Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Divided 9th Circuit strikes down Stolen Valor Act

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

PASADENA, Calif. — A 3-year-old federal law that makes it a crime punishable by up to a year in jail to falsely claim to have received a medal from the U.S. military is unconstitutional, a divided federal appeals court panel in California ruled yesterday.

The decision involves the case of Xavier Alvarez of Pomona, Calif., a water district board member who said at a public meeting in 2007 that he was a retired Marine who received the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military decoration.

Alvarez was indicted in 2007. He pleaded guilty on condition that he be allowed to appeal on First Amendment grounds. He was sentenced under the Stolen Valor Act to more than 400 hours of community service at a veterans hospital and fined $5,000.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed 2-1 that the law violated Alvarez’s free-speech rights. The majority said in U.S. v. Alvarez that there's no evidence that such lies harm anybody, and no compelling reason for the government to ban such lies.

The dissenting judge, Jay S. Bybee, insisted that the majority refused to follow clear Supreme Court precedent that false statements of fact are not entitled ...

Miss. student sues over rejected yearbook tux photo

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

JACKSON, Miss. — Another Mississippi teenager is suing a rural school district, this time over a policy barring young women from wearing tuxedos in senior yearbook portraits.

Ceara Sturgis' dispute with the Copiah County School District started in 2009, well before a student in another Mississippi school district, Constance McMillen, found national attention in her fight to wear a tuxedo and take a same-sex date to prom.

Yesterday, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit for Sturgis, claiming the Copiah County district discriminated against her on the basis of sex and gender stereotypes. Her photo and name were kept out of the yearbook.

The ACLU first contacted the district in October 2009 about the issue, but officials said they would adhere to a school policy. By the time Wesson Attendance Center yearbooks were released this spring, school officials had made clear Sturgis' photo in a tuxedo wouldn't be included. But Sturgis was surprised to see even her name was left out of the senior section.

"I guess in the back of my mind I knew that was going to happen, but I did have a little hope. I cried. I put my head down and put my hand ...

Immigration judge blasts leak in Obama’s aunt’s asylum case

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

BOSTON — A judge who granted asylum to President Barack Obama's African aunt ruled she deserved to stay in the United States because a federal government official leaked her status to a news organization, making her a potential target for persecution in her native Kenya.

U.S. Immigration Judge Leonard Shapiro blasted the leak by the unidentified official in his 29-page ruling granting asylum to Zeituni Onyango in May. His written decision was released this week through the Freedom of Information Act and first was reported by The Boston Globe.

Shapiro found that a federal government official disclosed Onyango's immigration status and her relationship to Obama to the Associated Press three days before the November 2008 election in which Obama was elected as the first black president.

The AP's story stated that Onyango, the half sister of Obama's late father, had been living illegally in the United States after an immigration judge rejected her request for asylum four years earlier. Information about Onyango's case was disclosed and confirmed by two sources, one of them a federal law enforcement official. Onyango, 58, has been living in public housing in Boston.

Shapiro called the disclosure "a reckless and illegal violation of her right ...

N.C. appeals court: Religious college can’t have state police force

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

RALEIGH, N.C. — A prestigious North Carolina private college cannot have police officers with the power to arrest suspects and enforce state law because the school is a religious institution, the state Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.

A three-judge panel agreed that the state Attorney General’s Office shouldn’t have commissioned Davidson College officers as law enforcement with powers similar to city police or county sheriffs. An attorney familiar with the case said it might apply to other private colleges with religious affiliations.

Allowing the school’s security officers to carry out laws on behalf of the state violates the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition against laws establishing religion by creating “an excessive government entanglement with religion,” Judge Jim Wynn wrote in the unanimous opinion.

The police power “is an unconstitutional delegation of ‘an important discretionary governmental power’ to a religious institution in the context of the First Amendment,” Wynn wrote before he left the state bench to join the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week.

The unanimous ruling means there’s no automatic appeal to the state Supreme Court. But Wynn, joined by Judges Donna Stroud and Cheri Beasley, urged the Supreme Court to consider the case if an appeal is sought ...

Muslim Republicans to GOP: Stop Preaching Intolerance

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

It’s not just the Left that’s appalled by the GOP’s increasingly blatant exploitation of animosity toward Muslim Americans in the hopes of political gain in November. Today, in a letter to the Republican leadership, six prominent Muslim conservatives asked their party to quit stoking intolerance of Muslims in its continued attack on the proposed Islamic community center in lower Manhattan.

While we share the desire of all in our party to be successful in the November elections, we cannot support victory at the expense of the U.S. Constitution or the Arab and Muslim community in America. As President Lincoln so eloquently stated in his famous speech: "a house divided against itself cannot stand."

Muslim Republicans probably never expected Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the leader of the proposed community center, to come under attack from their party. After all, in years past many prominent Republicans, including George W. Bush, considered Rauf to be an important ally in the Muslim community and a valuable asset in the war against terrorism. But that was then. Now, the GOP leadership seems happy to label Rauf a radical if it suits their political purposes.

For more of the right’s blatant hypocrisy on Rauf and the ...

New York Attorneys: Register Online for FIRE’s CLE Course!

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

On September 14, FIRE will proudly offer our first Continuing Legal Education (CLE) course in Manhattan. Our course, entitled "Free Speech 101: Protecting Free Expression and the First Amendment at our Nation's Colleges and Universities," will provide an in-depth examination of the state of the law on freedom of speech on today's college campuses.

I'll be teaching the course with my Associate Director of Legal and Public Advocacy, Azhar Majeed. I know I speak for Azhar when I say that we are both very excited about this chance to teach our fellow attorneys about the decades of precedent from the Supreme Court and lower courts upholding First Amendment protections on college campuses, emphasizing the primacy of free speech and academic freedom in higher education, and designating the university campus as peculiarly the "marketplace of ideas," where unfettered expression creates informed citizens and ultimately contributes to the health of our democracy.

