Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

‘San Francisco Chronicle’ Reprints UCSB’s Lies about Viewpoint Discrimination against David Horowitz Event

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

Reasonable people disagree about a wide variety of things. But sometimes, people just lie or misrepresent the truth. Sadly, a lot of this is happening over at University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), and the lies are making it into the press.

The documentation is quite clear on the following points:

1.  Student government officials completely denied funding for $2,000 for a David Horowitz event sponsored by the College Republicans, because of opposition to his views and expression. Some of the students stood up for free speech, but they lost to those advocating for "inclusivity."

2.  A second group of student government officials voted to hide the evidence by suppressing the minutes of the meeting. (Fortunately, we have the minutes anyway and have posted them.)

3.  This second group of student government officials also voted to allocate $1,100 for the event, but only after airing strong denunciations of Horowitz's views and expression. After the audience erupted in complaints, these student government officials then revisited the question and allocated only $800.

The documentation also is clear on these points:

4.  FIRE brought this viewpoint discrimination to UCSB's attention on May 6 and June 7, 2011.

5.  On June 21, ...

Calls to Free Student Leaders

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011
On the 12th anniversary of the suppression of student protests in Laos, rights groups demand the release of all political prisoners.

Harvey Silverglate and Samantha Harris on Free Speech in ‘Princeton Alumni Weekly’

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

Check out FIRE Chairman Harvey Silverglate and Director of Speech Code Research Samantha Harris' essay on free speech at their mutual alma mater in this week's Princeton Alumni Weekly. Harvey and Samantha point out to Princeton alumni how their college's policies leave today's Princeton students subject to punishment for speaking their minds on controversial issues, or even for sending emails that administrators could deem "hostile."

In the article, Harvey and Samantha, who as alumni of Princeton are particularly concerned with free speech at the college they attended (FIRE Co-Founder Alan Charles Kors happens to be another notable alumnus), discuss what led to their writing this article:

In February of this year, we sent a letter to President Tilghman outlining our concern that, five years after the campus-wide discussion, Princeton's policies do not live up to the standards of the school's stated commitment to freedom of expression. The issue initially arose back in 2010 when one of us wrote a protest letter to President Tilghman, accompanying his Annual Giving check. Tilghman wrote back denying that Princeton maintained policies that clearly and substantially restrict students' freedom of speech. Later, the other of us responded with a detailed analysis of Princeton's speech ...

Northwest Florida State College Rejects Imposition of Free Speech Zones

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

Making a decision that too few colleges and universities have made over the years, Northwest Florida State College (NWFSC) has decided to reject the imposition of free speech zones at the college. As reported by the Northwest Florida Daily News, NWFSC's Board of Trustees voted unanimously last week not to go forward with a proposal from NWFSC President Ty Handy that would have designated free speech areas on five of the college's campuses.

In so doing, the Board displayed some sound logic and a proper sense of what the right to free speech means:

"We felt like, around the table, that there are no free-speech issues, there's no protest issues," said board Chairwoman Sandy Sims. "We will handle those issues as they arise and there's no reason to have a cookie-cutter policy that dictates how those issues will be handled."

That's right. As we say all the time, it makes no sense to quarantine student and faculty expression protected by the First Amendment to specific areas of campus, particularly to small or out-of-the-way areas, as colleges and universities often do (resulting in some memorable FIRE cases). Rather, the proper thing to do is to let free speech be ...

US Envoy Meets ‘The Lady’

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011
The U.S. envoy travels to Burma for a second time amidst signs of reform in the country.

Halloween: A Time for Expression–Or Censorship?

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

Colleges tell their students time and time again what they may express and how they may express it. These days, even Halloween costume choices are under fire—or even censored.

Underneath the themed parties, trick-or-treating, and haunted houses, Halloween is about being someone you're not. The Halloween costume is pure self-expression; we exercise the freedom not only to be whomever or whatever we desire, but also to explore our own interpretations of those characters.

College campuses nevertheless keep trying to police Halloween costumes. They really need to stop; it's making them look ridiculous.

First, let's review what happened before Halloween last year. Administrators from at least three universities sent emails to students warning them of the dangers of wearing "offensive" costumes on campus. Incidentally, all three of those universities—Northwestern University, Syracuse University, and the University of California at San Diego (UCSD)—are "red light" schools, each maintaining at least one policy that clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.

At UCSD, the letter came from Penny Rue, the university's vice chancellor. In addition to noting that wearing a costume can reduce inhibitions and that students should think carefully about the events they choose to attend on Halloween night, the letter notes the ...

