Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

California College Forbids Passing Out Constitutions… On Constitution Day

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

Here’s today’s press release:

MODESTO, Calif., September 19, 2013—In a stunning illustration of the attitude taken towards free speech by too many colleges across the United States, Modesto Junior College in California told a student that he could not pass out copies of the United States Constitution outside the student center on September 17, 2013—Constitution Day. Captured on video, college police and administrators demanded that Robert Van Tuinen stop passing out Constitution pamphlets and told him that he would only be allowed to pass them out in the college’s tiny free speech zone, and only after scheduling it several days or weeks ahead of time. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has written to Modesto, demanding that the college rescind this policy immediately.

“The video of Modesto Junior College police and administrators stubbornly denying a public college student’s right to freely pass out pamphlets to fellow students—copies of the Constitution, no less!—should send a chill down the spine of every American,” said FIRE Senior Vice President Robert Shibley. “Worse, FIRE’s research shows that Modesto Junior College is hardly alone in its fear of free speech. In fact, one in six of America’s 400 largest and most ...

How a Bad Supreme Court Decision Could Have Good Constitutional Consequences for Copyright

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

Is it possible that last year's disastrous Supreme Court decision affirming the withdrawal of millions of works from the public domain (at least in the U.S.) might set the stage for good constitutional challenges to bad copyright law? That's the argument that copyright scholar Neil Netanel makes in a recent article on the impact of that case on the First Amendment.

According to Netanel, one often-overlooked aspect of the opinion is that the Court explicitly identified fair use as an essential “First Amendment accommodation” that cannot be disturbed if copyright law is to survive First Amendment scrutiny. In the process, the Court may have poked a hole in the already shaky constitutional justifications for anti-user sections of copyright law.

First things first: the opinion in Golan v. Holder, released the same day as the historic anti-SOPA blackout protests, was definitely bad for the public domain. At issue was a law that restored copyright restrictions on millions of non-U.S. works that had already become part of the public domain for a variety of reasons, such as the copyright owner’s failure to comply with various formalities. The petitioner Lawrence Golan, a music professor and conductor adversely affected by that law, ...

CBLDF Talks Banned Comics at Berkeley Public Library

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

banned-comics-224x300If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, join CBLDF at 6:30 p.m. tonight at the Berkeley Public Library South Branch (1901 Russell, Berkeley, CA) for “Banned Comics in America,” a presentation by CBLDF Web Editor Betsy Gomez.

A warm-up for Banned Books Week, which starts Sunday, Gomez will talk about why comics are frequently challenged and discuss several titles that have been targeted by censors, including Jeff Smith’s Bone and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. The presentation will be include tips on how to deal with a challenge and ways to get involved, including Banned Books Week events.

Get ready for Banned Books Week by joining CBLDF Web Editor Betsy Gomez tonight at the Berkeley Public Library South Branch from 6:30 – 8:00 p.m. for “Banned Comics in America”!

Please help support CBLDF’s important First Amendment work and reporting on stories such as this by making a donation or becoming a member of the CBLDF!

[INFOGRAPHIC] Free Speech Zones on America’s Campuses

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

“Free speech zones”—the name sounds good, right? The sad truth is that free speech zones are far from free. Many college campuses restrict free speech solely to these areas, meaning that the rest of campus is not open for expression. FIRE recently dug into its Spotlight database to see just how many of these policies exist around the country. The results are eye-opening. Check out our findings in this informative infographic, and share it with others to raise awareness of this threat to campus speech.

Want to do something about it? Consider donating to FIRE to help us fight for student and faculty speech across the country. 

See the infographic at full size - Web page
See the infographic at full size - PDF
See the infographic at full size - PNG

Facts to Share:

  • 1 in 6 of America’s 400 top colleges have "free speech zones" - Tweet this
  • If all of Texas Tech’s students had wanted to use its former free speech zone at once, they would have had to be crushed down to the density of Uranium 238. - Tweet this
  • U. of Cincinnati’s former free speech zone comprised just 0.1% of the campus. - Tweet this
  • ...

FIRE Examines Latest on OCR, University of Montana in ‘Chicago Daily Law Bulletin’

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

In a piece published yesterday by the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, I write about the latest developments involving the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the University of Montana. Following the issuance of the controversial May 9 “blueprint,” OCR has stalled its approval of the University of Montana’s new sexual harassment policy. As FIRE’s press release last week noted, this is frustrating given that the new policy appears to have addressed some of the First Amendment concerns raised by FIRE and many others over the federal blueprint.

My op-ed is available to subscribers of the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. If you are a subscriber, please check it out on the main page, under the “Letter to the Editor” section.

Critical Moroccan Editor Arrested for Linking to YouTube Video

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

Over the past few years, Morocco has made great strides increasing Internet access to its 32.5 million citizens.  Between 2008 and 2013, its population of Internet users has increased from 10.2 million to 17.8 million,1 pushing growth in Morocco’s IT sector.  The Moroccan government has put significant resources into increasing Internet access in schools and expanding e-government platforms.  Recently, Moroccans enraged by the monarch’s pardon of a convicted pedophile found critical mass to support an online campaign that ultimately resulted in a rescinding of the pardon and the re-arrest of the perpetrator; it has been cited as the first successful online campaign of its kind in the country.

Unfortunately, and despite reportedly having pulled back on web filtering, the Moroccan government has also put resources into targeting journalists and dissidents.  Last year saw a rise in arrests of social media users, while more recently, a journalist was charged with criminal defamation for a report on government corruption that embarrassed a high-level minister.

Now another arrest, this time of a prominent critic of the monarchy.  Ali Anouzla, editor of the Arabic edition of the online news site Lakome—which he also co-founded—was detained without charge on Tuesday in connection ...

EFF and App Developers Alliance to Court: It’s Time to Stop Lodsys

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

The infamous patent troll Lodsys has been bothering app developers for almost three years now, claiming that in-app pay-to-upgrade functionality infringes its patents. No matter that Apple and Google provide that technology to the developers, and no matter that most app developers can't afford this kind expensive patent litigation.

To their credit, both Apple and Google have made efforts to defend their app developers—Google challenged the Lodsys patents at the Patent Office and Apple moved to intervene in the lawsuit against app developers. Today, we, along with the Application Developers Alliance, filed a brief in support of Apple's efforts.