FIRE's CLE has been approved in accordance with the requirements of the New York State Continuing Legal Education Board for 2 credit hours in "Areas of Professional Practice," and is appropriate for both newly admitted and experienced attorneys. Attending our CLS costs just $40—a bargain, as my fellow lawyers know—and ...

Center Joins in Asking Court to Reject Attorney General’s Demand for Records of University of Virginia Climate Science Professor

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

The Thomas Jefferson Center has joined forces with three other organizations to file an amicus brief asking a Virginia judge to set aside a demand from Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli for documents related to the research of a global warming expert once employed by UVA.

In addition to the Center, the ACLU of Virginia, American Association of University Professors, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, filed today in Albemarle County Circuit Court.

Read more.

The Target Story and Disclosure

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

Target’s misguided donation to a pro-corporate, anti-gay Minnesota gubernatorial candidate has (with good reason) caused quite an uproar recently. But the dominant narrative – that Target will serve as a cautionary tale warning other big corporations against getting involved in politics – isn’t quite right.

As an NPR story yesterday made clear, the lesson of the Target story for many like-minded corporations is: don’t get caught.

Target gave to a group that is legally bound to identify its contributors. That's why Target's contribution became known.

Many other groups don't have to disclose a thing. So a company can channel its money — and its message — through a business association or an advocacy group, and outsiders will never know.

"Given all these different ways that you can spend your money without generating a national news story, certainly I think a lot of corporate executives are saying this is just a reminder to use all those other tools that we have in our tool kit," says Robert Kelner, a campaign finance lawyer in Washington.

The DISCLOSE Act, which was brought down by Republican obstruction earlier this summer, is likely to return to the Senate in September. Its passage would oblige all ...

Fox Doubles Down on GOP Bias

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

Although there has always been an extremely thin line between news journalism and Republican Party activism at the Fox News Channel, the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision allowed the company to become not just a propaganda arm of the GOP, but also the party's financier. According to a Bloomberg report, the Republican Governors Association received a $1 million donation from News Corporation, the parent company of Fox Broadcasting and the Fox News Channel, and conservative newspapers such as the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal. In fact, News Corp. was the RGA's "biggest corporate donor." The RGA, whose "primary mission is to help elect Republicans to governorships throughout the nation," is headed by Republican Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi, who was formerly the Chairman of the Republican National Committee.

News Corp is not the only media company directly funding political advocacy groups. Hubbard Broadcasting Inc., which operates multiple television and radio outlets in Minnesota, New York, and New Mexico, contributed $100,000 to MN Forward, a conservative organization backed by other corporations such as Target and BestBuy. MN Forward's main goal is to support far-right Republican Tom Emmer's campaign for Governor of Minnesota.

Now that ...

Student Groups Are in Danger — Help FIRE Defend Them!

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

Last week, I e-mailed FIRE's supporters about the obstacles FIRE faces following the Supreme Court's misguided decision in CLS v. Martinez. Today, I want to share the same message with you, our loyal Torch readers:

Hopefully by now you have received my letter from last month explaining the considerable obstacle the Supreme Court placed in the way of FIRE's mission. (If you haven't, you can listen to me talk about these recent developments with Ben Boychuk of the Heartland Institute in this podcast.) On June 28, the Court delivered a severe blow to freedom of association and religious liberty on America's college campuses with its ruling in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez. Now, right in time for the start of the academic year, colleges and universities can mandate that all student groups accept all students as voting members and leaders regardless of whether they support-or are even hostile to-the group's mission. At such schools, Muslim students could join Jewish groups and change their missions or even shut them down (and, of course, vice versa). Democrat students could join the College Republicans and vote to change the group's political positions (and, again, vice versa). Yes, this is as ...

Monitoring Corporate Spending

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

Since Citizens United, as we’ve noted, corporations have been taking advantage of their permission slip to spend unlimited amounts on elections. Now Bill de Blasio, the public advocate for the City of New York, is making it easier to track which corporations are getting involved in politics.

This week, de Blasio launched a website that breaks major corporations into three categories: those that have pledged to stay out of politics, those that have not pledged to stay out of politics, and those prepared (like Target) to spend money in politics. He also makes it easy for web surfers to contact corporations and encourage them not to spend on elections.

De Blasio’s public spirited website is a great tool, but citizens shouldn’t be expected to spend every election monitoring corporate machinations. Ultimately, we need a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United. That’s why we’re asking all federal elected officials and candidates to sign our pledge to support an amendment. Has your representative signed the pledge?

Protest Monks Evade Arrest

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010
Tibetans carry a banned flag three years after an area standoff with police.

Pa. court bars release of county official’s e-mails

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania courts’ broad exemption from the Right-to-Know Law shields judicial records from public scrutiny even when they are in the hands of agencies that are subject to the law, a three-judge panel of the state Commonwealth Court has ruled.

Open-records advocates said enforcement of the 19-month-old law could be hindered by the Aug. 11 decision, which revolves around what Lackawanna County officials have described only as “inappropriate” e-mails that prompted the suspension last summer of the county’s domestic-relations director, Patrick Luongo.

“It’s a broad order,” said Terry Mutchler, director of the state Office of Open Records, which she said planned to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

At issue is whether the e-mails should be released — as the open-records office argues — because they are kept in the county court’s computer system, or withheld because they are records of a judicial agency not covered by the law.

Luongo’s salary is paid by the county, but he is supervised by the judiciary. His department, according to its website, “helps the Court establish and enforce Court Orders for child support and spousal support.” Luongo’s suspension was approved by the administrator of the Lackawanna County Common Pleas Court, county ...

Federal court strikes down Mo. funeral-protest laws

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A federal judge ruled yesterday that Missouri laws restricting protests near funerals are unconstitutional.