CSUN Student Newspaper Gets to the Heart of the Canada Customs Case

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

In an editorial for California State University, Northridge’s Daily Sundial, opinion writer Braulio Campos gets to the heart of the Canada Customs Case: that drawings do not constitute child pornography. Campos spoke with fellow students about the case, and asked for their take on the case, finding support for Brandon X:

“I don’t think he should have been arrested if it was just drawings,” said 23-year-old Psychology Major Manisha Perera.

You can read the full article here.

CBLDF urgently needs to raise $100,000 for our important First Amendment work by the end of October! Be Counted and support CBLDF’s First Amendment legal work by bidding on original artwork, making a donation, or becoming a member of the CBLDF!

Kismet Cancelled in Pennsylvania School District

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

The Richland, PA School District canceled a high school student production of Kismet, a 1953 musical made along the lines of stories from the Arabian Nights. The musical was planned to open in February.

The reason: the proximity of the town to the 9/11 attacks: “Flight 93 flew right over our heads.” A fact which apparently has made local citizens extra sensitive to Muslim characters. Sensitive to the extent that the story of a wily beggar-poet, his  beautiful daughter and the handsome caliph who falls in love with her in ancient Baghdad is banned just because of religious associations.

What can we say about the culture and society that would ban Scheherazade and her stories from production just because they are set in an Islamic country? And what has happened to the principles of tolerance and diversity? Perhaps, in flying over Western Pennsylvania, Flight 93 dropped a Taliban virus that affected the brains of some of its citizens? I have no other explanation for the absurd and racist decision to “protect” the sensitivities of local people by suppressing any mention of Muslims.

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Group Charges Cover-Up

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011
The latest death of a herdsman in Inner Mongolia highlights an unending grassland destruction crisis.

GOP Candidates Declare War on Judicial Branch

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

Last week, we sounded an alarm about the radical plan to cripple the federal judiciary that Newt Gingrich has been pushing. Gingrich has suggested publicly that Congress subpoena federal judges whose decisions they disagree with, and has said that as president he would urge his administration to simply ignore rulings he didn’t like. Essentially, this would mean placing political pressure on a branch of government that exists to resist political pressure, and freeing the other branches from listening to it in the first place.

It’s a pretty outrageous suggestion coming from a man who makes a big show about valuing the Constitution and the vision of the founders. Gingrich, unfortunately, is not alone in his grudge against the judicial branch. In fact, the federal judiciary has been under attack from the Religious Right for decades. In 2005, for instance, ten senators and fifty representatives signed on to a bill that would have prohibited the federal courts from hearing church/state separation cases. Even libertarian poster child Ron Paul sponsored a bill that would prevent the federal courts from hearing cases involving the discriminatory “Defense of Marriage Act.” (He was prescient, at least: three years later, a federal court found that the ...

Legal Team Claims Official Interference

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011
Lawyers bring a lawsuit against Cambodia’s government for obstructing a Khmer Rouge tribunal.

Taiwan To Host Ai Weiwei Show

Monday, October 24th, 2011
The move is likely to ruffle feathers in Beijing.

Review Round Up: CBLDF LIBERTY ANNUAL 2011

Monday, October 24th, 2011

Since it’s release the week of New York Comic Con, CBLDF Liberty Annual 2011 has been universally praised by reviewers, and they have plenty to say about the latest issue of CBLDF’s annual anthology!

Chris Arrant with CBR’s Robot 6 blog would gladly pick up a copy of CBLDF Liberty Annual 2011 before eating, and Robot 6′s Graeme McMillan would also include the book in his buy pile.

Bleeding Cool’s Joe B. Pangrazio gave CBLDF Liberty Annual 2011 4.5 out of 5 stars, saying:

I’m always a sucker for these charity books. But this one was particularly poignant as it largely dealt with a “It Gets Better” message, along with some commentary on “Separation of Church and State.” The creative teams are, as ever, top notch and I’m glad to pay the 4.99 since it goes to a good cause. Great book, great cover, great talent, great message. What are you waiting for?

The boys at the Big Planet Comics podcast think the issue is worth it for the Craig Thompson and Kazim Ali story alone, but also praised  Carla Speed McNeil’s “Dunce” and Jeff Lemire and Mark Waid’s “Being Normal.” You can listen to the podcast here (the CBLDF ...

Controversy over OCR ‘Preponderance’ Mandate Reaches Southern Methodist U.

Monday, October 24th, 2011

The Daily Campus, a student newspaper at Southern Methodist University (SMU), published an extensive article yesterday examining the ongoing controversy over the federal Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights' (OCR's) April 2011 mandate that federally funded colleges and universities adjudicate allegations of sexual harassment and sexual violence under a lenient "preponderance of the evidence" evidentiary standard. This standard, as we've written many times, reduces the due process protections afforded to accused students by merely requiring that the evidence show the alleged offense is "more likely than not" (or approximately 50.01% likely) to have taken place.

