Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Commentary: William O. Douglas — ardent First Amendment defender

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

No justice in Supreme Court history has ever showed a stronger commitment to freedom of speech than William O. Douglas, who served on the Court for a record 36-plus years.

In his opinions and other writings, he consistently railed against government censorship, objected to obscenity prosecutions, criticized libel laws and fulminated against loyalty oaths.

In his book A Living Bill of Rights, Douglas wrote: “The argument against censorship is clear: no person should dictate our tastes, ideas, or beliefs. No official has the right to say what is trash or what has value.”

Read David Hudson’s commentary in full.


Praise for Free Speech at Virginia Schools in ‘Richmond Times-Dispatch’

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

In response to Greg's article on The Huffington Post commending the nation's seven best colleges and universities for freedom of speech, the Richmond Times-Dispatch has offered glowing praise for the two Virginia schools that made the list (the University of Virginia (UVa) and the College of William & Mary) and for FIRE's efforts in combating censorship on campuses nationwide.

The Dispatch illuminates one of the pillars we rely on so strongly to win cases:

FIRE's advocacy is often effective, and always nonpartisan - it condemns all attacks on intellectual freedom regardless of political or ideological slant.

Noting the importance of this advocacy, the Dispatch states that "Only 14 of the 400 colleges and universities FIRE monitors have earned its green-light designation, meaning they impose no policies that endanger free speech on campus."

The Dispatch staff also remind us that UVa was founded by Thomas Jefferson, quoting him:

This institution will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.

We share in the Dispatch's happiness that both UVa and ...

Federal Anti-Bullying Guidelines Provoke Formal Comments from Several Free Speech Organizations

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

As the federal government gears up to combat bullying in schools, free speech organizations are reminding officials of their responsibility to uphold First Amendment protections for students.

In addition to FIRE, the Student Press Law Center and the National Coalition Against Censorship have filed comments with the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) regarding recent guidance issued by the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) on how to reduce bullying in schools. In October of 2010, OCR instructed schools that failure to properly respond to complaints of race-based or gender-based bullying could lead to liability under federal anti-discrimination laws. OCR's sweeping guidance now leaves schools wondering whether they must take intrusive stepslike monitoring Facebookto ferret out bullying before it is even reported.

As we blogged last week, FIRE's formal comment to the USCCR emphasized that the term "bullying" is amorphous and vague, and that students are already protected from the vast majority of behavior targeted by the anti-bullying push under existing anti-harassment laws and regulations. What's more, governmental mandates that compel elementary and high schools to punish protected speech tend to trickle up and infect the college atmosphere. Like the comments submitted by ...

U.N. Special Rapporteur Calls Upon States to Protect Anonymous Speakers Online

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

On June 3, EFF will begin live coverage of a critical discussion about online freedom of expression held by the 47 member states of the U.N Human Rights Council during its seventeenth session in Geneva. The meeting will include the introduction of a landmark report to the Council by United Nations Special Rapporteur Frank La Rue that advocates safeguards to protect free expression online including privacy and anonymity.

La Rue has spent the past year meeting with local organizations, including EFF, in numerous cities around the world. He has traveled to Stockholm, Buenos Aires, Bangkok, Cairo, Johannesburg and Delhi to gather information about key trends that stifle free expression online. These actions include the blocking of content, monitoring and identifying activists and critics, criminalizing legitimate expression, and adopting restrictive legislation to justify such measures. In his report, La Rue recommends that United Nations member states recognize the legitimacy of anonymous expression (a core EFF value) and the critical protection it affords. La Rue argues in his report that “privacy is essential for individuals to express themselves freely.”

La Rue’s statement and his recommendations are an essential step in making online anonymity the focus of policy discussions. ...

EFF Files Petition Opposing Proposed AT&T/T-Mobile Merger

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

EFF today filed a petition with the Department of Justice and the FCC asking the administration to deny AT&T Inc.’s proposed takeover of T-Mobile USA, based on concerns about the risk of non-neutral behavior as a result of decreased competition. You can read EFF’s letter here.

As we said:

EFF has maintained that the preferable way to avoid discriminatory conduct and achieve network neutrality by carriers is through fostering competition and preventing the consolidation of market power. Thus, if the administration, both the Department of Justice and the FCC, seeks to support a more neutral, more innovation-friendly communications infrastructure, it should use its efforts to assist in the creation of more competitors, rather than fewer. The merger represents a step in the wrong direction.

Take the EFF Tor Challenge!

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

"Who Has Your Back" In Depth: Fighting For Users’ Privacy Rights in Court

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

EFF recently launched a campaign calling on companies to stand with their users when the government comes looking for data. (If you haven’t done so, sign our petition urging companies to provide better transparency and privacy.) This article will provide a more detailed look at one of the four categories in which a company can earn a gold star in our campaign: fighting for users' privacy rights in court.