Missouri legislators passed two laws in 2006 in response to protests at U.S. service members' funerals by the Westboro Baptist Church. The Topeka, Kan., church contends the deaths are God's punishment for the U.S. tolerating homosexuality.

U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitan ruled in Phelps-Roper v. Koster that the laws violate the right of free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment.

The primary state law had barred protests near any church, cemetery or funeral establishment from an hour before until an hour after any funeral ceremony, procession or memorial service. The secondary measure specifically stated protesters must stay back at least 300 feet from ceremonies and processions. Both provisions levied the same penalty: up to six months in jail and a $500 fine for a first offense and up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine for repeat offenders.

Gaitan concluded Missouri officials did not demonstrate the protest restrictions served a significant government interest nor that they had been narrowly tailored to prevent the harm of interruptions of funeral services. The judge wrote he was sympathetic to the argument that people ...

Wis. Supreme Court blocks political-ad rule

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

MADISON, Wis. — The Wisconsin Supreme Court has temporarily halted enforcement of a new rule regulating political issue ads that's been the subject of multiple lawsuits by both liberal and conservative activists.

In a 4-3 decision issued on Aug. 13, the justices granted the injunction request by a variety of Wisconsin tea party groups in a lawsuit challenging the regulation in state court. The rule requires groups running so-called issue ads to disclose where they get their money and how they spend it.

Critics say the rule would muzzle the free-speech rights of individuals and organizations to comment on public policy and politicians.

The state Government Accountability Board — charged with enforcing the regulation — reached an agreement earlier last week with plaintiffs in a separate federal lawsuit to not enforce the rule. U.S. District Judge William Conley refused to sign off on that agreement, which was struck by the board with One Wisconsin Now, a liberal group, and the conservative Wisconsin Club for Growth.

Still, board director Kevin Kennedy vowed not to enforce the new rule while the parties responded to Conley's request for more information.

The state Supreme Court's Aug. 13 ruling makes that a certainty. Justice David ...

Supreme Court won’t block ‘birther’ penalty

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has let a $20,000 fine stand against a leader of the movement challenging President Barack Obama's citizenship.

The high court yesterday refused to block a federal judge's October 2009 ruling that required California lawyer and dentist Orly Taitz to pay the $20,000 fine for filing a "frivolous" litigation. The judge said Taitz attempted to misuse the federal courts to push a political agenda.

Taitz sued in Georgia federal court on behalf of Army Capt. Connie Rhodes. Rhodes sought to avoid deployment to Iraq by claiming Obama wasn't born in the United States.

Justice Samuel Alito yesterday rejected Taitz's second request to block the sanctions. Justice Clarence Thomas had rejected the request earlier.

You Can Have Your Freedom of Religion, But You Can’t Exercise It

Monday, August 16th, 2010

This afternoon, the “yes, the Constitution grants freedom of religion, but this time you’d better not use it” argument has gained its newest, and most disappointing, adherent.

Under pressure from his ultra right-wing opponent in the Nevada senate race, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid paid lip service to the First Amendment while stating his opposition to the building of a Muslim community center a few blocks from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan:

"The First Amendment protects freedom of religion," Reid spokesman Jim Manley said in a statement. "Sen. Reid respects that but thinks that the mosque should be built someplace else."

Reid is the most senior Democrat to come out in opposition to the mosque.

It perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise that hoards of Republican elected officials who live far from New York have come out against what the Right Wing has branded the “Ground Zero Mosque.” It was, after all, Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich who turned what was a New York City zoning issue into a national fit of misinformed intolerance.

But it’s deeply disappointing to realize we’ve reached the point where the most powerful Democrat in the Senate is parroting Right Wing talking points at the ...

A Cynical Election Strategy

Monday, August 16th, 2010

The GOP has already set to work making the proposed Islamic community center in lower Manhattan – and President Obama’s support for the project – into a midterm campaign issue. Sharron Angle accused President Obama of siding “against the families of 9/11 victims.” John Boehner called the President’s stance “deeply troubling.”

But Mark Halperin at Time Magazine urged the GOP to reconsider its cynical strategy:

It isn't clear how the battle over the proposed center should or will end. But two things are profoundly clear: Republicans have a strong chance to win the midterm elections without picking a fight over President Obama's measured words. And a national political fight conducted on the terms we have seen in the past few days will lead to a chain reaction at home and abroad that will have one winner -- the very extreme and violent jihadists we all can claim as our true enemy.

Greg Sargent of the Washington Post concurred, writing:

It's one thing for Republicans to argue the case against the center on the merits. Fine. Agree or disagree, the same First Amendment that protects the right of the group to build the center also protect the right of ...

In Mississippi, ‘The Clarion-Ledger’ Reports on Dangers of State Colleges’ Speech Codes

Monday, August 16th, 2010
In today's edition of The Clarion-Ledger, the Jackson, Mississippi newspaper reports on speech codes maintained at public colleges statewide. Spurred by FIRE's recent victory at nearby Hinds Community College, reporter Elizabeth Crisp writes:

Students at Mississippi universities may have to watch what they say more than those in other states because of policies that free-speech advocates say are oppressive.

At Ole Miss, someone could theoretically get in trouble for sending an e-mail about how much they "hate" rival Mississippi State.

Jackson State students could be punished for unsolicited flirting.

Speaking freely outside so-called "free-speech zones" on most of the campuses could get students in trouble, even though a federal court has deemed that unconstitutional.

Adam Kissel, of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said the nonprofit group hears from hundreds of college students across the country each year who believe their rights have been violated.

Many of the complaints deal with students who have been prevented from expressing their views on controversial issues such as abortion, gay marriage or affirmative action.

"Students want to be able to advocate their position on the issues," Kissel said. "Unfortunately, the administrators sometimes use their power to shut down one side ...