Quoting our own Will Creeley, the Daily Campus article notes FIRE's sustained opposition to this federal mandate:

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has been one of the most outspoken critics of the new mandate.

"This is too low of a standard," Will Creeley, the director of legal and public advocacy for FIRE, said. "This is the same standard used in hearings for speeding tickets."

[...]

"It is a college's moral and legal duty to respond to such allegations, but shifting the burden of evidence just leads to more innocent students being accused," Creeley said. "It doesn't increase justice, it just ...

Rights of Student Newspaper Rejected by Police Following Theft at Christopher Newport University

Monday, October 24th, 2011

Peter Velz of the Student Press Law Center (SPLC) has reported a troubling, though sadly familiar, First Amendment violation at Christopher Newport University (CNU), a public university in Virginia. A CNU student displeased with a story in the CNU paper The Captain's Log, concerning the arrest of a former CNU police officer on charges of fraud and forgery, stole and disposed of more than 700 copies of the paper. The student admitted to doing this on Facebook, according to SPLC.

This is a depressing occurrence, and one of the most brash forms of vigilante censorship we see here at FIRE. Stealing newspapers not only is not protected by the First Amendment, but it also is generally defined as theft under criminal law, since all of those newspapers—even if they're given out free of charge—cost money to print and rely on paid advertisements to cover costs. SPLC reports that The Captain's Log estimated the theft's financial harm to the paper to be about $300. (If you have any doubt whether stealing "free" newspapers is theft, try helping yourself to the entire box of of those T-shirts they blast out of air cannons at football games and see how they treat ...

Doubts Rise over Missing Data

Monday, October 24th, 2011
Concerns grow over China's energy goals.

Funeral Privacy Not Same As At Home, 8th Circuit Rules

Monday, October 24th, 2011

Privacy rights at a funeral don’t rise to the same level as privacy rights at a home. That rationale drove a recent 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel decision that prevented enforcement of a Nebraska funeral-protest statute.

Shirley Phelps-Roper, a daughter of Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps, challenged the Nebraska law in late 2009 on First Amendment grounds, just as she and other members of the church have challenged laws in other states that have sprung up to counter their picketing at funerals.

The Nebraska law restricts picketing at a funeral from one hour before until two hours afterward. At the time that Phelps-Roper challenged the law, it also required a 300-foot buffer zone between protesters and the place of the funeral. The state Legislature has since extended the buffer to 500 feet.

A federal district court said the protest law was a narrowly tailored, content-neutral law that served a significant government interest and allowed for other means of protest. On appeal, a three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit reversed the district court Oct. 20 in Phelps-Roper v. Troutman.

The appeals court panel ruled consistently with its decision in Phelps-Roper v. Nixon in 2008, when it blocked enforcement ...

Photo ID Laws Disenfranchise Tennessee Voters

Friday, October 21st, 2011

Republican legislatures around the country are seeing the payoff from the voter ID laws they’ve enacted: the disenfranchisement of the elderly, the poor, students, and minorities. In Murfreesboro, TN, 91-year-old Virginia Lasater was unable to stay on her feet for the length of time it took to wait on line at the DMV to get a photo ID. She had worked on campaigns and voted her entire adult life, but this is the first time a photo ID was required to vote in Tennessee. After her ordeal, she spoke to the Murfreesboro Daily News Journal:

"It really makes me about halfway mad because I know what's going on," says Mrs. Lasater. She's "absolutely" sure the law is part of a Republican strategy to keep senior citizens from voting. Other critics say it's designed to dissuade the poor and college students, as well. According to the Department of Safety, 675,000 Tennesseans of legal voting age don't have a photo ID required to vote. Public housing IDs, Medicaid cards and college IDs won't be accepted at voting precincts.

 Tennessee has 126,000 registered voters who don't have a driver's license with a photo ID. It has another 47,000 who are registered to ...

On Women’s Freedom, You Can’t Have it Both Ways

Friday, October 21st, 2011

Both Mitt Romney and Herman Cain have made curious about-faces on reproductive rights this week. Cain said abortion should be a choice, then said all abortions should be illegal, then explained that what he meant all along is that women should have the choice to have an illegal abortion.

Romney told Mike Huckabee that he supported so-called “personhood” amendments that give zygotes and fetuses full legal rights from the moment of conception – thereby not only banning all abortions without exception, but also banning the most widely used forms of birth control and opening up the possibility of criminal investigations of miscarriages. Asked about his support of these extreme laws at a town hall in Iowa this week, Romney said that he was in fact in favor of legal contraception, but he refused to retract his previous support of personhood laws. Rachel Maddow tried to clear this up for Romney last night:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Cain and Romney, enjoying their status as GOP frontrunners, are trying to sound reasonable to moderates while simultaneously appeasing the far-right. Unfortunately, they’ve both done this by adopting extreme far-right positions and then ...

