," said Principal Kyle Groos.

The bracelets that sell for about $4 in stores were created by the nonprofit Keep A Breast Foundation of Carlsbad, Calif. Proceeds go to the foundation's programs.

Schools from Florida to California have banned the bracelets following objections from some students and parents.

Baltic resident Ann Aberson said cancer has affected several of her relatives, and she doesn't have a problem with her two teenage daughters wearing the ...

Seventh Circuit: UW-Madison Cannot Refuse Religious Student Groups Funding on Basis of Religious Viewpoint

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

In a victory for free speech on campus, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled on Wednesday that the University of Wisconsin-Madison's (UW's) policy of denying funding to student groups that engage in "worship, proselytizing, and religious instruction" is a violation of the First Amendment.

The case, Badger Catholic, Inc. v. Walsh, arose when student group Badger Catholic (formerly Roman Catholic Foundation, UW-Madison) was repeatedly denied student activities funding by both UW and its student government because the group engages in religious speech. As Judge Frank Easterbrook, author of the Seventh Circuit's majority opinion, explains:

The University won't pay for three categories of speech: worship, proselytizing, and religious instruction. It is willing to use student activity fees for what it calls dialog, discussion, or debate from a religious perspective, but not for anything that it labels worship, proselytizing, or religious instruction.

Easterbrook observes that these distinctions have "little meaning on their own," and notes that the programs sponsored by Badger Catholic that have been denied funding include spiritual counseling and a leadership retreat. Turning to the Supreme Court's holding in Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System v. Southworth, 529 U.S. 217 ...

Red Alert at Bucknell University: Permission Needed to Promote a Cause

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

On Tuesday, FIRE announced our full-page advertisement in U.S. News & World Report's college rankings issue, alerting prospective students and their parents to consider avoiding the six schools on our Red Alert list. We warn people about Bucknell UniversityMichigan State UniversityBrandeis UniversityColorado CollegeJohns Hopkins University, and Tufts University because they are the "worst of the worst" nationwide when it comes to meeting their free speech obligations.

Bucknell is in the ad, which we place every year, for the first time this yearalthough it was added to the list almost a full year ago. We have given Bucknell plenty of chances to revise the policies it used to shut down the expression of the Bucknell University Conservatives Club (BUCC). Until Bucknell's new president, John Bravman, came on the scene, we've seen nothing from Bucknell but misrepresentations of the truth by Bucknell University General Counsel Wayne Bromfield, accusations by Bromfield that FIRE is distorting the truth (despite our well-documented audio, video, and written evidence), shifting stories from Bromfieldand, yes, one policy revisionwhich made the policy in question even worse.

This policy is ...

Stagliano Case: A Hollow Victory?

Friday, September 3rd, 2010
John Stagliano had his case thrown out by Judge Richard Leon early this week.  Rather than having been found not guilty based on the First Amendment, it was thrown out because the prosecution bungled their case, and the judge determined that not enough evidence was given to prove that Stagliano was involved with Evil Angel [...]

The Rabbit Proof Firewall

Friday, September 3rd, 2010
China has been dominating censorship headlines recently, but, while we’ve been focused on the Great Firewall of China, a Great Firewall Reef has been growing in the democratic West. Australia has one of the harshest censorship regimes among the world’s democracies.  Films like Ken Park (Larry Clark) and Salo (Pier Paolo Pasolini) have been Refused Classification [...]

Mermaid Sculpture Covered with Bikini Top in UK

Friday, September 3rd, 2010
In the latest case of a nude sculpture causing a stir… Managers at Chessingtons Sea Life centre have covered up a topless mermaid sculpture. Justine Locker, Chessingtons Zoo Experience Manager, said: “Young boys, and not so young boys, spending a lot of time ogling her in the walkthrough ocean tunnel” (Courtesy of the Telegraph.)