Ethics in a Digital World: Video from Annual Conference

Monday, August 16th, 2010

The ALA Committee on Professional Ethics hosted a wonderful program at ALA’s Annual Conference titled, “Ethics in a Digital World: Using Policies to Guide Professional and Personal Presence in Social Networking Spaces.” This program took place on Sunday, June 27 and a video recording of the event is now available online here.

The panel of four speakers address topics including privacy considerations for librarians using social networking sites; issues of librarian self-disclosure online; First Amendment concerns around using social networking sites for library outreach; and advice on how writing social software policies. We hope you enjoy the video and this enlightening program!

Federal judge OKs size limit for political signs

Monday, August 16th, 2010


A Baltimore County ordinance prohibiting political signs larger than 8 square feet does not violate the First Amendment, a federal judge has ruled.

Stephen V. Kolbe had challenged the constitutionally of the ordinance after being told that he needed to remove a 32-square-foot sign that he placed on his yard last May supporting Maryland gubernatorial candidate (and former governor) Robert Ehrlich.

Read more.

NPR’s ‘All Things Considered’ on Two FIRE Cases about Christian Professors

Monday, August 16th, 2010
National Public Radio's All Things Considered discussed a couple of FIRE cases earlier this month. Barbara Bradley Hagerty, reporting for the show, covered a poll of 1,700 university scientists at "elite universities" which found that many of them say they self-censor when it comes to talking about their religion:

Contrary to the stereotype that most scientists are atheists, [Rice professor Elaine Howard Ecklund] says, nearly half of them say they are religious. But when she did follow up interviews, she found they practice a "closeted faith."

"They just do not want to bring up that they are religious in an academic discussion. There's somewhat of almost a culture of suppression surrounding discussions of religion at these kinds of academic institutions." 

Ecklund says the scientists worried that their colleagues would believe they were politically conservative — or subscribed to intelligent design. She says they all insisted on anonymity.

Hagerty also covered two of FIRE's cases. One is at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, in which FIRE filed an amici brief in defense of the First Amendment rights of Professor Mike Adams:

A few years ago, he began writing strongly worded op-ed pieces expressing conservative views ...

Government Uses Social Networking Sites for More than Investigations

Monday, August 16th, 2010

This is part two of a two part series. Read part one.

In the midst of recent controversies over Facebook’s privacy settings, it’s easy to forget how much personal information is available from other sources on the Internet. But the government remembers. EFF recently received a number of documents from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) highlighting the government’s ability to scour not only social networks, but record each and every corner of the Internet. These documents were released in the second of a series of government disclosures resulting from EFF’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit in which EFF, with the help of UC Berkeley’s Samuelson Clinic, sought information on the procedures and guidelines employed by government agencies when conducting social network monitoring or investigations.

As an example of the government’s substantial information collection capability, several documents [PDF] in the CIA’s disclosure discuss the CIA’s so-called Open Source Center, established in 2005, which has been collecting information from publicly accessible Internet sources such as blogs, chat rooms and social networking sites, in addition to monitoring radio and television programs. The Open Source Center’s website,, bills itself as ...

Obama supports ‘the right’ for ground-zero mosque

Monday, August 16th, 2010

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. — Weighing his words carefully on a fiery political issue, President Barack Obama said Aug. 14 that Muslims have the right to build a mosque near New York’s ground zero, but he did not say whether he believes it is a good idea to do so.

Obama commented during a trip to Florida, where he expanded on an Aug. 13 White House speech asserting that Muslims have the same right to freedom of religion as everyone else in America.

The president’s statements thrust him squarely into a debate that he had skirted for weeks and could put Democrats on the spot three months before midterm elections where they already were nervous about holding control of the House and maybe even the Senate. Until Aug. 13, the White House had asserted that it did not want to get involved in local decision-making.

The White House quickly followed up on Obama’s latest comments on the matter, with Obama spokesman Bill Burton saying that the president wasn’t backing off in any way from the remarks he made Aug. 13.

“What he said last night, and reaffirmed today, is that if a church, a synagogue or a Hindu temple can ...

Federal judge OKs size limit for political signs

Monday, August 16th, 2010

A Baltimore County ordinance prohibiting political signs larger than 8 square feet does not violate the First Amendment, a federal judge has ruled.

Stephen V. Kolbe had challenged the constitutionally of the ordinance after being told that he needed to remove a 32-square-foot sign that he placed on his yard last May supporting Maryland gubernatorial candidate (and former governor) Robert Ehrlich.

Kolbe filed a federal lawsuit, contending that the size restriction on temporary signs infringed on his political free-speech rights. County officials countered that the ordinance furthered traffic safety and neighborhood aesthetics.

The parties argued over whether the 8-square-foot regulation was content-based or content-neutral. Kolbe argued that it was content-based because inspectors had to examine the content of the sign to determine whether it fell within one of six temporary sign categories. Government officials contended that it was content-neutral because it applied the same size limit to all temporary signs.

U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake agreed with the county in her Aug. 11 opinion in Kolbe v. Baltimore County. She said the ordinance was content-neutral because it applied the 8-square-foot rule to all temporary signs.

Even content-neutral laws must serve a substantial government interest, must be narrowly drawn and ...

Calif. appeals court: Mall can’t bar strangers from chatting

Monday, August 16th, 2010

ROSEVILLE, Calif. — A suburban shopping mall's policy barring people from approaching strangers to chitchat has been found unconstitutional by a California appeals court. The court said that the rules would prohibit people from talking about the weather or offering directions to strangers.

The 3rd District Court of Appeal said on Aug. 11 that the rules at Roseville's Westfield Galleria violated the California Constitution's free-speech guarantee.

The mall prohibited individuals in its common areas from approaching people they didn't know to talk unless the conversation was about business involving the mall or its tenants. The case arose after mall officials issued a citizen's arrest of Matthew Snatchko, 27, a youth pastor who tried to talk to others at the mall about his Christian faith.

A store employee called security when Snatchko approached three young women who agreed to talk with him. When he refused to leave the mall, Snatchko was handcuffed and turned over to Roseville police.