Candidates Pressured Ahead Of Poll

Friday, October 21st, 2011
Chinese authorities try to prevent non-Party candidates from seeking local office.

This Week in FIRE News: Social Media and Free Speech

Friday, October 21st, 2011
The name of the game this week is social media. Fresh off the heels of our battle with Catawba Valley Community College regarding a Facebook post that got student Marc Bechtol banned from campus, we also learned this week that Saint Augustine's College is extending the punishment of graduate Roman Caple for a comment he posted on Facebook last spring about how the college was handling its recovery from the tornado that struck its Raleigh, N.C., campus. Fortunately for  Bechtol, all charges against him were dropped last Friday Morning, and he is once again free to step foot on campus. But SAC student Caple, on the other hand, was not only prohibited from participating in SAC's graduation ceremony for his very mild Facebook post, he is now also barred from this weekend's Homecoming Celebration. Outrageous.

Here's a recap of where the CVCC case, and other important campus free expression issues, were discussed in the media this week:

On CVCC student Marc Bechtol's Facebook case:


On the professor who took a box cutter ...

Issa Obstructs Actual Oversight (When Minority Does the Work)

Friday, October 21st, 2011

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa added another entry to his list of partisan attacks, official snubs and unfair treatment of committee Democrats. Underneath “we’ll pick the minority witnesses for them,” Issa can now list “deny funding for minority travel.”

According to an article in The Hill, Illinois Rep. Danny Davis had arranged a federal drug control policy forum in Illinois, but Issa denied travel reimbursement and went out of his way to interpret the forum as unofficial business. In response, the House Administration Committee is probing Issa for apparently violating his pledge to let the Democrats control their third of the committee’s budget.

Oversight and Government Reform Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) brought the matter to the Administration Committee’s attention, complaining that Issa’s policy “appears to be that travel by Democratic staff is not for ‘official Committee business’ unless a Republican joins them,” calling the interpretation “unprecedented and contradicts the Committee’s policy when [Issa was] in the minority.”

Obstructing legitimate government oversight – just because the other party is doing the work or because their investigation isn’t specifically designed to embarrass the Obama administration – is not good government. When ...

Find CBLDF at MID-OHIO COMIC CON This Weekend!

Friday, October 21st, 2011

CBLDF is hot off a huge NYCC weekend and headed to Columbus, Ohio, for Wizard World Mid-Ohio Comic Con this weekend! Held at the Greater Columbus Convention Center October 22-23, Mid-Ohio Comic Con has an exciting array of comics and media guests!

Gib Bickel, founder of Laughing Ogre Comics (recent host of one of our CBLDF Liberty Annual 2011 UNITED AGAINST CENSORSHIP signings), is carrying the standard for CBLDF, helping us raise the funds we need to defend Brandon X in the Canada Customs Case. For more information on CBLDF’s appearance at Mid-Ohio, visit Laughing Ogre at the show, at booth #211, or check out the Mid-Ohio Comic Con website here. See you at the con!

CBLDF urgently needs to raise $100,000 for our important First Amendment work by the end of October! Be Counted and support CBLDF’s First Amendment legal work by bidding on original artwork, making a donation, or becoming a member of the CBLDF!

More on Sam Houston State’s Social Media Policy from SPLC

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

A few weeks ago, we announced via a national press release that a professor at Sam Houston State University (SHSU) used a box cutter to cut an insult against President Obama out of a "free speech wall" promoted by four student organizations. FIRE had learned that the free speech wall was erected with permission from SHSU, in order to protest a proposed new social media policy. But when the students called the campus police after the professor's act of censorship, an officer demanded instead that the students censor the wall or else face criminal charges for having offended the professor.

Yesterday, the Student Press Law Center  (SPLC) ran an important news flash disseminating the details of SHSU's proposed social media policy, and why students were inclined to protest it. SPLC staff writer Peter Velz explained:

The Southeast Texas school started rolling out in September its Social Media Universe, a portal to department and student organization social media pages that have applied for inclusion on the site. But proposed policies accompanying the portal have raised concern among students over broad language that could remove some control from those who the run organization pages.

According to the proposed policy, groups ...

Adam Encourages Students to Defend Free Speech Rights at SHSU

Thursday, October 20th, 2011
The Houstonian, Sam Houston State University's student newspaper, has some good coverage of our own Adam Kissel's talk about free speech on campus at SHSU last night. Click on the link to read more about Adam's trip to our Speech Code of the Month university!

Artists Step Up To Be Counted With Membership Art Auctions!