First, an update. Lodsys has now sued about 30 app developers in the Eastern District of Texas. Apple moved to get involved in the first and largest of those cases, arguing that a license Apple has to the patents in question should also cover its app developers. To be clear, this is a pretty big deal: if the Court found that all of Apple's app developers were immune, then Lodsys's threats would have to go away (plus, we understand that Google has a similar license).

Not to be deterred from its trolliness, Lodsys has quickly and cheaply been settling all ...

Banned Books Week Heroes Unveiled During Virtual Read-out

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

BBWReaders from across the United States and around the world will demonstrate their support for free speech by participating in a Virtual Read-Out of banned and challenged books during Banned Books Week, Sept. 22 – 28, a time when the nation celebrates the freedom to read and the American Library Association (ALA) brings attention to the censorship of books in schools and libraries.

The Virtual Read-Out is the digital centerpiece of Banned Books Week, featuring individuals reading from their favorite banned or challenged book. Participants, libraries and bookstores will upload videos at []  for posting to the Banned Books Week YouTube Channel ( Contributors are encouraged to share a reading, discuss the significance of their favorite banned book, or mention a local book challenge.

The event will serve as the backdrop for the announcement of Banned Books Week Heroes. It takes courage to stand up for intellectual freedom, and Banned Books Week sponsors have identified outstanding individuals and groups who have stood up to defend their freedom to read.

More than 1,500 videos have been submitted since the read-out began in 2011, including many by bestselling authors.  Sherman Alexie (“Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian”), ...

North Carolina School System Bans Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

invisible-manGive the rate at which schools are banning books this week, you wouldn’t think Banned Books Week is just around the corner. However, it’s happened again, this time in Randolph County, North Carolina.

On Monday night, the Randolph County Board of Education voted 5-2 to remove Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man from library shelves throughout the district. The removal comes despite two review committeess recommendation that the book be retained and that it is a suitable part of the district’s curriculum.

Published in 1952, Invisible Man was award the 1953 National Book Award and sits atop several best English-language novel lists. It discusses the social, intellectual, and identity issues that many African Americans faced in the 20th Century. Further, the book is no stranger to library challenges: It has been challenged many times for profanity and sexual content.

Invisible Man is on the summer reading list for Randelman High School juniors, but it is not required and alternatives are available. Parent Kimiyutta Parson filed a 12-page complaint against the book, writing:

“The narrator writes in the first person, emphasizing his individual experiences and his feelings about the events portrayed in his life. This novel is not so innocent; instead, ...

Johns Hopkins Student Asks School to Restore Its Reputation for Free Expression

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

Johns Hopkins University (JHU) student Andrew Guernsey took to The Johns Hopkins News-Letter Sunday to discuss the state of free speech at his school. Guernsey points out that although JHU is moving up the national university rankings, its rating on free speech is abysmal.

FIRE has been involved in multiple cases at JHU over the years, and we currently give the university a “red light” rating for multiple policies that clearly violate students’ freedom of speech. This past April, FIRE wrote to JHU’s student judiciary in defense of Voice for Life, a pro-life group that was denied recognition because of worries that it might make students “uncomfortable.”

In his article, Guernsey discusses this free speech debacle, as well as other examples of censorship on his school’s campus. For instance, last spring, Dr. Ben Carson withdrew as JHU’s commencement speaker after students filed a petition against him because of his views on gay marriage. And recently, the dean of JHU’s engineering school asked a professor to take down a blog post because of its criticism of the NSA. (Public pressure soon forced the dean to retract the order.)

Although it is a private university, Guernsey correctly points out that JHU’s stated ...

Alice Walker Accepts U. of Michigan’s Post-Disinvitation Re-Invitation

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

Torch readers might remember that back in August, The Color Purple author Alice Walker was invited to speak at the 50th anniversary celebration of the University of Michigan’s Center for the Education of Women (CEW)—and then was disinvited. While observers were still speculating about whether the change was due to Michigan donors’ concerns about her criticism of Israel or whether CEW simply wanted to, as it claimed, maintain the “celebratory nature” of their event, Michigan’s Department of Afroamerican and African Studies and CEW invited Walker back. Just last week, Walker accepted that invitation, and she will be giving the department’s biennial Zora Neale Hurston lecture on November 5, 2014, the closing event of CEW’s 50th anniversary celebration.

It might never be clear what really motivated CEW, but it is a positive sign that in any case, the heckler’s veto did not ultimately prevail. After all, it wasn’t even disinvitation season.

Radical Voices Continue to Call for Censorship in Barefoot Gen Debate

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

hadashi_no_gen_1969After debate that focused more on procedure than on free expression, a ban placed on anti-war manga Barefoot Gen was lifted recently in Japan, once again allowing the return of the book to school libraries in Matsue City. Unfortunately, controversy still exists regarding the book and its place in Japanese society.

Dan Kanemitsu, CBLDF contributor, translator, and Japanese culture expert, has written several pieces detailing the banning of the acclaimed manga. He updated his blog recently with examples of radical conclusions reached as the debate drew to a close.

The Sankei Shinbun newspaper featured an editorial critiquing the depictions of violence inflicted on Chinese civilians at the hands of Japanese soldiers, claiming that it instills “acceptance for the atomic bombing” within the minds of those reading the book. Kanemitsu explains:

True, Barefoot Gen does talk about war crime conducted by Japanese soldiers, however that subject does not come up until the story progresses considerably, as in multiple volumes worth of narrative. Barefoot Gen starts off with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in the first volume. Talk about brutality of the Japanese soldiers does not come up until the war has ended and a lively debate rages well into ...

What the Google Street View Decision Means for Researchers (and Cops)

Monday, September 16th, 2013

Is a Wi-Fi signal the equivalent of an FM radio station, blasting classic rock ballads through your car speakers?

Not to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which issued its long awaited decision in Joffe v. Google this week, the case where Google was sued for allegedly violating the Wiretap Act when its Street View cars sucked up data from wireless routers as it passed by. 

The Background

Google's Street View feature allows users to see photographs of specific addresses on a Google map. To generate these pictures, Google deployed a fleet of cars with cameras mounted on top of their roofs to drive across the world and take pictures of everything it could. From 2007 to 2010 Google also equipped these cars with antennas and software that were capable of scanning wireless routers nearby in order to capture information like the network's name, a router's MAC addresses and whether a Wi-Fi network was encrypted or not. 

Google did this to enhance the accuracy and precision of its location based services. But it also captured "payload data," or the actual data transmitted through the Wi-Fi networks, including emails, usernames, passwords and more. After Google was criticized for the collection it ...