When Snatchko appeared in court for arraignment, all charges were dropped. The Placer County District Attorney's Office agreed that Snatchko was "factually innocent," and a Superior Court judge took the unusual step of issuing a formal finding of factual innocence.

Snatchko sued Westfield, ...

Federal judge tosses Kan. ban on nonresident petition circulators

Monday, August 16th, 2010

WICHITA, Kan. — A federal judge struck down as unconstitutional late last week a part of a Kansas law that prohibits nonresidents from circulating petitions within the state.

U.S. District Judge Sam Crow ruled Aug. 13 that the law violates the First Amendment and issued a permanent injunction prohibiting Secretary of State Chris Biggs from enforcing it.

The order comes after a lawsuit filed in April by the Constitution Party of Kansas. Also named as plaintiffs are Curt Engelbrecht, a Wichita member, and Mark Pickens, an Arizona man who works as a paid political petition circulator.

The Kansas attorney general’s office had joined with the plaintiffs in asking that the statute be ruled unconstitutional — something Daniel Treuden, a Milwaukee attorney who represents the Constitution Party, called “the responsible thing to do.”

The group has challenged similar statutes elsewhere, he said, but there are still many states with laws banning nonresidents from circulating election-related petitions.

“I am not sure every legislator who passed this law was thinking badly or had any bad intent when they passed it,” Treuden said. “It is just that they violated the Constitution when they did it — whether that be innocently or not.”

The Constitution ...

Atheist challenges taxpayer grant to landmark Ill. cross

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

ST. LOUIS — An atheist is suing to force the administrators of a towering cross in southern Illinois to return a $20,000 state grant toward its restoration, saying it was “blatantly unconstitutional” to spend taxpayer money on a Christian symbol.

Caretakers of the 11-story Bald Knob Cross of Peace near Alto Pass, Ill., some 130 miles southeast of St. Louis, insist the grant was legally awarded to the 50-year-old landmark in mid-2008 by classifying it as a tourist attraction, not a religious symbol.

Rob Sherman disagrees, pressing in his federal lawsuit in Springfield, Ill., that the grant violates the U.S. Constitution’s establishment clause.

“There has never been any question, outside of southern Illinois, that this state grant is blatantly unconstitutional,” said Sherman, who successfully sued to have an Illinois law requiring a daily “moment of silence” in Illinois public schools overturned.

“The job of atheists is to take clergy to court to challenge the epidemic of civil wrongs that they have perpetrated, on the sneak, against the people of Illinois,” Sherman said on his website. “It’s a big job, but somebody’s gotta do it.”

In his lawsuit filed Aug. 12, Chicago-based Sherman asked a judge to compel the caretakers of ...

Texas nurses who complained about doctor settle lawsuit

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

LUBBOCK, Texas — A lawsuit brought by two Texas nurses who were fired and charged with a felony for filing a complaint against a doctor was never about getting a check, one of the women said this week.

"This has never been about the money," Anne Mitchell said, "because these situations are never about money. It's about good care."

Her comments came Aug. 11, a day after county commissioners in Winkler County voted to approve a $750,000 settlement in the lawsuit brought by Mitchell, 53, and Vickilyn Galle, 54. The two women will split the amount, said Brian Carney, one of their attorneys.

In 2009, the nurses sent an unsigned letter to state medical regulators outlining their concerns about Dr. Rolando G. Arafiles Jr., including his alleged use of herbal remedies and attempt to use hospital supplies to perform at-home procedures.

The Texas Medical Board has filed a formal complaint against Arafiles, who has been licensed in the state since 1998.

Both women were charged with felony misuse of information after Arafiles went to the Winkler County sheriff, a friend and patient, and asked him to investigate who sent the letter.

Nursing associations and health care watchdogs in Texas and ...

EFF Files Appeal of Warrantless Wiretapping Case Jewel v. NSA

Friday, August 13th, 2010

EFF today asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to reinstate its landmark case against the federal government for warrantlessly wiretapping millions of ordinary Americans. The case, called Jewel v. NSA is part of EFF's ongoing efforts to Stop the Spying.

In January, the District Court dismissed the case on the incorrect argument that, because so many Americans have had their communications and communications records illegally obtained by the government, no single person has legal "standing" to challenge the ongoing program of government surveillance. This is incorrect because the number of people harmed — here the number of people whose personal communications and communications records were improperly obtained by the government — simply has nothing to do with whether the case can or should be adjudicated.

EFF's brief says:

Unless corrected, the District Court’s ruling risks creating a perverse incentive for the government to violate the privacy rights of as many citizens as possible in order to avoid judicial review of its actions. Neither the Constitution nor the settled statutory structure protecting the privacy of Americans’ communications allows such a result. The District Court’s dismissal of Plaintiffs’ claims must be reversed.

EFF points out that three longstanding statutes protect ...

Rights in the News: Hinds Swearing Case Still a Hot Topic

Friday, August 13th, 2010
The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Mississippi, keeps churning out coverage of the conclusion of Isaac Rosenbloom's outrageous case at Hinds Community College, where Rosenbloom was finally cleared of disciplinary charges after having been punished for swearing once after a class. Read Gary Pettus' column--blogged here yesterday--where he amusingly juxtaposes Rosenbloom's plight with that of Jeremiah Masoli, the man who may be the next quarterback for the University of Mississippi.

While Rosenbloom's case has wound down and HCC has avoided an embarrassing and expensive court challenge, Thomas Thibeault's case at East Georgia College--in which the instructor was fired for criticizing EGC's sexual harassment policy--is gearing up. Thibeault has now filed suit in federal court against EGC, and you can read about the lawsuit and his deplorable treatment by EGC here and at the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Meanwhile, our video of Jonathan Rauch's keynote address from this year's Campus Freedom Network conference has proven popular--especially with the boost in viewership coming courtesy of The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan, which we appreciate. 