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

Artists are stepping up to Be Counted as CBLDF supporters with a round of auctions benefiting the organization on eBay this week. Frank Quitely, Jim Lee & Scott Williams, Cliff Chiang, Neal Adams, and other titans of comics have contributed prime pieces of original art that the CBLDF is auctioning off this week to individuals who support the Fund’s Be Counted membership drive. The CBLDF currently seeks to raise $100,000 by October 31 to support its urgent legal and education work, and has raised over $58,600 so far. Please sign up for membership today and Be Counted to help the Fund reach its goal! Read on for this week’s new auctions!

This week’s new incentives include:

Neal Adams

Batman Head Sketch — Master cartoonist Neal Adams supports the CBLDF with this contribution of an inked headsketch of Batman in his inimitable style!

Cliff Chiang

Wonder Woman Original Art Pin-Up – Cliff Chiang supports the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund with a donation of this incredible original Wonder Woman pin-up, made to support his art opening at Bergen Street Comics on the occasion of Wonder Woman #1′s release. This is the only piece of Wonder Woman original ...

Registration open for “Intellectual Freedom across the Globe” webinars

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

Registration is now open for “Intellectual Freedom across the Globe,” a series of three webinars on international issues related to free speech, censorship, and access to information in libraries and beyond.  The webinars will be held during November 2011, and feature speakers from several countries.  The series is co-sponsored by ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom and the Committee for Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression, and covers the following topics:

“Comics, Graphic Novels, Manga, and Libraries” — Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011, 9:00 a.m. Central Standard Time [1500 GMT]. Speakers: Charles Brownstein, Executive Director, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund; Yasuyo Inouye, Professor, Dokkyo University, Japan; and Angela Maycock, Assistant Director, ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom.

“Religion, Free Expression, and Libraries” — Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011, 10:00 a.m. Central Standard Time [1600 GMT]. Speakers: Paul Sturges O.B.E., Professor Emeritus, Loughborough University and Professor Extraordinary, University of Pretoria, United Kingdom; Almuth Gastinger, Senior Research Librarian, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway; and Deborah Caldwell-Stone, Deputy Director, ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom.

“Access to Health Information and Education in the Developing World” — Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2011, 10:00 a.m. Central Standard Time [1600 GMT]. Speakers: Alejandra Martinez ...

MARK TWAIN’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY, 1910-2010, signed by Michael Kupperman

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

Created by humorist and cartoonist Michael Kupperman (TALES DESIGNED TO THRIZZLE), this mix of illustrated writing and comics follows Twain as he navigates the Twentieth Century and makes his way into the Twenty-First. His adventures are tense, scary, sexy, mischievous, and sometimes embarrassing. Twain spills the dirt on his secret love affairs with Marilyn Monroe and Mame Eisenhower, tells about his spying and private detective work, and dishes about his involvement in film, TV and advertising. The time he took LSD, the day he tried to hypnotize a donut clerk. Where he first met Einstein and how they travelled through time together. How to build your own raft and the life of a hobo. And who really killed JFK…? All this and much, much more!

This hardcover is signed by the author! Available now!

Town Clerk Candidates Discuss Religious Freedom and Public Service

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

Yesterday, in Ledyard County, New York, incumbent town clerk Rose Marie Belforti and write-in challenger Ed Easter participated in a discussion at Wells College, where they answered questions from students about the role of religious freedom and the obligations of holding public office.

Belforti has refused to sign same-sex marriage licenses due to her religious convictions. However, as a public officer and a representative of the government of New York, she has an obligation to uphold state law and do her job. People For the American Way Foundation is representing a couple, Katie Carmichael and Deirdre DiBiaggio, who were denied a marriage license by Belforti.

When asked what the implications are when a public official’s official duties and personal beliefs are not aligned, Mr. Easter’s response was spot on:

"It is regrettable that sometimes your government asks you to do things you don’t want to do. I think it’s massively important that people are willing to stand up and say, you know, I believe this is wrong. I don’t want to do it. I resign. I would not say that anybody should ever feel like the government is making them change their beliefs. Your beliefs are your own and are ...

A Spirited Day In The Senate?

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

On Spirit Day, which encourages Americans to wear purple in support of LGBT youth who are victims of bullying, the Senate HELP committee is due to markup the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. We are urging everyone to support amendments that would help end the bullying epidemic that is hurting kids throughout the country and is once again gaining significant media attention.

The Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) supports the creation of comprehensive anti-bullying policies that establish specific categories of targeted victims. These include bullying incidents that are based on the victim’s sexual orientation and gender identity. Additionally, the bill would include tools to assist with data collection, public education, and grievance procedures.

The Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) protects students from school-based sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, similar to how Title IX combats gender discrimination. Moreover, SNDA will include solutions schools can use to minimize bullying and provides incentives for schools to combat bullying before it grows into a school-wide problem.