Ten Years of CIPA: Free Speech and Library Internet Filters

Monday, September 16th, 2013

access-deniedThe issue of Internet filtering in school and public libraries has been getting a lot of attention lately, as we mark ten years since the Children’s Internet Protection Act was instituted. Unfortunately, the news is not good: Filtering software remains largely ineffective, underblocking the content it’s actually intended to target while overblocking sites that should be accessible. Moreover, confusion reigns among library staff, governing boards and administrators, IT departments, and the general public as to what the law actually requires. Read on for a summary of the problems and some tips on how to ensure that you can freely access the Internet in your local library.

CIPA was passed by Congress in 2000 to “address concerns about children’s access to obscene or harmful content over the Internet.” It requires libraries and schools that receive federal E-rate discounts or grants under the Library Services and Technology Act to deploy filters on all computers, even those used by staff. These filters are supposed to block all images and videos deemed to be child pornography or obscene. In addition, on computers used by minors they must block multimedia that is “harmful to minors,” a poorly defined legal term that encompasses “sexually explicit ...

New Signed Graphic Novels for Fall!

Friday, September 13th, 2013

The days are getting shorter and cooler. What better way to pass the time than in your favorite cozy corner with a graphic novel signed by your favorite creator?! We have some amazing new additions to the Rewards Zone! Let’s check them out…

chanzero_grandeCHANNEL ZERO COMPLETE COLLECTION, signed by Brian Wood

DMZ and The Massive creator Brian Wood launched an all-out assault on the comics medium in 1997 with Channel Zero, an influential, forward-thinking series that combined art, politics, and graphic design in a unique way. Touching on themes of freedom of expression, hacking, cutting-edge media manipulation, and police surveillance, it remains as relevant today as it did in 1997.

The Channel Zero collection contains the original series, the prequel graphic novel Jennie One (illustrated by Becky Cloonan), the best of the two Public Domain design books, and almost fifteen years of extras, rarities, short stories, and unused art. Also featuring the now-classic Warren Ellis introduction and an all-new cover by Wood, this is the must-have edition. See where it all began!

Signed by Author and Creator BRIAN WOOD


supermanfos_grandeSUPERMAN FOR ALL SEASONS, signed by Tim Sale

The catalyst for the Smallville television program, Superman for All Seasons ...

Support CBLDF At SPX With Exclusive Gene Yang & Liza Donnelly Appearances and Auction!

Friday, September 13th, 2013

tumblr_mj0csz8TCG1qj3hw1o1_500This weekend, CBLDF is heading to SPX 2013, America’s premiere literary and arts comics festival. The festival, which is held in part to benefit the CBLDF, kicks off on Saturday morning and runs a stellar exhibit hall and programming schedule through Sunday.  Gene Luen Yang will premiere his new two-volume set Boxers & Saints at the con, with exclusive signings at the CBLDF’s table. Acclaimed New Yorker cartoonist Liza Donnelly will also be appearing to sign her most recent books. On top of the signings, CBLDF will also host our annual SPX auction, and  we’ll also have a massive booth display with incredible new premiums, including signed copies of the brand new Strangers in Paradise softcover omnibus from Terry Moore; signed prints from creators such as Jack Davis, Eddie Campbell and Dave Sim, Joost Swarte, and Jaime Hernandez; plus signed graphic novels from creators such as Art Spiegelman, Craig Thompson, Daniel Clowes, James Stokoe, Paul Pope, Brandon Graham, and many more!


Gene Yang, the creator behind the award-winning American Born Chinese, is returning to the graphic novel field with a two volume set, Boxers & Saints, from First Second Books. Set in China in 1900, ...

Support Free Speech at TFAW’S CBLDF Liberty Annual 2013 Signing!

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

CBLDF13-MARQUEZ-FC-FNLThe Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has fought for the First Amendment Rights of the comics community since 1986. Now here’s your chance to join the fight for free speech at Things From Another World’s CBLDF Liberty Annual 2013 signing and membership drive October 9 at the Portland TFAW. Meet CBLDF Liberty Annual 2013 contributors Jeremy Atkins (Charles de Ghoul), Ron Chan (Plants vs. Zombies), Emi Lenox (EmiTown), Michelle Madsen (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Dave Stewart (Hellboy), and Paul Tobin (Bandette), and learn how you can join the CBLDF for as little as $25! Complimentary food and beer (for those 21+ with valid ID) provided.

Everyone has a story to tell, but what happens when a story gets taken away from its creator? The CBLDF Liberty Annual 2013 looks at the creative costs of censorship, either through outside interference, or through more private forms. All proceeds from this book benefit the important First Amendment work of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, who’ve been fighting censorship in comics for over 25 years!

Special bonus: Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics, attendees at this event only who sign up for ...

Tokyo Olympics Emboldens Censors

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

2000px-Tokyo_2020_Olympic_bid_logo.svgJapan will host the 2020 summer Olympics, and this world stage puts Japan in a spotlight that may ultimately harm the free expression of manga and anime in the country. Any nation that hosts an Olympic event works to put their best foot forward, but some countries resort to whitewashing anything that might blemish their image, thus impinging on free expression. (Most recently, this has been observed in the furor that erupted over Russia’s anti-LGBTQ legislation and the upcoming winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.)

Dan Kanemitsu, translator and Japan culture expert, recently examined the potential impact of the summer Olympics — and the resulting domestic and international scrutiny — on creative expression in Japan. Kanemitsu noted that the winning bid to host the Olympics may boost the profile of the current ruling party, the Liberal Democratic Party, which is currently attempting to revise legislation to include manga and anime as forms of child pornography:

Now it will be harder than before to protest against specific policies of the LDP as their standing has improved considerably. Recall that the current initiative for redefining child pornography to include manga and anime are being pursued by the members of the LDP leadership, ...

Data Broker Acxiom Launches Transparency Tool, But Consumers Still Lack Control

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

Acxiom, a data broker that collects 1,500 data points per person on over 700 million consumers total and sells analysis of such information, is trying to ward off federal privacy regulations by flaunting transparency—a diluted term, in this case—around user data. The company just launched, a site that will let users see and edit some information that Acxiom has about them—only "some," since Acxiom's analytics reveal far more information about you (living habits and personal preferences) that isn't readily available to you, but is sold to partner companies.