Finally, the conclusion of this summer's FIRE internship program today is just one reminder that the new school year is rapidly approaching. As students turn their thoughts ...

EFF to Verizon: Etisalat Certificate Authority Threatens Web Security

Friday, August 13th, 2010

EFF will soon be launching the SSL Observatory project, an effort to monitor and secure the cryptographic infrastructure of the World Wide Web. There is much work to be done, and we will need the help of many parties to make the HTTPS-encrypted web genuinely trustworthy. To see why, you can read the following letter, which we are sending to Verizon today:

(there is also a story in the New York Times)

Dear Verizon,

We are writing to request that Verizon investigate the security and privacy implications of the SSL CA certificate (serial number 0x40003f1) that Cybertrust (now a division of Verizon) issued to Etisalat on the 19th of December, 2005, and evaluate whether this certificate should be revoked.

As you are aware, Etisalat is a telecommunications company headquartered in the United Arab Emirates. In July 2009, Etisalat issued a mislabeled firmware update to approximately 100,000 of its BlackBerry subscribers that contained malicious surveillance software [1]. Research In Motion subsequently issued patches to remove this malicious code [2].

More recently, the United Arab Emirates Telecommunications Regulatory Authority and Etisalat threatened to discontinue service to BlackBerry users, claiming that these devices "allow users to act without any legal accountability, ...

Video from Annual Conference: IF Issues Briefing

Friday, August 13th, 2010

OIF is pleased to share the first of several videos from our outstanding programs at ALA’s 2010 Annual Conference in Washington, DC! First up is the Intellectual Freedom Issues Briefing Session from June 27th. The video is available online here.

This program features two speakers — Theresa Chmara and Dee Venuto — who highlight recent developments around today’s cutting edge intellectual freedom issues of meeting room policies, Internet filtering, and challenges to library materials.  For more information on this session, please read our previous blog post here.

Theresa Chmara’s talk considers the recent Alliance Defense Fund campaign, targeting libraries whose meeting room policies limit or restrict religious activities in the library, while Dee Venuto presents on the recent banning of Revolutionary Voices from multiple New Jersey libraries. Theresa presents first and Dee’s presentation begins at approximately the 34 minute mark.

We wish to thank our excellent speakers and ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee Chair Martin Garnar, who served as moderator, for this wonderful and enlightening program!

As Students Choose Mirror-Image Roommates Online, Maureen Dowd Decries ‘Diminished Debate Syndrome’ on Campus

Friday, August 13th, 2010

In Tuesday's edition of The New York Times, an excellent column by Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Maureen Dowd laments a depressing trend on campus—the use of online roommate-matching services by incoming freshmen—and insightfully links this development to what she terms the "diminished debate syndrome" on campus.

But before we get to Dowd's column, let's review the article in last week's Wall Street Journal that prompted her observations. The Journal reported on how new students are relying on detailed information gleaned from social networking sites to determine their perceived compatability with their future roommates, even before they've arrived on campus:

This online scouting-and the judgments students make based on what they see-are dramatically changing the time-honored college practice of learning to live with a stranger freshman year.

Many schools see assigned roommates as a chance for students to learn to get along with different types of people as they're forced to negotiate everything from who gets the top bunk to varying ideas about politics and religion. And many student deans and admissions officers view online roommate screening as a threat to all that.

Droves of parents have been calling to complain to colleges and universities, often demanding to change their children's ...

WikiLeaks prepares to publish more Afghan war files

Friday, August 13th, 2010

LONDON — WikiLeaks spokesman Julian Assange said yesterday that his organization is preparing to release the rest of the secret Afghan war documents it has on file. The Pentagon warned that would be more damaging to security and risk more lives than the organization's initial release of some 76,000 war documents.

That extraordinary disclosure, which laid bare classified military documents covering the war in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2010, has angered U.S. officials, energized critics of the NATO-led campaign, and drawn the attention of the Taliban, which has promised to use the material to track down people it considers traitors.

The Pentagon says it believes it has identified the additional 15,000 classified documents, and said yesterday that their exposure would be even more damaging to the military than what has already been published.

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell described the prospective publication as the "height of irresponsibility."

"It would compound a mistake that has already put far too many lives at risk," he said.

Speaking via videolink to London's Frontline Club, Assange brushed aside the Pentagon's demands that he stop publishing their intelligence. He gave no specific timeframe for the release of the 15,000 remaining files, but said his organization ...

N.J. blogger convicted of threatening judges

Friday, August 13th, 2010

NEW YORK — A New Jersey blogger has been convicted of making threats against federal appeals court judges in Illinois.

A Brooklyn jury deliberated less than two hours today before finding Hal Turner guilty of making death threats.

The three judges from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals testified during the trial that they were alerted by their staffs in 2009 to postings by Turner protesting their ruling supporting gun control.

Turner wrote, "These judges must die." He also posted their photos and work addresses.

The defense had argued that Turner's rants were "political trash talk" protected by the First Amendment.

It was the third trial for Turner. Two previous trials ended in hung juries.

ACLU turns over blogger IPs in Pa. defamation case

Friday, August 13th, 2010

PITTSBURGH — A civil liberties group has surrendered the Internet protocol addresses from six posts on an online message board to a local western Pennsylvania official who claims the authors posted defamatory information about him.

The American Civil Liberties Union, who intervened in the case, turned over two IPs on Aug. 11 after an Allegheny County judge last month ruled that Forward Township Supervisor Thomas DeRosa was entitled to the information.

DeRosa has claimed he needs to know who posted the information for a defamation suit he is pursuing against two of them.

The ACLU had argued the identity of the posters was protected and that the messages they posted were so vague they didn’t amount to defamation anyway. Instead, ACLU attorney Sara Rose argued, DeRosa’s suit was simply a means to unmask citizens who disagreed with him.