On a day in which countless companies, celebrities, and supportive politicians are wearing purple to show their support of gay and transgendered youth, including language like SSIA and SNDA in ESEA reauthorization would send a ...

Editorial in ‘Shelby Star’ Drives the Point Home About CVCC Free Speech Case

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

Yesterday, Joanna highlighted an article in North Carolina's Shelby Star bringing further attention to FIRE's case at Catawba Valley Community College (CVCC). The Shelby Star is the latest media outlet to cover this outrageous free speech case, in which student Marc Bechtol was pulled out of class and, without a hearing, given a suspension for two semesters after he criticized CVCC on Facebook for the school's aggressive marketing of a debit card company to its students.

While CVCC has thankfully backed off its stance in the face of public pressure and dropped the charges against Bechtol, allowing him to return to campus, the case continues to make the news. The Shelby Star returns with an excellent editorial making clear just how badly CVCC's actions betray the ideals (and the law) of free speech on campus.

As the Star editorial points out,

Some may consider Bechtol's Facebook comment immature or inappropriate. But it was clearly a satirical statement, not a call to arms for cyber-warfare against the college. It's protected by the First Amendment, and as a public college funded by North Carolina taxpayers, Catawba Valley crossed the line when it disciplined Bechtol for his words.

If CVCC found Bechtol's comments ...

Senate Starts Chipping Away at Judicial Nominations Gridlock

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

Today, the Senate started chipping away at its considerable judicial nominations backlog, approving nominees to fill two vacancies in Pennsylvania and one Florida. Senators confirmed another Pennsylvania nominee yesterday. There are now 23 nominees for federal judgeships awaiting votes from the full Senate, the vast majority of whom have received no objection from members of either party.

The three Pennsylvania confirmations come in response to the pleas of Pennsylvania senators Bob Casey, a Democrat, and Pat Toomey, a Republican. Both took to the Senate floor after Cathy Bissoon was confirmed yesterday to urge the speedy confirmation of the remaining two nominees. Toomey said:

As I think many of our colleagues would agree, the confirmation of Federal judges is one of the most important constitutional functions of any Member of the Senate. Since I was sworn in, Senator Casey and I have worked together on a bipartisan basis to identify and advance qualified candidates for the Federal bench. As part of this effort, I have supported President Obama's three district court nominees for Pennsylvania, even though they were first appointed before I was sworn in to the Senate. I am pleased this spirit of cooperation has led to today's confirmation vote ...

DADT: We Haven’t Missed You

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

In the four weeks since Don’t Ask Don’t Tell officially ended, the Right Wing’s ridiculous predictions regarding the impact of gay and lesbian Americans being allowed to serve openly in the military have been proven false. Not surprisingly, straight soldiers have responded to the policy change with a collective, worldwide yawn. However, while gays and lesbians are now allowed to serve openly, due to the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act, LGB soldiers and their spouses are being treated as second-class citizens within our armed forces.

Family support services are still off-limits to same-sex partners, who are denied military housing and health care benefits and are not allowed to shop in military commissaries, which have lower prices on household items. In order to remedy these disparities, SLDN (Servicemembers Legal Defense Network) has filed a lawsuit challenging DOMA on behalf of same-sex military couples.

There’s plenty of reason to celebrate that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, for good. But next, we have to make sure that all the men and women who put their lives on the line for our country are able to provide for their loved ones at home.

Freedom to Read Foundation announces Nominating Committee for 2012

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

The Freedom to Read Foundation (FTRF) has announced the nominating committee for its April 2012 election.  Committee members are: James G. Neal, New York (chair); Chris Finan, New York; and Judy Platt, Washington, D.C.

Five positions on the FTRF board of trustees will be filled in the election to be held April 1 – May 1, 2012.  The persons elected in the 2012 election will serve a two-year term on the board, beginning at the close of the 2012 ALA Annual Conference, and continuing through the end of the 2014 ALA Annual Conference.  Trustees are required to attend two one-day meetings per year, which are held in conjunction with the ALA Annual Conference and Midwinter Meeting.

Nominations should be sent by Dec. 16, 2011 to: Freedom to Read Foundation, Attn: James G. Neal, 50 E. Huron St., Chicago, IL 60611.  In addition, nominations may be emailed to ftrf@ala.org.  FTRF members also may be slated for candidacy by petition by submitting 25 signatures of current FTRF members in support of the candidate.  The executive director of the Foundation must receive names of petition candidates and the required signatures to support each no later than Jan. 31, 2012.  Only FTRF members are ...