This category recognizes those companies that have gone to court to fight for their users' privacy interests in response to government demands for information--companies that have actually filed briefs and made legal arguments defending their users' privacy rights. A gold star in this category is especially important considering that in many cases, only the company itself will be in a position to challenge the government's attempt to obtain user information. Those companies that have done so publicly are deserving of public commendation.

Therefore, we gave Yahoo! a full gold star for its work last year in the Colorado federal court, fighting the Justice Department's attempt to seize a Yahoo! user's email without probable cause. Not only did Yahoo! oppose the government's demand in court, it also convinced the court to unseal ...

College Forbids Student to Walk at Graduation Due to ‘Negative’ Facebook Post

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

As Erica has written here before in detail, Saint Augustine's College (SAC) in North Carolina refused to allow a student to participate in its graduation ceremonies due to a comment he posted on Facebook about how the college was handling its recovery from tornado damage. If you're new to Caple's case, you have indeed read that correctly. Despite SAC's extensive promises of freedom of expression for students, the college disciplined student Roman Caple because of what it called a "negative social media exchange." Caple is currently represented by attorney Brandon S. Atwater.

Here's how FIRE summarized the case in today's press release on Caple's case:

On April 16, 2011, a tornado hit Raleigh and cut off electrical power to many SAC students. On April 18, SAC announced via Facebook that it would reopen, although some students still were without power. Following complaints, SAC announced a public meeting with Progress Energy and students on April 19. In response, Caple posted this message on SAC's Facebook page, encouraging fellow students to bring any necessary documentation to the meeting and to anticipate SAC's response: "Here it go!!!!! Students come correct, be prepared, and have supporting documents to back up your arguments ...

Jeffrey Hadden of ‘Detroit News’ the Latest to Join the Chorus Against OCR’s Policy Guidance

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

Last week, I wrote about a great piece submitted to Minding the Campus by FIRE Co-founder and Board of Directors Chairman Harvey Silverglate and Program Associate Kyle Smeallie regarding the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights' (OCR's) recent policy guidance to colleges and universities that has been making so many waves amongst those of us who care about freedom of speech and due process in higher education.

Harvey and Kyle's piece captured much of what concerns the many commentators who have spoken out in opposition to OCR's April 4 "Dear Colleague" letter, as well as OCR's investigation of Yale University for allegedly maintaining a sexually hostile environment. In their piece, Harvey and Kyle highlighted the many individual rights concerns raised by OCR's investigation regarding the Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) fraternity at Yale, and by the university's quick capitulation to the investigation in the form of a five-year suspension handed down against DKE.

Several commentators have picked up on Harvey and Kyle's piece. Jeffrey Hadden of The Detroit News writes that OCR "has launched an attack on the civil rights of college students" and adds:

Some commentators have observed that the letter essentially requires colleges to maintain anti-harassment speech codes ...

Students Peacefully Engage Horowitz at UCSB, but Student Government Injustices Remain Uncorrected

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

As David Horowitz quipped Thursday evening, when finally making his scheduled appearance at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), "This is a university campus, I'm 72 years old, and I'm some big threat?" The Associated Students Finance Board (ASFB) sure seemed to think so, according to the minutes of its May 4 meeting. As Adam thoroughly laid out on Thursday, it was at this meeting where the decision was made to deny a significant portion of the requested funding for the event, hosted by the UCSB College Republicans, on the basis of Horowitz's conservative viewpoint.

And what happened, when all was finally said and done, and Horowitz made his scheduled appearance? Nothing!

Well, no, not nothing. What happened was precisely what is supposed to happen in these situations. Some went to the event with an open mind, some went to try to give voice to particular disagreements they have with Horowitz's views, and some went in the hopes of privately confirming or debunking personal misgivings. Speech was met with more speech and, in the case of the coalition of student groups who hosted an alternate event, different speech.

What didn't happen is just as important. No one rioted, there ...

Re-Upped Patriot Act Fails to Protect Reader Privacy

Monday, May 30th, 2011

On a day when we pause to remember and thank the men and women who have helped protect the United States and our rights as citizens, there’s an unfortunate reminder that those rights are not as safe as they should be.

With the re-authorization of USA Patriot Act last week, the safeguards protecting the privacy of bookstore and library records were not restored, a chilling reminder that reader privacy is a risk. Under the current provisions of USA Patriot Act, the government has nearly unlimited power to search bookstore and library records, including those of innocent people.

A coalition of organizations, including the American Booksellers Association, the American Library Association, the Association of American Publishers, and PEN American Center advocated for the passage of a bills from Representative John Conyers (D-MI) and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) that would limit searches of bookstore and library records to only those pertaining to individuals who are suspected of terrorism or criminal activity. Unfortunately, their efforts were unsuccessful, and further protections were not instituted.