Secrecy vs transparency in the struggle over gay rights

Friday, September 3rd, 2010
The battle over same-sex marriage has taken many twists and turns.  One of the more unusual cases pitted the privacy rights of those who signed a petition to repeal a Washington law on domestic partnerships against supporters of the law who claimed the public records law required disclosure of the names of the petition signers. [...]

Book retained in Oklahoma because “we have to”

Friday, September 3rd, 2010
The word “fuck” has caused quite a stir in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Its appearance – 45 times, according to parent and avid swear-word-counter, Kelli Smith – in young adult novel Shooting Star by Fredrick McKissack Jr. is reason enough for one parent to remove the book from school district libraries. Grudgingly, the Broken Arrow Board [...]

Announcing the 2010 Youth Film Contest!

Friday, September 3rd, 2010
“I’m all for free speech, BUT…” We all believe in free speech, but does that mean anything goes?  What about the speech that offends us, makes us cringe, and provokes our anger (and desire to censor)? Is there anything that should be outlawed in art, films, books, music, video games, TV, or online?  Is free [...]

The Artist Received an Apology

Friday, September 3rd, 2010
The Executive Director of the Springfield Business Improvement District (SBID) in Massachusetts has issued a formal apology for painting over the underside of a resident artists’ artwork. Robert Markey was asked to paint a “sneaker” for the “Art and Soles” project – giant sneakers covered the town in hopes to illustrate “what makes Springfield great.”  [...]

NCAC Protests Cancellation of Ellen Hopkins Appearance at Teen Lit Fest in Texas

Friday, September 3rd, 2010
An invitation to young adult novelist Ellen Hopkins to speak about her experiences as a writer was rescinded by the Superintendent of the Humble (Texas) Independent School District after some parents complained about the content of her books. NCAC coordinated a letter of protest with five other national organizations. After Hopkins was disinvited to Teen [...]

How Obscene is This! The Decency Clause Turns 20

Friday, September 3rd, 2010
When it was founded in the 1960s, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), a central part of its  mission was to support individuals and institutions producing edgy and innovative artwork. Twenty years ago, as a result of pressures on behalf of Republicans in Congress and the religious right, Congress amended the statute governing the [...]

Focus on the Family Brings Sex-Ed Fight to China

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

While consistently pushing to marginalize and prohibit comprehensive sex-education in schools throughout the United States, Focus on the Family is now hoping to introduce flawed abstinence-only programs in China. William Wan writes in the Washington Post that Focus on the Family is gaining a significant foothold in the country:

In Yunnan schools this year, teachers are being trained with a sex education curriculum created by the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family. The agreement with the Yunnan ministry of education is a milestone for Focus on the Family, which has struggled for four years to make inroads on abstinence in China.

But China isn’t the only country that has been the subject of Focus on the Family’s efforts:

In the past decade, Focus on the Family has found relative success with its abstinence program in other countries - notably majority Muslim nations such as Egypt and Malaysia, where its Christian brand of abstinence coincides with the teachings of Islam.

Worldwide, the group says it has reached nearly 3 million teens. Despite Focus on the Family’s new push to bring abstinence-only until marriage programs into schools across the world, abstinence-only education in the US has been an abysmal failure. A ...

Student Asks Vanderbilt to Uphold Free Speech Promises

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

In a letter to the editor of the Vanderbilt Hustler student newspaper, Vanderbilt University student Kenny Tan highlights the dissonance he sees, as an incoming freshman, between Vanderbilt's free speech promises and the university's Community Creed. Tan, who attended our CFN Conference this July, quotes the Student Handbook first:

The Student Handbook states: "The University is committed to providing opportunities for the free and open exchange of ideas both inside and outside the classroom. It will safeguard the undisturbed, orderly expression of diverse views and opinions as well as the opportunity for their careful examination." ...

Of this provision, he writes:

These promises could be interpreted to mean that everyone is guaranteed the same rights as would be allowed to attendees of a public university, where students are guaranteed protection by the First Amendment.