Everyone should be deeply concerned about data brokers. These companies are scavengers for very personal data, amassing details about everything from "major life events" (like a wedding or a baby) to your browsing history and shopping habits, and they have even begun exploring business relationships with social media giants like Facebook and Twitter. And once this data is collected, it's a small step away from government agencies and law enforcement. (There was hubbub around Acxiom and travel information, which the government collected and inadvertently shared.) ACLU has an excellent breakdown of Acxiom after the company released operational details in response to a Congressional inquiry.

The Federal Trade Commission ...

Puzzling Ruling in Massachusetts Fair Use Case

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

When a statute is clear, judges are supposed to follow it or explain, in some detail, why they shouldn’t. That’s why we were disappointed by this week's ruling in Tuteur v. Crosley Corcoran. In the ruling, the judge suggests that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) does not require the sender of a takedown notice to affirm anything except its belief that the targeted material is being used without permission from the owner or its agent. Trouble is, the statute says something very different, i.e., that the sender must affirm that the material is not authorized by “the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.” 

As we explained in an amicus brief we filed in the case, those three words matter because they require that the sender of a takedown notice do more than simply check its records to see whether a given use has been authorized by the owner. As numerous courts have recognized, the sender has to take the extra step of considering whether a given use is authorized by law, such as whether it is a fair use. Without that requirement, copyright owners have little reason to avoid taking down obvious fair ...

EFF’s Cheat Sheet to Congress’ NSA Spying Bills

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

The veil of secrecy around the government's illegal and unconstitutional use of both Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act and Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) is being lifted. As a result, Congress has seen a flurry of legislation to try and fix the problems; however, as we've been saying since June there are far more questions than answers about the spying. And Congress must create a special investigative committee to find out the answers. Right now, the current investigations are unable to provide the American public with the information it needs.

For now, here's a quick summary of the bills in Congress drafted after the June leaks that have a chance to go forward. They try to fix Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, curtail the secret law being created by the surveillance court overseeing the spying (The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISA Court), and change how the FISA Court operates. Unfortunately, there is no bill in Congress with prospects of moving forward that tackles Section 702 of FISA—the section used for PRISM.

Quick links:

Section 215 Bills:

Sen. Patrick Leahy: The FISA Accountability and Privacy Protection Act of 2013

Reps. John Conyers ...

In ‘The Hill,’ FIRE’s Cohn Discusses North Carolina’s Right to Counsel Law

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Congressional newspaper The Hill has published an op-ed by FIRE Legislative and Policy Director Joe Cohn this afternoon, explaining the importance of North Carolina’s recently passed right-to-counsel law. 

FIRE worked with the North Carolina legislature to pass this law, the first of its kind in the country. The legislation guarantees that college students may use a lawyer or a non-attorney advocate to help them navigate campus disciplinary proceedings. (This right does not extend to student-run honor committees or hearings concerning academic misconduct such as plagiarism.) 

As Joe explains, the North Carolina law fills a critical gap that still exists in 49 other states:

Prior to this new law, students facing lengthy suspensions or expulsions typically faced these charges alone—or, if lucky, with an advisor who was nevertheless forbidden from actively participating in the hearing. Outside of North Carolina, eighteen-year-old students continue to be expected to competently represent themselves in proceedings, arguing against deans, administrators, and sometimes lawyers, many with decades of experience and advanced degrees. There is no way to make such a system fair to the accused without the right to representation.

Read Joe’s full op-ed to understand why FIRE is championing this very important cause.

Lone Star Trustee Speaks out about Free Speech on Campus

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Ron Trowbridge, Lone Star College (Texas) trustee, Senior Fellow at the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, and former chief of staff to Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger, wrote for SeeThruEdu on Sunday to reiterate his remarks at a recent Lone Star College System Board meeting on why freedom of speech is so important, particularly at colleges and universities.

In his piece, Trowbridge shared excerpts from John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty:

If any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.

Though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied.

Trowbridge, also a former professor at Lone Star College, went on to note that these principles play an important role when universities are criticized, writing: “Most of us do not like to hear criticism, especially when it is directed against us or against Lone ...

‘Chronicle of Higher Education’ on Three Due Process Cases to Watch

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Libby Sander wrote for The Chronicle of Higher Education today to review three current cases of students alleging a lack of due process in sexual misconduct hearings on their respective campuses: Wells v. Xavier University, Yu v. Vassar College, and Harris v. Saint Joseph’s University. Sander reports:

The details of the lawsuits differ, but in laying out grievances against colleges, the students share firmly held beliefs: Campus officials were hasty, withheld key evidence in hearings, and denied legal representation to the accused students. Throughout the process, the plaintiffs say, a presumption of guilt prevailed.

Among other claims, they say the institutions breached their contracts with the students by failing to follow stated policies. Mr. Harris and Mr. Yu also argue that their rights were violated under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the federal law that bars sex discrimination at institutions that receive federal funds.

All three students were expelled, demonstrating that even without criminal charges being brought, a college’s disciplinary action against a student can have serious, even life-changing consequences for the accused student. Sander emphasizes this in her article:

As of June, Mr. Yu, a Chinese citizen, had not been admitted to any ...

Johns Hopkins Engineering Dean Apologizes for Temporary Censorship

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Johns Hopkins University (JHU) professor and cryptographer Matthew Green received an apology yesterday from Andrew Douglas, the JHU engineering school dean who asked Green to take offline a recent blog post about the National Security Agency (NSA), encryption, and privacy. Douglas’ request was sent Monday after JHU received information that the post improperly used the NSA logo and contained links to classified information, although the latter claim was later found to be false. After Green tweeted about Douglas’ message, though, JHU acknowledged that the NSA logo had been removed from the post and that all information on the blog was already publicly available.

Green’s post was removed only from JHU’s website—even there, only for a matter of hours—and remained online via at all times. Nevertheless, the incident raises the question of why Green was told to remove his post so quickly based on concerns that were evidently easily addressed. Inside Higher Ed reports:

Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University, said via e-mail that he had doubts about the explanation from Hopkins. He said when a professor is told to remove a blog post that criticizes a government agency with which a university works, one should ...

Federal Courts Still Scaremongering About RECAP and Spooky “Open Source” Software

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Should we fear open source software? Of course not. But that hasn’t stopped federal courts from issuing bizarre warnings like this:

The court would like to make CM/ECF filers aware of certain security concerns relating to a software application or .plug-in. called RECAP … Please be aware that RECAP is “open-source” software, which can be freely obtained by anyone with Internet access and modified for benign or malicious purposes … .