First Amendment Rodeo 10/5-10/18, 2011

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

A round-up of intellectual freedom issues in the news

Censorship/Book Banning
Defend the Freedom to Read: It’s Everybody’s Job
Brookfield residents ask the board to drop book from curriculum

Privacy/Technology
The Default Choice, So Hard to Resist
Adult content filters can’t replace good parenting
Why Facebook is after your kids
Secret Orders Target Email
Fed court to reexamine library web filters

Patriot Act
NYTimes Sues The Federal Government For Refusing To Reveal Its Secret Interpretation Of The PATRIOT Act
See also:FOIA and the Question of Secret Law

High Court to Rule on Lying About Military Medals

Monday, October 17th, 2011

The Supreme Court will decide if telling a lie about yourself is a crime – if the lie claims military medals you didn’t earn.

The court said Monday it will rule on the constitutionality of a law that makes it a federal crime for people to claim falsely, either in writing or aloud, that they have been awarded the Medal of Honor, a Silver Star, Purple Heart or any other military medal.

The Stolen Valor Act, which passed Congress with overwhelming support in 2006, apparently has been used only a few dozen times, but the underlying issue of false claims of military heroism has struck a chord in an era in which American soldiers are fighting two wars.

At the same time, the justices have issued a series of rulings in recent terms in favor of free expression, striking down California’s violent video restrictions and a federal law involving cruelty to animals. It also upheld the right of protesters to picket military funerals with provocative, even offensive, messages.

To read more about the Stolen Valor Act, read the full AP release

Warning to India Over Oil

Monday, October 17th, 2011
China warns third party countries against undermining its claims in the South China Sea.

Tibetan nun sets herself ablaze

Monday, October 17th, 2011
The condition of the first woman who self immolates in Tibet is unclear.

Victory: Portland State University Rescinds Charges Against Student over Phone Call with Employee

Monday, October 17th, 2011

I'm pleased to announce that Portland State University (PSU) student Rachel Cain's record has been wiped clean after she was initially found guilty of charges of "disruption" and "failure to comply" due to the content of a telephone conversation between Cain and an employee of PSU's library system. Her case—like others we've seen at FIRE—is a useful reminder of why universities cannot hold students to the same speech standards to which they may hold their employees, a worrying trend on college campuses today.

Here are the facts of Cain's case. On March 16, 2011, Cain had a telephone conversation with a PSU library employee regarding a certain loan policy. The conversation grew contentious, as Cain felt that the employee was being rude and deliberately unhelpful to her. According to Cain, the library employee hung up on her. Frustrated with what she saw as the employee's lack of professionalism, Cain later called the library and left a voicemail message complaining about the employee.

Two days later, Cain received an email from PSU Library Access Services Manager Molly Blalock-Koral, informing her that due to her "hostile treatment toward library staff," Cain was required to submit "any requests you have of the ...

This Month in FIRE History: Muzzling Dave Barry at Marquette

Monday, October 17th, 2011

Fresh on the heels of our case at the University of Wisconsin–Stout, it seems appropriate to look back five years at a similar case involving an overzealous administration and an "offensive" poster.

In October 2006, Marquette Ph.D. student Stuart Ditsler came to FIRE for help after Philosophy Department Chair James South removed a flyer quoting well-known humor writer Dave Barry from his office door. The quote read, "As Americans we must always remember that we all have a common enemy, an enemy that is dangerous, powerful, and relentless. I refer, of course, to the federal government." Despite the fact that other department members had posted similar materials on their doors in the past, South argued that the department's hallways and office doors were not "free-speech zones" and that the quote was "patently offensive"—a characterization normally reserved for hardcore pornography.

According to South, Ditsler's flyer had "no obvious academic import" and was therefore not a permissible form of expression. This claim stood in direct contrast to the school's own statements in the Marquette Student Handbook, which proudly advertised the school's full respect for the "right of the members of the university community freely to communicate, by lawful demonstration and protest, the positions ...

Teenager Torches Himself In Protest

Sunday, October 16th, 2011
Chinese police beat and take away the eighth Tibetan self-immolation protester this year.

Cell Phone Guide for Occupy Wall Street Protesters (and Everyone Else)

Saturday, October 15th, 2011

Occupy Wall Street has called for a global day of action  on October 15, and protesters are mobilizing all over the world. In the United States, the Occupy Wall Street movement has already spawned sizeable protests in New York, Washington DC, Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, Oakland, Austin, and other cities. Several of these movements have faced opposition from their local police departments, including mass arrests.

Protesters of all political persuasions are increasingly documenting their protests -- and encounters with the police -- using electronic devices like cameras and cell phones. The following tips apply to protesters in the United States who are concerned about protecting their electronic devices when questioned, detained, or arrested by police. These are general guidelines; individuals with specific concerns should talk to an attorney.