Tan then contrasts this statement with the Community Creed:

Among the elements of the Community Creed are civility and caring. According to the creed, civility is "the genuine respect for the rights of others. We value constructive disagreement and are mindful of the potential impact of our words and actions." Had the word "and" been a "but," the problem with this definition would be more ...

Pat Scales on rating systems as barriers to access

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

Pat Scales has written a thoughtful discussion about the work of Common Sense Media for the August edition of Booklist, entitled “Weighing in: Three Bombs, Two Lips, and A Martini Glass” (full text available here). Common Sense Media is a non-profit organization that reviews media offerings for young people, including books. Her perspective on how and why rating systems such as Common Sense Media’s do a disservice to young readers is invaluable. As she concludes:

“While Common Sense Media isn’t censoring anything, it is providing a tool for censors. There is already a documented case in the Midwest where a book was removed from a school library based solely on a Common Sense review. Common Sense Media allows users to filter books by “on,” “off,” and “iffy” ratings. And reviewers are instructed to point out anything “controversial.” Such warnings encourage site browsers to take things out of context instead of looking at books as a whole.

Bombs, lips, and martini glasses! Indeed, let them be a warning. We must be proactive in helping parents understand that rating books is dangerous. Otherwise, more censorship bombs are sure to explode.”

The American Library Association has a long history of opposing efforts ...

Righthaven’s Brand of Copyright Trolling

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

Copyright trolls are nothing new, and Righthaven is just the latest group of lawyers to try to turn copyright litigation into a business model. What these lawyers have in common is that they seek to take advantage of copyright's draconian damages in order to bully Internet users into forking over money. To anyone who has watched the file-sharing lawsuits of the last few years or the current BitTorrent cases brought by a DC law firm, the Righthaven saga is developing into a familiar, unfortunate story. It also has some especially troubling twists.

The basic pattern: Righthaven has brought over a hundred lawsuits in Nevada federal court claiming copyright infringement. They find cases by (a) scouring the Internet for parts of newspaper stories posted online by individuals, nonprofits, and others, (b) buying the copyright to that particular newspaper story, and then (c) proceeding to sue the poster for copyright infringement. Like the RIAA and USCG before them, Righthaven is relying on the fact that their victims may face huge legal bills through crippling statutory damages and the prospect of paying Righthaven's legal fees if they lose the case. Consequently, many victims will settle with Righthaven for a few thousand dollars ...

9/11 groups oppose mosque rallies planned for anniversary

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

NEW YORK — Both supporters and opponents of a proposed Islamic cultural center should stand against rallies planned for the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, groups representing some relatives of attack victims said yesterday.

Protests on that day would be “disrespectful to all who see 9/11 as a day outside of politics, when we desire to remain united in honoring the lives and the courage of our many friends and loved ones,” the groups said in letters sent to developers of the Islamic center and to those planning to protest it.

The messages were signed by representatives of the Tribute WTC Visitor Center, the September 11th Families Association, MyGoodDeed and others.

Two rallies are planned for the day: one against the center and one against anti-Islamic bigotry. Organizers of both say they will be respectful.

Another family group, 9/11 Parents & Families of Firefighters & WTC Victims, responded with a letter in support of the anti-mosque rally and its planners’ First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly.

“By attending and participating in this rally, families can endeavor to ensure that the sacred ground will continue to be respected for posterity,” the letter said.

Park51, a proposed cultural center ...

Dems accuse Fox News of bolstering Ohio candidate

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Democratic Governors Association filed an elections complaint in Ohio yesterday, alleging Fox News Network illegally helped the Republican gubernatorial nominee solicit funds during a television appearance.

In an escalating battle with Fox's news division, the association alleges that Fox allowed John Kasich to request contributions from viewers during an Aug. 18 broadcast and simultaneously displayed the address of his campaign website in on-screen graphics.