To understand this strange edict, we need to review the history of RECAP and why it might be unpopular with court officials.

Open courts are essential to an accountable, democratic legal system. With some notable exceptions, court proceedings in the United States are public. But if you want to access these public records online, you will be hit with a big fee. The official PACER system charges for almost any activity (e.g. searching, viewing dockets) and charges 10 cents per page. These fees vastly exceed the actual cost of providing electronic access. And while 10 cents per page may not sound like much, the costs can quickly add up. PACER’s exorbitant rates hit litigants, non-profit media outlets, and citizen watchdogs alike.

In 2008, Aaron Swartz and others ...

Vietnam’s Internet Censorship Bill Goes Into Effect

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Internet freedom has gone from bad to worse in Vietnam as an online censorship law known as Decree 72 went into effect this month. It bans bloggers and users of social media from quoting, gathering, or summarizing information from press organizations or government websites. While the main justification for the law is to uphold "national security," Vietnamese authorities also claim that this law is aimed at combating online copyright infringement.

The law is packed with vague language, including bans on “abusing the provision and use of the Internet and information on the web” to “oppose the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” and “undermining the fine customs and traditions of the nation.” It requires filtering of all such offensive content, requires real-name identification for all personal websites and profiles, and creates legal liability for intermediaries such as blogs and ISPs for failing to regulate third-party contributors, triggering grave concerns about the law’s impact on domestic online service providers. In addition, the decree attempts to require all foreign and domestic companies that provide online services to cooperate with the government to take down prohibited content. For international companies without a business presence in Vietnam, the law would “encourage” them to establish offices ...

Gems Mined from the NSA Documents and FISA Court Opinions Released Today

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Today, in response to Freedom of Information Act lawsuits, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released hundreds of pages of documents about the NSA telephone call record program. The documents primarily concern events in 2009, when the FISA court first learned that the NSA had been misusing its phone records surveillance program for years. We're still reviewing the documents, but here are a few particularly interesting items we've uncovered so far.

Clapper's Continued Trouble with the Truth

On June 6, just days after the Guardian newspaper published the first of many articles on NSA spying, Director of National Intelligence Clapper attempted to reassure the public that the NSA telephone record program was limited and restrained. "The information acquired does not include ... the identity of any subscriber."

Documents released today show this to be false.  In an August 3, 2009 declaration to the FISA court, NSA Director Keith Alexander wrote that "the collected metadata thus holds contact information that can be immediately access as a new terrorist-associated telephone identified are identified."  While it is not surprising that the NSA can correlate a phone number to a person (phone book technology has been available for some time), here we have it in black ...

Government Releases NSA Surveillance Docs and Previously Secret FISA Court Opinions In Response to EFF Lawsuit

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

The Director of National Intelligence (DNI) just today released hundreds of pages of documents related to the government's secret interpretation of Patriot Act Section 215 and the NSA's (mis)use of its massive database of every American's phone records. The documents were released as a result of EFF's ongoing Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

We've posted links to each document below. While the government also posted many of the documents here, our copies are completely searchable.

Our legal team is currently poring over them and will have much more analysis soon, but intelligence officials held a call with reporters about the content of the documents this morning, and made several revealing comments.

First, intelligence officials said they were releasing this information in response to the presidential directive on transparency surrounding the NSA. That statement is misleading. They are releasing this information because a court ordered them to as part of EFF's Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, filed almost two years ago on the tenth anniversary of the Patriot Act.

In fact, up until the Snowden revelations started a couple months ago, the government was fighting tooth and nail to not only avoid releasing the content of the government's secret interpretation ...

Greg Lukianoff on LSU Student’s Hostility Toward Free Expression

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

FIRE President Greg Lukianoff writes for Forbes today to discuss a video and companion piece recently posted by Louisiana State University student Jana King, who laments LSU’s recent revision of a policy that restricted student speech to a 1,000 square foot area on campus called “Free Speech Alley.”

As Lukianoff explains, King’s support for abridging students’ constitutionally protected speech is all too common, but it is rare that advocacy for censorship takes such a straightforward and undisguised form.

[King] state[s] clearly that [she] think[s] basic political speech could be harassment and possibly deny her a “safe learning environment.” When I tell people the language “safe learning environment” is often used as a code for the supposed right “not to be offended,” they are, ironically enough, sometimes offended by that suggestion. But Jana King has no problem connecting the dots for us. The watering down of what “safety” means on campus is dangerous for all the same reasons that the proverbial boy should not have cried “wolf!” On today’s modern campus, safety equates to comfort, which too often means a right not to hear opinions that you dislike. This is precisely the opposite of what campuses should encourage.

King, Lukianoff says, ...

The Web We Need: Microgrant Funding for State Surveillance Research

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

The NSA revelations have shown us the tip of the iceberg of the United States’ unconstitutional spying. It’s not just the United States, however, that has been evading its citizens privacy rights in the pursuit of mass surveillance. NGOs around the world have been documenting the rise of mandatory data retention regimes, unlawful interception, and overreaching state surveillance everywhere. These projects to reveal the breadth of the problem are difficult to fund, and often have to face stonewalling secrecy and government interference with precious few resources.

Fortunately, the Web We Want campaign has just launched a small grant program specifically to fund this essential work. NGOs and individuals will be able to apply any amount, between USD $1000 and USD $3000, towards the costs of research, report writing, media work, and advocacy.

The grant call for proposals for action research on surveillance to map the policies, laws and practices of your country, and benchmark them against the 13 Principles on Surveillance and Human Rights, which EFF developed with more than 80 organization and scholars around the world. The 13 Principles reassert what it means to protect privacy and associated human rights in light of increasing state surveillance capacities. They are intended ...

Five More Organizations Join EFF Lawsuit Against NSA Surveillance

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013
National Lawyers Guild, Patient Privacy Rights and The Shalom Center Among 22 Groups Asserting Right to Free Association

San Francisco - Five new groups—including civil-rights lawyers, medical-privacy advocates and Jewish social-justice activists—have joined a lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) against the National Security Agency (NSA) over the unconstitutional collection of bulk telephone call records. With today's amended complaint, EFF now represents 22 entities in alleging that government surveillance under Section 215 of the Patriot Act violates Americans' First Amendment right to freedom of association.

The five entities joining the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles v. NSA lawsuit before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California are: Acorn Active Media, the Charity and Security Network, the National Lawyers Guild, Patient Privacy Rights and The Shalom Center. They join an already diverse coalition of groups representing interests including gun rights, environmentalism, drug-policy reform, human rights, open-source technology, media reform and religious freedom.