1. Protect your phone before you protest

Think carefully about what’s on your phone before bringing it to a protest. Your phone contains a wealth of private data, which can include your list of contacts, the people you have recently called, your text messages, photos and video, GPS location data, your web browsing history and passwords, and the contents of your social media accounts. We believe that the police are required ...

Amid Protests, a Call for Prayers

Friday, October 14th, 2011
A wave of self-immolations could lead to a 'turning point' in relations between the Chinese authorities and Tibetans, one expert says.

This Week in FIRE News: Victory for Student Banned from Campus for Facebook Post

Friday, October 14th, 2011
It's been a whirlwind week for Catawba Valley Community College student Marc Bechtol. On Wednesday, we reported in a national press release that he had been pulled out of his classroom and banned from campus after he complained on Facebook about his school's aggressive marketing of a debit card company to its students. Thanks in large part to pressure from FIRE and the media outlets that reported on his case, Bechtol learned this morning that all charges against him have been dropped and he is free to step foot on campus. However, FIRE will still be watching the college closely, given the fact that the policy used to punish Bechtol's protected speech remains on the books.

FIRE thanks those who took action or publicized this outrageous punishment of free speech. Below is a recap of the case's headlines:

Arrests Shed Light On Organ Trade

Friday, October 14th, 2011
A police raid on a private clinic exposes the shadowy world of Chinese organ harvesting.

Ai Weiwei Tops Power Poll

Friday, October 14th, 2011
But the Chinese government says choice is more political than artistic.

Student Scrutinizes University of Arizona’s Speech Codes in Campus Op-Ed

Friday, October 14th, 2011

University of Arizona (UA) student and Campus Freedom Network member Jonathan Messing penned an excellent op-ed in the UA campus newspaper the Daily Wildcat yesterday, drawing attention to the university's speech codes. As Jonathan points out, UA currently maintains two yellow-light policies restricting student speech. While these policies undoubtedly chill campus dialogue and discussion, the good news is that UA is not terribly far from a green-light rating: It does not have any egregious red-light policies, and all it needs to do is revise these two yellow-light speech codes in order to become our latest green-light institution.

Jonathan points out that if UA were to do so, it would join in-state rival Arizona State University (ASU) on that prestigious list:

Earlier this year, ASU eliminated its last remaining speech code, giving it a "green light" rating (meaning it has no restrictions on free speech) from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a nonprofit that defends student and faculty individual rights at campuses nationwide. In fact, FIRE ranked ASU in the Huffington Post as one of the best universities in the country for freedom of speech, an honor it shared with only six other schools.

Of UA's speech codes, ...

Victory: Charges Dropped for North Carolina Student Banned from Campus, But Unconstitutional Policy Remains

Friday, October 14th, 2011

Catawba Valley Community College (CVCC) student Marc Bechtol learned this morning that all charges against him have been dropped and he is free to step foot on campus. Bechtol was pulled out of his classroom last week, suspended for two semesters, and banned from campus without a hearing after he complained on Facebook about his school's aggressive marketing of a debit card company to its students. Despite CVCC's decision to rescind Bechtol's punishment, problems remain, as Bechtol is still required to notify the college before using computers on campus. CVCC also has failed to revise the unconstitutional policy it used to punish him and has not rescinded its claim that the Facebook comment was a policy violation.

In a recording of today's disciplinary meeting, Bechtol and CVCC officials agreed that this letter includes no discipline and 'essentially drops the case' and 'closes the book.' Although today's document from CVCC notes that Bechtol earlier had suggested that he might accept various forms of discipline in order to save his academic career after CVCC's unconstitutional punishment, Bechtol did not agree to any such discipline. He did not change his "seated" classes to online classes, and he has not been blocked from CVCC's ...

Senators Call for Privacy Law Update

Friday, October 14th, 2011
Sens. Wyden and Kirk Join EFF for Press Conference and ‘Retro Tech’ Fair

Washington, D.C. - On Oct. 18 at 11 a.m., Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) will jointly call for updating U.S. privacy law to keep pace with 21st Century technology.

The press conference comes the same week as the 25th anniversary of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), the main federal law setting standards for government surveillance of digital technologies. ECPA – signed at a time when mobile phones were the size of bricks and the World Wide Web didn't even exist – is woefully outdated, putting Americans' privacy at risk as technology continues to advance.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is co-sponsoring the press conference along with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Americans for Tax Reform, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Center for Democracy & Technology, the Constitution Project, and TechFreedom. Representatives of each organization, including EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston, will be on hand to answer questions.

Tuesday's conference will also include a "Retro Tech Fair," featuring various "high tech" devices from the 1980s. The display – including what was then state-of-the-art cell phones, desktop computers, and other gadgets – will ...

Prisoners’ Release Key to Future

Friday, October 14th, 2011
Burma's democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi may hold the key to freedom for all political prisoners by the end of the year.