The complaint alleges the free publicity during Fox's "O'Reilly Factor" amounted to an improper in-kind contribution to Kasich's campaign, which exceeded Ohio's $11,395.56 contribution limit and lacked the proper disclaimer for political advertising. The web address appeared for 90 seconds, according to the complaint.

Kasich, a former Fox commentator, later told supporters the event helped him raise $21,000, according to complaint filed with the Ohio Elections Commission. He is seeking to unseat Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland in November.

DGA Executive Director Nathan Daschle said in an interview that his group acted in Ohio to keep Fox from helping other Republican gubernatorial candidates in a similar way.

"If they get away with it in Ohio, I think they will certainly try it in other states," he said. "They're going to continue to push ...

Federal court overturns Neb. law on flag desecration

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

OMAHA, Neb. — A federal judge overturned Nebraska's ban on flag mutilation yesterday, clearing the way for Kansas protesters to continue trampling on the U.S. flag when they protest at military funerals.

The ruling from U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf said the law can't be applied as long as Megan Phelps-Roper and fellow members of the Westboro Baptist Church "otherwise act peacefully while desecrating the American or Nebraska flag during their religiously motivated protests."

It was unclear whether the ruling applied only to the church members or to everyone in Nebraska. An earlier temporary block of the law applied only to Phelps-Roper.

The judge declined to explain the intent of his ruling when reached by the Associated Press.

A message left yesterday with the Nebraska attorney general's office wasn't immediately returned.

Attorney General Jon Bruning has previously said the flag-protection law passed in 1977 is not consistent with later U.S. Supreme Court rulings that labeled flag desecration a form of protected speech.

Bruning has said he wouldn't fight to save the Nebraska law. If he chooses not to appeal, Kopf's decision would close the case.

Members of the Topeka, Kan., church protest at soldiers’ funerals around the country because they ...

CBLDF Joins Challenge To Alaska Censorship Law

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010
CBLDF joins a coalition of organizations and local booksellers filing suit to block a broad Alaska censorship law that bans constitutionally protected speech on the Internet on topics including contraception and pregnancy, sexual health, literature, and art and also threatens retailers of books, magazines, movies and other media. Signed in May by Governor Parnell and effective July 1, the law, Section 11.61.128 of the Alaska Statutes, imposes two severe restrictions on the distribution of constitutionally protected speech on the Internet and in book and video stores and libraries. The law could make anyone who operates a website or communicates through a listserv criminally liable for nudity or sexually related material, if the material can be considered "harmful to minors" under the law's definition. In effect, it bans from the Internet anything that may be "harmful to minors," including material adults have a First Amendment right to view. Also, a bookseller, video retailer, or librarian can be prosecuted if he or she is unaware that it contains nudity or sexual content and unknowingly sells, rents, or loans a book, video, magazine or other media to a minor whether online or in a brick and mortar location. Violators of either part of ...

In Reversal, UCLA Temporarily Halts Retaliation Against Whistleblowing Professor

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

Today's press release announces that the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) has temporarily halted its violations of the free expression rights of Department of Environmental Health Sciences (EHS) faculty member Dr. James Enstrom. The faculty of EHS refused to reappoint Enstrom after he engaged in successful whistleblowing against a member of the department--and after many years of disagreement between Enstrom and some of his colleagues over research on air pollution. After UCLA told Enstrom he was being let go because his controversial research failed to accord with the department's "mission," Enstrom turned to FIRE for help.

Enstrom has worked at UCLA as a researcher and professor since 1976, being rehired consistently each year. Since 2004, he has been rehired in UCLA's Department of Environmental Health Sciences. Over the years, he and a few of his colleagues have sometimes disagreed strongly about research on environmental health issues-for example, on the extent of the threat to public health posed by certain air pollutants, a topic of Enstrom's research which has been the subject of intense debate in California.

Enstrom also was a successful whistleblower whose activism led to fellow EHS faculty member John Froines being replaced on a panel for the ...