"The First Amendment guarantees the freedom to associate and express political views as a group," EFF legal director Cindy Cohn said. "The NSA undermines that right when it collects, without any particular target, the phone records of innocent Americans and the organizations in ...

Demonstrators at UCF and LSU Enjoy Free Speech on Campus

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

The University of Central Florida (UCF) and Louisiana State University (LSU) have both recently made positive changes with respect to free speech zones on their campuses, and student journalists are emphasizing the importance of free expression.

Adam Rhodes wrote last week for the Central Florida Future, UCF’s student newspaper, to celebrate the university’s acceptance of demonstrations and counter-protests on campus. The university has even created a website clearly stating its policies (PDF)—“Use Your Voice @ UCF”—and emphasizes that students and faculty may use outdoor space for demonstrations and other expressive activities as long as their speech does not disrupt classes, violate laws, or otherwise infringe on others’ rights.

This policy stands in stark contrast to UCF’s former “Free Assembly Areas” policy, which earned criticism from FIRE in 2006 and 2007 for limiting students’ “political activity and other exercises of free speech” to four specific areas on campus. UCF still lists six “free assembly areas” on its website, described as “highly visible areas of campus [that] may be great locations for students and student groups”—but “students are not restricted to the designated Free Assembly Areas.” Instead, these are the areas that students are encouraged to use ...

Cartoonist Fights Inclusion on U.S. No-Fly List

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013
Shahid Mahmood (c) Bina Shah

Shahid Mahmood
(c) Bina Shah

For several years, Toronto cartoonist Shahid Mahmood has been on the United States’ no-fly list for reasons unknown. Mahmood discovered his no-fly status when he attempted to board an Air Canada flight in 2004. Several years and an inquiry from the Canada Human Rights Tribunal later, he settled with the airline. However, he feels that the case has yet to be fully remedied.

Bina Shah wrote about Mahmood for Sampsonia Way, an online magazine that focuses on free speech issues. Shah writes about Mahmood’s experience being censored:

Shahid has been familiar with censorship for a long time: His political cartoons continually enraged Benazir Bhutto during her tenures as Pakistan’s Prime Minister. According to his Huffington Post bio, “His cartoon exhibition, Enduring Operation Freedom, critical of President Bush’s War on Terror, was censored and shut down in 2002; he has received death threats from Islamic fundamentalists for his depiction of the Taliban as Koran-reading apes.”

Mahmood suspects that in the security crackdown post-9/11, he stood out as a potential danger because of his teen years in Pakistan and his cartoons mocking the U.S. administration. Some of these cartoons featured Uncle Sam birthing Osama bin ...

Federal Slowdown: Departments of Education and Justice Stall Approval for New University of Montana Sexual Harassment Policy

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

Here’s today’s press release:

WASHINGTON, September 10, 2013—The University of Montana’s new sexual harassment policy, adopted in late August shortly after the start of classes, does not contain the broad definition of “sexual harassment” that sparked months of national criticism led by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). Drafted in consultation with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Department of Justice (DOJ), the new policy defines sexual harassment more narrowly and promises to comply with “free speech requirements for students and employees.” 

Troublingly, however, the Departments have thus far failed to officially approve the policy. The agencies’ approval is required by the settlement agreement signed with the university this past May, which states that “[i]t is the intent of the parties that the revised policies, procedures, and internal guidance be adopted no later than July 15, 2013.” But nearly two months after this deadline—and well into the academic year—the University of Montana’s policy remains without federal approval.

The new policy suggests a significant departure from requirements issued by the Departments earlier this year following a joint investigation into the University of Montana’s sexual misconduct policies and procedures. In May, the agencies announced ...

FIRE President Interviewed by

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

Over the summer, FIRE President Greg Lukianoff sat down for an interview with, an independent organization dedicated to covering issues in higher education and empowering individuals with a wide variety of resources to make prudent decisions regarding career and educational opportunities. The interview covers Greg’s early influences motivating his work in the First Amendment and civil liberties, his inspiration for writing Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate and the book’s central themes, and how Greg sees the future of higher education. 

Here is a preview of Greg’s interview:

TBS: We found your new book, Unlearning Liberty, to be frankly inspiring. It not only documents a large number of astonishing abuses, it also models throughout what civility in public discourse ought to be—through its fairness, its scholarly care, and above all its calm and even tone, which is maintained throughout, even when rising occasionally to genuine eloquence. Could you start by telling us what your chief aim was in writing the book?

GL: Thank you for your kind words about the book! I knew writing a book would be a challenge, but it was even more challenging than I expected.

I wrote ...

Court to Hear Arguments on Right to Anonymous Speech in Prop. 35 Case

Monday, September 9th, 2013

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco will hear oral arguments Tuesday in Doe v. Harris, EFF's challenge to California's Proposition 35, which requires registered sex offenders to turn over all of their Internet identifiers and service providers to local law enforcement authorities.

In November 2012, California passed Prop. 35 through ballot initiative. The day after the election, we brought a lawsuit with the ACLU of Northern California, challenging parts of the initiative as violating the First Amendment. The court granted a temporary restraining order later that day and, in January 2013, granted a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the law after finding we'd shown a substantial likelihood that the challenged portions of Prop. 35 were unconstitutional.

The court found that requiring registrants to disclose their online identifiers and service providers to law enforcement would  likely chill the free speech right of a registrant to speak anonymously. The court noted that although Prop. 35 was passed ostensibly to combat human trafficking, these reporting requirements didn't have a sufficient nexus to a criminal investigation and applied to more speakers and more speech than necessary to combat human trafficking.  

Both the state and the sponsors of the initiative ...

Crucial Unanswered Questions about the NSA’s BULLRUN Program

Monday, September 9th, 2013

As we work hard to promote encryption on the web through tools like our browser extension HTTPS Everywhere, we also pay close attention to attacks that undermine the security of that encryption. That's why we were dismayed by last Thursday's revelations about the National Security Agency's aggressive efforts to undermine the ability of citizens to communicate securely. It's not surprising that the NSA would try to break cryptographic systems in whatever way they can, but the deeply pernicious nature of this campaign—undermining national standards and sabotaging hardware and software—as well as the amount of overt private sector cooperation are both shocking.