Rose said the ACLU wouldn’t appeal the ruling, however.

“I think it’s bad for our First Amendment rights to just hand them over,” said Richard Rattanni, who runs the community discussion board where the comments were posted last year.

Rattanni isn’t being sued and the ACLU does not represent the two defendants DeRosa sued in November under the pseudonyms “Howard Doe” and ...

Mass. curriculum can exclude questioners of Armenian genocide

Friday, August 13th, 2010

BOSTON — A federal appeals court has ruled that Massachusetts public school guidelines for teaching history can exclude viewpoints that dispute the mass slaying of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in the early part of the 20th century.

The Aug. 11 decision by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the state did not violate free-speech rights in 1999 by excluding sources that questioned the Armenian genocide.

Some say the slaying of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians wasn't genocide, but was driven by other factors, including World War I.

Pace University law professor Van Krikorian, who filed a brief defending the state, called the decision "a major defeat for genocide denial."

Harvey Silverglate, who represents Turkish-American interests, told The Boston Globe the ruling was "a sad day" for First Amendment rights.

Conn. House overrides vetoed campaign-finance bill

Friday, August 13th, 2010

HARTFORD, Conn. — For the second time in two weeks, Connecticut lawmakers have voted to override Gov. M. Jodi Rell's veto of a bill intended to fix legal problems with the state's campaign-finance law. The bill now becomes law.

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives voted 106-30 during a special session today to re-pass a bill opposed by the Republican governor. The Democratic-controlled Senate voted last week to override her veto.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month that a section of the law that provides extra public funding to political candidates facing well-financed opponents is unconstitutional. The new bill is an effort to fix the legislation in light of the court ruling.

Rell and other opponents were against a part of the new law that would double the $3 million base grant for gubernatorial candidates who participate in the public campaign-funding program. Rell termed it "a welfare program for politicians."

The override paves the way for Dan Malloy, the Democrats' nominee for governor, to receive $6 million in public funds for his general election campaign.

GOP legislators expressed outrage at the vote, accusing the majority Democrats of using public funds to finance their party's candidate for governor.


EFF Staffs Up in Patent, Copyright, and Trademark Law

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

EFF is pleased to announce the hiring of our newest staff member: staff attorney Julie Samuels. Julie will be working on intellectual property issues, with a focus on stopping abuse of software patents.

Before joining EFF, Julie litigated patent and copyright cases in Chicago at Loeb & Loeb and Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal. Prior to becoming a lawyer, Julie worked with the Media Coalition in New York and as an assistant editor at the National Journal Group in D.C. She was also an intern at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications. Welcome Julie!

EFF is also looking to round out its intellectual property legal team by hiring a senior-level copyright attorney. The right candidate will have at least five years of experience working in copyright law, including an in-depth knowledge of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Litigation experience is desired, including significant experience managing both overall case strategy and day-to-day projects and deadlines. But responsibilities will also include public speaking, blogging, media outreach, and legislative and regulatory matters related to a variety of high technology legal issues. This lawyer will be on the front lines of the fight for digital civil liberties -- in the courts, ...

University of Idaho Revises Former ‘Speech Code of the Month’ Policy

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

Good news out of the University of Idaho: the administration has revised a residence hall harassment policy that FIRE named our Speech Code of the Month in September 2009.

Before it was revised, the policy provided that "Actions and/or communication that are discriminatory, harassing or insensitive are not permitted." We wrote at the time that

This policy prohibits a staggering amount of constitutionally protected speech. In fact, this policy prohibits precisely the speech that the First Amendment exists to protect, since people typically do not seek to censor sensitive, respectful expression. Moving beyond the legal issues, speech codes like this one infantilize college students by assuming they cannot cope with any sort of offense. Do we really want to teach our students that they are entitled to seek punishment for others' insensitivity?

Thankfully, the 2010-2011 version of the Residence Hall Handbook contains a revised harassment policy which now provides that "Actions and/or communication that are discriminatory or harassing are not permitted." Insensitivity is no longer a punishable offense at the University of Idaho, and that is a very good thing. We commend the administration for making this necessary and important change.

Unfortunately, all is not yet well for free speech ...

Failure to Disclose

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

While banks and insurance companies are heavily betting on Republicans this election year, we may never know what companies are behind third-party ads pushing for corporate-friendly policies and politicians. Since forty-one Republican senators voted in lock-step to block the DISCLOSE Act ("Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections"), the bill hasn't yet had an opportunity to receive an up-or-down vote in the Senate.

The DISCLOSE Act, which the House passed in June, would prohibit corporations that are foreign-owned or receive federal dollars from engaging in electoral activity, and would mandate that third party political groups publicize their donors and include disclaimers on advertisements. So far, however, the obstructionists in the Senate have derailed this drive for transparency in politics by blocking a vote on DISCLOSE. Unless the Senate leadership is able to break through this obstructionism when Congress comes back from its August recess,third party groups will have free license to spend handsomely on elections without releasing a single source of their funding.

A recent Fortune article points out why the DISCLOSE Act is needed, as even Goldman Sachs, which says it will not directly contribute to political organizations, "can publicly say it won't fund political ads, ...

On Football and Other F-words in Mississippi

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

It's too bad Isaac Rosenbloom isn't a football player, as Gary Pettus of the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, MS, would tell it. Pettus' recent column amusingly compares the odysseys of Rosenbloom—recently cleared of disciplinary charges for swearing outside of class at Hinds Community College in Mississippi—and Jeremiah Masoli, the former University of Oregon quarterback who will be plying his trade at the University of Mississippi after multiple run-ins with the law led to his dismissal from the UO squad.

Torch readers know Rosenbloom's tale by now: the student was removed from a course and found guilty of "flagrant disrespect" after he swore once after class. With FIRE's help, Rosenbloom's punishment was reversed and his Pell grant funding—which HCC's punishment had caused him to lose—was restored.