Red Alert at Tufts University: Satire as "Harassment"

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

On Tuesday, FIRE announced that for the third consecutive year, we've purchased a full-page advertisement in U.S. News & World Report's college rankings issue chastising the six schools on our Red Alert list. Inclusion on this list is not grounds for celebration. To the contrary, Bucknell University, Michigan State University, Brandeis UniversityColorado CollegeJohns Hopkins University, and Tufts University should be ashamed of this dishonorable designation, because FIRE reserves a place on our Red Alert list for those schools that have demonstrated an egregious disregard for student and faculty rights.

Part of the reason we publicly shame Red Alert schools with the U.S. News ad is to warn prospective students and their families that attending these institutions is a risky proposition, since protected expression can serve as grounds for punishment and basic rights aren't respected on campus. But the other reason we take out the ad is to let the schools know once again that being on the Red Alert list has consequences--and that there is a simple way to extricate themselves from our doghouse, if they so choose. For example, we happily removed former Red Alert school Valdosta State University ...

EFF Asks Court to Protect Craigslist from Defamation Suit

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and a coalition of public interest groups and law professors have asked a California appeals court to protect craigslist from a lawsuit that could spur websites to be less helpful in responding to complaints about user behavior.

In Scott P. v. craigslist, Inc., the plaintiff complained about a series of craigslist ads he said were written by impersonators. While craigslist removed the ads within minutes of his phone calls, the plaintiff sued, contending that craigslist broke a promise to "take care of it" when the impersonators posted additional ads. In cases like these, federal law -- specifically Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act -- shields Internet forums like craigslist from liability. Section 230 was designed to encourage parties to pursue action against those who created the questionable content instead of the platform that hosted it. But the California Superior Court has ruled that this case can continue because of the plaintiff's allegations that craigslist said it would help.

Craigslist filed a writ petition with the Court of Appeal for the State of California Wednesday, arguing that the trial court should have dismissed the case because of Section 230's protections for forum ...

Corporate Groups take aim at Hodes in New Hampshire

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

What happens when a principal leader in the fight for greater corporate accountability runs for higher office? He becomes the target of a tremendous and misleading assault by new corporate-backed groups that have gained new prominence in the wake of Citizens United.

As one of the first leaders to introduce a Constitutional Amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision Citizens United, New Hampshire Congressman and Senate candidate Paul Hodes understands the risks posed by swelling corporate power. He has also signed the Pledge to Protect America’s Democracy, which asks candidates to give Congress back the right to curtail electoral spending by corporations.

Pro-corporate organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce and the American Action Network have started to pummel Hodes with ads in order to tear down his run for the open Senate seat vacated by Sen. Judd Gregg, one of Wall Street’s champions in Congress. The Chamber of Commerce, which has pledged to spend $75 million altogether in the 2010 elections, has already committed $1 million to criticize Hodes over the airwaves. Political Correction describes the Chamber of Commerce’s anti-Hodes advertisement as “deeply dishonest” and responsible for employing grandiose and embellished allegations regarding health care reform.

The ...

Speech Code of the Month: University of Massachusetts Amherst

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for September 2010: University of Massachusetts Amherst.

UMass Amherst has a policy on rallies that flagrantly burdens student speech on the basis of viewpoint, with total disregard for the public university's obligation to uphold the First Amendment rights of speech and assembly. The policy defines rallies as "events where people freely assemble around a common cause(s) and/or point(s) of advocacy." This broad definition would appear to encompass any event, no matter the size, in which two or more people join together to publicly express an opinion.

There are several problems with the general section of the "Rallies" policy. First, rallies must be scheduled at least 24 hours in advance, which limits students' ability to respond quickly to unfolding events on campus or nationwide. Sometimes the immediacy of a message is part of its efficacy, and requiring prior registration deprives students of the ability to convey their message with as much urgency as they may feel.