These leaks should not lead us to privacy nihilism – while we cannot be certain about the NSA's capabilities, we have good reason to believe that the mathematical underpinnings of crypto systems in widespread use remain strong. We are safer when communicating with encryption and anonymity tools. This is especially true for open source tools that are developed in public view and provide a higher level of auditability than closed tools. Even if the NSA and other major spying powers like the United Kingdom, China, and Russia have advanced attacks and backdoors, strong encryption can make their ...

Retail Orders for CBLDF Liberty Annual 2013 Due Today!

Monday, September 9th, 2013

CBLDF13-MARQUEZ-FC-FNLThe CBLDF Liberty Annual 2013 hits shelves in October with an amazing contributing team that includes the talents of Richard Corben, Corinna Bechko, Tim Seeley, Michael Moreci, Art Baltazar, and more. Edited by Dark Horse Comics Editor-in Chief Scott Allie, the horror-themed anthology explores the need for artistic freedom for comics creators and fans alike.

Allie spoke with Bloody Disgusting about his work on the project, including the challenges of editing an anthology.

Image Comic’s Eric Stephenson initially approached Allie about taking on the editorial assignment at this year’s Emerald City Comic Con. Allie immediately agreed even though he wasn’t certain he would have the time. He knew that his editorial presence was essential, especially considering the nature of anthology books, so he made sure he was selecting the right contributors for the job:

An anthology is a unique challenge for an editor. On a regular comic, you just have to try to make sure the team gets their stuff in, does a good job, whatever. But on an anthology the book is a much bigger reflection of the editor than is usually the case in comics. If you’re doing it right, then you’re lining stories up that reflect ...

Tell the U.S. Government What You Really Think About NSA Surveillance

Monday, September 9th, 2013

We have a new opportunity to make our voices heard in the fight against mass surveillance—and less than a month in which to do it.

On Friday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) published a blog post on its Tumblr requesting public comments on surveillance. Specifically, the newly created Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies is seeking public comment on

how in light of advancements in communications technologies, the United States can employ its technical collection capabilities in a manner that optimally protects our national security and advances our foreign policy while respecting our commitment to privacy and civil liberties, recognizing our need to maintain the public trust, and reducing the risk of unauthorized disclosure.

As those affected by the current dragnet state of intelligence gathering, we must take this chance to weigh in on mass surveillance—especially because the review group specifically requests commentary on issues such as "privacy and civil liberties," and the need to "maintain the public trust."

Comments must be emailed to by October 4, 2013. 

These comments will contribute to a formal report and recommendations that the Review Group will provide to the President through the Director of National Intelligence.

This, of ...

CBLDF Defends A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl After Challenge

Monday, September 9th, 2013

indexThe CBLDF-sponsored Kids’ Right to Read Project sent a letter to the Currituck County High School school board after a parent in the district demanded the removal of A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl, a critically-acclaimed novel by Tanya Lee Stone.

Parent Elissa Cooper wrote a letter to the school board, demanding the removal of the book from the high school library due to sexual content. The book, which focuses on three girls and their decisions regarding a single boy who has made it his goal to seduce all of the girls in school, has been praised as a frank and relevant take on how teenagers handle sexuality. Ultimately, the girls in the book stand up to the predatory behaviors of the boy — and for themselves in the process — but Cooper chooses to focus only on the sexual component of the story.

The school board meets tonight to make their decision regarding the book, but its inclusion in libraries has been upheld by educators both in Currituck and nationally.

The entirety of the letter that CBLDF signed on behalf of A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl follows.

Kids’ Right to Read ...

Department of Education Secretary ‘Happy to Assist’ on FERPA

Monday, September 9th, 2013

Last October, FIRE happily pointed Torch readers to the Student Press Law Center’s (SPLC’s) FERPA Fact Tumblr, an Internet tool designed to educate the public about misuses of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Unfortunately, institutions routinely cite FERPA erroneously to justify hiding “unseemly” student records that ought to be publicly viewable. 

In an exciting development for those who care about this issue, last week SPLC’s Sara Gregory was given the rare opportunity to ask Department of Education (ED) Secretary Arne Duncan a question during a conference call organized by the Education Writers Association, and she used that opportunity to raise the issue of confusion over FERPA. Specifically, Ms. Gregory asked the Secretary “whether the Department of Education had plans to issue any sort of guidance to schools to help stem the misapplication of FERPA.” Here is what Secretary Duncan answered:

We always try to do our best to provide very clear guidance and try and strike that balance between absolutely maintaining privacy, but also as much as we can, absolute transparency. Where districts or schools are — I’m not saying they are — but if they’re sort of hiding behind FERPA and not sharing simple information, ...

Kent Innovation High School Students Are Learning Liberty

Monday, September 9th, 2013

Although FIRE focuses on free speech issues in college, education about free speech should not begin when students first enter their freshman year. Students at Kent Innovation High School, in Grand Rapids, Mich., are starting their education in liberty earlier. Their free speech education program will focus on constitutional rights, particularly freedom of speech, and students will have the opportunity to analyze the Constitution and relevant court cases.

The students will also be participating in FIRE’s Freedom in Academia Essay Contest. They will familiarize themselves with FIRE’s mission, watch two short videos about censorship, and answer the essay question: Why is free speech important at our nation's colleges and universities? 

High school juniors and seniors from all across the country can join Kent students in submitting an essay. With a top prize of a $10,000 scholarship and other great prizes, this is a great opportunity for students to learn more about their constitutional rights.

FIRE’s Guides are another great resource for students looking to learn more about the rights of students on campus. They’re available here for free download.

As FIRE co-founder Alan Charles Kors said, “A nation that does not educate in liberty will not long preserve it ...

Tahoe and Tor: Building Privacy on Strong Foundations

Friday, September 6th, 2013

Many people want to build secure Internet services that protect their users against surveillance, or the illegal seizure of their data. When EFF is asked how to build these tools, our advice is: don't start from scratch. Find a public, respected, project which provides the privacy-protecting quality you want in your own work, and find a way to implement your dream atop these existing contributions.

So, for instance, the New Yorker's Strongbox, a dropbox for anonymous sources, uses Tor as its basis to provide anonymity to its users. If you want anonymity in your app, building your tool on top of Tor's backbone means you can take advantage of its experience and future improvements, as well as letting you contribute back to the wider community.

Anonymity is only one part of what will make the Net secure and privacy-friendly, though. The recent NSA revelations as well as glitches and attacks on single services like GitHub, Amazon, Twitter and the New York Times, have prompted demand for online data storage that doesn't depend on companies who might hand over such data or compromise security to comply with government demands, nor depend on one centralised service that could ...