As for Masoli, Pettus reports, the promising QB was suspended for a season after pleading guilty to burglary charges, then dismissed from the team for good due to an arrest for allegedly driving with a suspended license and marijuana possession. Off-field troubles aside, Masoli graduated from UO and, with his remaining year of athletic eligibility, plans to enroll in a graduate program in Parks and Recreation at Ole Miss. Since this program is not offered at ...

Breaking Down the DMCA Exemptions, Pt. 2: Free Your Phone and the Rest Will Follow?

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

As the initial furor over the 2009 (in fact delayed until 2010) DMCA rulemaking subsides, a number of questions have been raised about the nature and scope of the exemptions. We’ve gotten a lot of inquiries about two cell-phone related exemptions that EFF championed: one to clarify the legality of cell phone "jailbreaking" — software modifications that liberate iPhones and other handsets to run applications from sources other than those approved by the phone maker – and another to renew a 2006 rule exempting cell phone unlocking so handsets can be used with other telecommunications carriers. Both exemptions were granted.

Of these, the jailbreaking exemption has received the most attention. More than a million iPhone owners are said to have "jailbroken" their handsets in order to change wireless providers or use applications obtained from sources other than Apple's own iTunes "App Store," and many more have expressed a desire to do so. But the threat of DMCA liability had previously endangered these customers and alternate applications stores.

What was the basis for the jailbreaking exemption?

The Copyright Office squarely rejected Apple's claim that copyright law (other than the anti-circumvention provisions) forbids people from installing unapproved programs on iPhones. Why? Fair ...

I <3 NY, But Does Sarah Palin?

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

In his recent short New Yorker piece, Hendrick Herzberg points out something that’s been troubling me: some of the most vocal opponents of the “Ground Zero Mosque” (Sarah Palin, John McCain, Newt Gingrich) openly despise New York City as the ultimate haven of un-American “elites.”

In their attempt to protect the city against “peace-seeking Muslims,” these would-be demagogues prove that they either don’t understand or don’t value the diverse, all-American jumble that is New York. But as Herzberg demonstrates, the leaders of the proposed Islamic cultural center are typical New Yorkers and Americans:

Like many New Yorkers, the people in charge of Park51, a married couple, are from somewhere else—he from Kuwait, she from Kashmir. Feisal Abdul Rauf is a Columbia grad. He has been the imam of a mosque in Tribeca for close to thirty years. He is the author of a book called “What’s Right with Islam Is What’s Right with America.” He is a vice-chair of the Interfaith Center of New York. “My colleagues and I are the anti-terrorists,” he wrote recently—in the Daily News, no less. He denounces terrorism in general and the 9/11 attacks in particular, often and at length. The F.B.I. ...

Senators Set the Record Straight on Just Who the “Activist” Justices Are

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

A recent PFAW poll revealed that the vast majority of Americans are intensely concerned about the growing corporate influence in our country and disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United. Judging from numerous remarks made during last week’s Senate hearings on Elena Kagan’s confirmation to the Court, it seems that many of our elected representatives feel the same way. Though Republicans attempted to vilify Kagan (and Thurgood Marshall!) with accusations of judicial activism, Democrats fired back, pointing out that in fact it is the conservative Court majority that has employed such activism in going out of its way to side with corporate America. Senators used the floor debate to decry the Roberts Court’s record of favoring corporations over individuals and its disregard for Congressional intent and legal precedent:

Senator Schumer:

The American people are reaping the bitter harvest from new laws that have been made and old precedents that have been overturned. Put simply, in decision after decision, this conservative, activist Court has bent the law to suit an ideology. At the top of the list, of course, is the Citizens United case where an activist majority of the Court overturned a century of well-understood law ...

Beijing Bans Top Comedian

Thursday, August 12th, 2010
A Chinese comedian is censored after a dispute with a local television station.

ADF’s David Hacker on Civility Codes as Speech Codes

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

Last week in The Christian Post, Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) Legal Counsel David J. Hacker took aim at an August 5, 2010, article titled "Rude Democracy" in Inside Higher Ed, written by Susan Herbst. Herbst discusses the perceived lack of civility in contemporary American discourse, both in the larger society and on university campuses, and argues that one solution to the problem as presented on campus is to maintain and enforce civility policies regulating student expression. Herbst writes that civility policies should play a major role in how universities counsel their students to behave on campus and should be used more prominently as part of students' extracurricular education. In the Christian Post article, Hacker responds well by highlighting the threat that civility policies pose to freedom of speech, echoing important points that FIRE has made many times.

Hacker first disagrees with Herbst's assertion that colleges have largely moved away from "hate speech" codes:

One of the problems is that she starts off on the wrong foot: "We have moved away from 'hate speech' codes because they are difficult to get right; they do have a tendency to trample on forms of free speech that really aren't dangerous at ...

Author Receives Death Threat

Thursday, August 12th, 2010
A government critic in Cambodia fears for his life.

Nev. court throws out teacher’s suit against school paper

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

FALLON, Nev. — A Nevada judge says he dismissed a high school music teacher’s lawsuit against the school newspaper because there was nothing known to be untrue in the article she claims damaged her reputation.

Kathy Archey, a teacher at Churchill County High School in Fallon, filed the lawsuit March 5 over an article published in January about parents’ allegations that Archey withheld student audition tapes for a state musical competition.

“There is not a single sentence contained in the school article which is false or known by any district defendant to be false,” Churchill County District Judge William Rogers wrote in the Aug. 10 decision.

The lawsuit alleged that the faculty adviser to the student paper, The Flash, was the driving force behind the article because his son was one of the students who didn’t make the cut for the auditions.

The suit said Archey has followed the same procedures in each of her eight years at Churchill High and submitted all voice tapes of students who qualified for auditions to join the honors choir.

“The publication of these concerns by a student author/editor in a student newspaper serves to communicate this information directly to (Churchill County School District) ...