Second, the policy provides that "[d]uring class hours, rallies can only be held on the Student Union steps (either front entrance or south steps)." While the university may craft narrow time, place, and manner regulations to prevent ...

Celebrate Constitution Day with FIRE!

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010
All FIRE supporters can promote individual rights this month by celebrating the document that codified our basic rights as Americans: the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Congress established September 17 as "Constitution Day and Citizenship Day" in 2004 to "commemorate the formation and signing on September 17, 1787, of the Constitution and recognize all who, by coming of age or by naturalization, have become citizens." Add this special day to your calendar by joining FIRE's Constitution Day event on Facebook.

Over the past few years, college students have embraced Constitution Day as an opportunity to remind fellow students about their rights on campus. Liberty-minded student groups host creative and attention-grabbing Constitution Day events to kick off the new school year. You can catch 2010 FIRE intern Nico Perrino with his group's "guerrilla gorilla" here, or read about Florida Atlantic University's "food for freedom" exchange here.

No gorilla suit? No problem. Here are a few other ways you can celebrate:
  • Set up an open microphone or soapbox in a public place for people to use throughout the day. Have group members use it to read the Constitution and passages of "banned books" aloud. Sing "Happy Birthday" to the Constitution.
  • ...

Losing candidate files libel suit against 2 Fla. newspapers

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

MIAMI — Failed Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Greene sued the St. Petersburg Times and The Miami Herald yesterday, claiming they published knowingly false articles timed to damage his chances of winning.

The 55-page lawsuit, filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, seeks $250 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages from the two newspapers, the reporters who wrote the pieces and editors who handled them.

The lawsuit accuses the newspapers of "a coordinated and agreed-upon plan to assassinate Greene's character, to diminish his chances of winning ... and to impair the future earning capacity of an extremely successfully businessman." Greene is a billionaire real estate investor who spent more than $24 million of his own money on last week's Democratic Senate primary, which he lost to U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek.

Times Editor Neil Brown said, "It is our firm opinion that the allegations in this lawsuit are preposterous. We believe Jeff Greene is a sore loser and he's blaming the newspapers because he can't accept the verdict of the voters." Brown added that a candidate should expect to be scrutinized, and called the newspaper's coverage fair, clear and well-documented.

Anders Gyllenhaal, the Herald's executive editor, declined immediate ...

Divided 7th Circuit: Univ. of Wis. must fund student religious group

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

MADISON, Wis. — A federal appeals court has upheld a lower court's ruling that the University of Wisconsin-Madison must pay for student activities involving prayer, worship and religious counseling.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 yesterday that the university's policy of turning down funding requests from student groups for such activities violates their First Amendment right to free speech.

The case was brought by the Roman Catholic Foundation, now known as Badger Catholic.

The university had argued that awarding student fees to the group that runs evangelical training camps and hosts spiritual retreats is a violation of the separation of church and state.

But the 7th Circuit majority found in Badger Catholic, Inc. v. Walsh that subsidizing the activities does not amount to an illegal endorsement of religion.

Writing for the majority, Judge Frank Easterbrook said that a long line of Supreme Court precedent — reinforced by the Court’s decision last term in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez — stands for the principle that a university cannot discriminate against religious speakers based on their viewpoint.

“There can be no doubt after Christian Legal Society that the University’s activity-fee fund must cover Badger Catholic’s six contested programs, if ...

NYC mayor: No reason to probe mosque’s finances

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

NEW YORK — Mayor Michael Bloomberg said this week that an investigation by the state attorney general into the finances of a $100 million Islamic community center and mosque planned near ground zero would set “a terrible precedent.”

“You don’t want them investigating donations to religious organizations, and there’s no reason for the government to do so,” Bloomberg said Aug. 31.

Meanwhile, more than 50 leading Muslim organizations yesterday cast the intense debate over the planned mosque as a symptom of religious intolerance in America, saying it is “unethical, insensitive and inhumane” to oppose the project.