International Criticism Escalates Against TPP as Negotiations Go Further Underground

Friday, September 6th, 2013

This week, trade delegates met in San Francisco to discuss the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement's e-commerce chapter. It's likely that this secret chapter carries provisions that whittle away at user data protections. But we weren't able to say so at this meeting. Not only have they neglected to notify digital rights groups—including EFF, which is based in San Francisco—about the meeting, we could not even discover where it was taking place.

Delegates from TPP countries are right now holding these secretive "inter-sessional" meetings here and in other undisclosed cities around the world. Trade reps for specific issue areas are hammering out "unresolved" issues that are holding up the conclusion of the agreement, and doing so by becoming even more secretive and evasive than ever.

We only heard about a TPP meeting on intellectual property in Mexico City in September through the diplomatic rumor-mill, since the US Trade Rep is no longer bothering to announce the dates or locations of these closed-door side meetings. During this round in Mexico, countries that have been resistant to U.S. demands to sign onto highly restrictive copyright enforcement standards may ultimately be strong-armed into doing so.

Professor Jane Kelsey from New Zealand, who ...

When Will The Courts Let Internet TV Be? FilmOn’s Live Streaming Shut Down In DC

Friday, September 6th, 2013

The court battles over Internet TV are heating up again, and their resolution will determine whether content owners have a veto right on TV watchers' ability to access TV in new and innovative ways. Yesterday, the federal district court in Washington DC ordered FilmOn (formerly called Aereokiller) to shut down its service that brought local broadcast TV to the Internet in major cities. The order directly contradicts the decisions of several New York federal courts, including the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Meanwhile, FilmOn has an appeal pending before the Ninth Circuit, which means we’ll be hearing from yet another court shortly, and possibly the Supreme Court down the line. Even Congress may get involved.

This issue has been kicking around the federal courts since at least 2007. It starts with TV programming that viewers already have a legal right to see and record, either through a pay TV subscription or from free over-the-air broadcasting. Then companies like Cablevision, Aereo, Dish Networks, and FilmOnX use the Internet or private digital networks to improve the viewing experience and give customers more choice and control. Their technologies send TV to Internet-connected devices (Aereo, FilmOn, Slingbox), add personal recording functions (all of them), ...

‘Zero Tolerance’ for Racist Speech Raises First Amendment Concerns at Florida State

Friday, September 6th, 2013

At Florida State University, a controversy has erupted in response to a student’s posting on the social media platform Vine. reports:

The student, Mandy Thurston, made racially-charged comments on the social media platform Vine, which ignited outrage from Florida State and Florida A&M University students alike. The statement was perceived as highly offensive and quickly received school-wide attention. also has a screen capture of the post. 

The FSU administration has released a joint statement by Vice President for Student Affairs Mary Coburn and Student Government President Rosie Contreras in response to the controversy. The full statement can be read here, but this section is cause for concern:

Florida State has zero tolerance for “racist speech,” no matter which medium is used to communicate the message. Please be assured that the University is investigating this situation and will take appropriate action within University policy.

While the posting in this case is no doubt offensive to a great majority of people, it is protected by the First Amendment. Why? There are many reasons, but one of the most articulate statements of the importance of tolerating speech we find offensive comes from the philosopher John Stuart Mill in his ...

‘Demers v. Austin’ Shifts Circuit Split on Faculty Speech Rights

Friday, September 6th, 2013

Yesterday we reported on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Demers v. Austin, in which the court held that a professor’s academic speech was protected under the First Amendment despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in Garcetti v. Ceballos (2006) that government employees may be disciplined for speech “pursuant to” their “official duties.” Plaintiff and Washington State University professor David Demers called the outcome “a great victory for those who cherish academic freedom, free speech ideals and shared governance.” Although the court ruled that Demers may not receive money damages, the ruling reaches far beyond Demers himself, protecting professors from punishment for academic speech—including, as Popehat pointed out, sharing an unpopular view in the context of a classroom discussion.

But as Peter Schmidt aptly pointed out in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the decision also shifts the balance of a split among circuits that have addressed this issue. While the Fourth Circuit held in Adams v. Trustees of the University of North Carolina­–Wilmington (4th Cir. 2011) (PDF) that Garcetti did not apply to academic speech,

[t]he federal appeals courts for the Third, Sixth, and Seventh Circuits ... have gone the ...

Michigan State Suspends Prof Without Hearing for In-Class Political Remarks

Friday, September 6th, 2013

A video uploaded to Campus Reform’s YouTube account Tuesday shows a segment of Michigan State University Professor William Penn’s “Literatures, Cultures, Identities” course that has resulted in his suspension from teaching. The video, recorded August 29, includes political commentary critical of Republicans and runs for nearly 10 minutes. Inside Higher Ed reports that “Penn remains a paid member of the faculty ... and no decision has been made as to when he will return to the classroom.” But worryingly, “[a] Michigan State spokesman said he was unaware of plans for ... a hearing” to determine whether Penn should have been disciplined—a question that could depend on whether the speech was germane to the course topic.

Inside Higher Ed spoke with FIRE’s Will Creeley to clarify some First Amendment basics:

Creeley ... said in an e-mail: “As FIRE has long maintained, students do not possess a general ‘right not to be offended’ on campus—and that includes within the classroom. Federal courts have made clear for decades that public institutions like Michigan State University may not privilege ‘civility’ over the First Amendment.”

Academic freedom needs “breathing room,” and free speech in the classroom should be protected when it is germane to ...

Order Your Copies of CBLDF Liberty Annual 2013 Today!

Friday, September 6th, 2013

CBLDF13-FRISON-FC-FNL The 2013 LIBERTY ANNUAL is almost here… edited by Dark Horse Comics’ Editor in Chief  Scott Allie, this anthology features the talents of  Richard Corben, Gabriel Hardman, Corinna Bechko, Art Baltazar, Franco, Paul Tobin, Emi Lenox, and many, many more!  With stories ranging from reactions to the Pussy Riot incarceration to Richard Corben’s reflection on cartoonists and censorship and lots more in between, this year’s Liberty Annual is sure to inspire readers from all walks of life!

RETAILERS! Your Final Order Cut-off is Monday, September 9th!

Check out this interview with Scott Allie  to learn more about the project, and feast your eyes on the cover gallery below!