A Quinnipiac University poll shows 71% of New Yorkers want state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to investigate sources of funding for the Islamic center project in lower Manhattan, two blocks north of the World Trade Center site. Cuomo, a Democrat running for governor, has promised to investigate if concerns over the financing are found.

Bloomberg, a Republican turned independent, said he would not comment on recent reports that say the imam who is the spiritual leader of the project faces complaints from tenants at his properties in New Jersey, where he maintains apartment buildings.

“I don’t know anything about his personal life,” the mayor ...

FCC seeks more public input on network neutrality

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

WASHINGTON — Federal regulators are seeking public input on what rules should apply to wireless Internet access and specialized services that aren't part of the Internet but are delivered over wired broadband connections.

Yesterday’s move by the Federal Communications Commission marks the next step in the agency's long-running effort to adopt so-called network-neutrality regulations to prevent broadband providers from discriminating against certain traffic flowing over their lines. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, as well as many big Internet companies, say these rules are needed to prevent phone and cable companies from abusing their control over high-speed Internet access to become online gatekeepers.

“Over the past months we have worked to preserve the freedom and openness of the Internet, based on the conviction that an open Internet is vital to innovation and private investment, competition, and free speech,” Genachowski said in an agency statement released yesterday.

But the FCC faces fierce resistance from phone and cable companies, which insist they need flexibility to manage network traffic to prevent high-bandwidth applications from hogging capacity. Phone companies are particularly opposed to applying net-neutrality rules to wireless services, which have more capacity constraints than wired systems.

Phone and cable companies also fear that strict net-neutrality ...

Protest at military funeral ignites a test of free speech

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010


See video and read Joan Biskupic’s article on the upcoming Supreme Court case Snyder v. Phelps.

Red Alert at Michigan State: Time to Set Things Right

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

FIRE's full-page ad in U.S. News & World Report's college rankings issue exposes the colleges and universities that are the "worst of the worst" when it comes to individual rights. At these schools it is downright dangerous for students to express themselves without fear of censorship or punishment. By placing these schools on our Red Alert list, FIRE warns prospective students and faculty members to think twice before attending.

Bucknell University and Michigan State University are the two newest schools to receive this dishonorable distinction, having joined longtime members Brandeis UniversityColorado CollegeJohns Hopkins University, and Tufts University. For the next few days here on The Torch, we'll be examining each of our Red Alert schools in turn and explaining what they've done wrong and how they can fix it. Today, we start with Michigan State.

Here's why people should think twice about applying to Michigan State University (MSU) and what MSU should do about it.

In late 2008, MSU revealed plans to shorten the school's academic calendar and freshman orientation schedule. There was very little time to give input, but MSU's University Committee on Student Affairs (UCSA) quickly met and ...

Detroit-area juror in hot water over Facebook post

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

MOUNT CLEMENS, Mich. — A judge removed a juror from a trial in suburban Detroit after the young woman wrote on Facebook that the defendant was guilty. The problem? The trial wasn't over.

Hadley Jons could be found in contempt when she returns to the Macomb County circuit court tomorrow.

Jons, 20, was a juror in a case of resisting arrest. On Aug. 11, a day off from the trial and before the prosecution finished its case, she wrote on Facebook that it was "gonna be fun to tell the defendant they're GUILTY."

The post was discovered by defense lawyer Saleema Sheikh's son.

Circuit Judge Diane Druzinski confronted Jons the next day and replaced her with an alternate.

"You don't know how disturbing this is," Druzinski said, according to The Macomb Daily.

A message seeking comment from Jons was not returned in time for this story.

"I would like to see her get some jail time, nothing major, a few hours or overnight," Sheikh said. "This is the jury system. People need to know how important it is."

Sheikh's son, Jaxon Goodman, discovered the comment while checking jurors' names on the Internet. He works in his mother's law office.

"I'm ...