The official press release from the Campaign for Reader Privacy:


WASHINGTON, DC, May 27, 2011–Organizations representing booksellers, librarians, publishers ...

A Few Words on Memorial Day

Monday, May 30th, 2011

Freedom of speech is not just something we have as free human beings. It is a liberty we exercise. When necessary, we fight for it.

For the Memorial Day weekend, I have been reading Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield's ennobling book Manliness. Manliness (a virtue, sometimes a vice, available to all) expresses human beings' fundamental dignity. If I understand the argument correctly, it is not necessarily enough to possess a basic freedomthe manly person asserts it, points out its value, and exercises it prudently. Manliness also means fighting with those who aggressively (here's the darker side) assert their power in order to take away others' basic liberty and dignity.

Mansfield also writes:

The right of private property builds fences that protect us from overmuch interference either from fellow citizens or from the government, reacting to their pressure. But we also have a right of free speech, a right to address our fellow citizens, to raise issues, and thus to create a public question out of a previously private matter. It takes a certain quality of soul to do this, and the quality is manliness, the manly responsibility we have defined.

While FIRE fights from the desk and ...

Dancing protestors arrested at the Jefferson Memorial

Sunday, May 29th, 2011

Several people were arrested Saturday afternoon at the Jefferson Memorial, protesting the recent court decision that upheld a ban on dancing at the memorial.

In April 2008, a group of less than 20 young people came to the memorial as part of a flash mob where they would dance to music played through their headphones.

U.S. Park Police then told the dancers to leave, and eventually arrested one woman on misdemeanor charges, Mary Oberwetter.

Oberwetter fought the charges in court, arguing that dancing was protected free speech, and noting that groups of noisy school children are routine at the memorial.

She lost that case, with the courts agreeing that the U.S. Park service has a duty to maintain decorum at the nation’s monuments, and no demonstrations are allowed inside the monuments.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld the earlier decision.

The group that gathered at the monument Saturday was there in protest of the upheld ban.

Read complete story with video of the arrest.


This Week in the News: OCR Letter’s Ramification Already Felt, Greg’s ‘Huffington Post’ Article Makes a Big Splash, and Viewpoint Discrimination at UCSB

Friday, May 27th, 2011

Three eventful weeks ago, FIRE sent an open letter to the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) about its April 4 "Dear Colleague" letter which, among other things, mandates that colleges and universities lower the standard of proof to a "preponderance of the evidence" standard when adjudicating student disciplinary matters concerning sexually related offenses.

Torch readers will not be surprised to learn that FIRE's opposition to several aspects of the OCR letter continues to garner significant attention in the press, with two of FIRE's own publishing articles about the negative ramifications of the letter this week. First, Greg wrote an article in The Daily Caller arguing that the letter's failure to reaffirm that OCR's enforcement of civil rights laws respects the First Amendment compounds the threat to student speech already presented by many universities' overbroad and vague sexual harassment policies. He cited the recent issuing of sanctions against the Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) fraternity at Yale University for shouting crude chants on campus as a perfect example of this threat. Peter echoed Greg's sentiments about the pernicious combination of OCR pressure and unconstitutional speech codes in his most recent piece for PolicyMic.

Caroline May of The Daily Caller also reported ...

Anime North 2011 Panel Discusses Recents Attacks on Manga at Canadian Border

Friday, May 27th, 2011

If you’re in Toronto this weekend, a fan of manga and anime, and looking for some like-minded folks, Canada’s fan-run Anime North kicks off today.

CBLDF may not be there in person, but we’ll be there in spirit on Saturday, when Paul Stockton moderates a panel discussing the recent attacks against manga and comics at the Canadian border. Stockton is the co-founder of Comic Legends Legal Defense Fund, which does what we do in Canada: CLLDF assists retailers, distributors, publishers and creators who run afoul of Canada’s obscenity laws.

Stockton’s panel, tentatively titled Manga Under Attack By The Law, takes place on Saturday, May 28, at 2:00 p.m. You can get more details on site at the convention or from the Anime North website.

FIRE Comments on Federal Anti-Bullying Initiatives

Friday, May 27th, 2011

Yesterday, FIRE submitted a formal comment on the United States Commission on Civil Rights' (USCCR's) May 13 briefing on "Peer-to-Peer Violence and Bullying: Examining the Federal Response." Charged with monitoring federal civil rights enforcement, USCCR advises the federal Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR). Given the significant threats to free speech and due process raised by OCR's recent guidance on bullying, harassment, and sexual violence, USCCR's request for comments on its briefing presented a significant opportunity for FIRE to raise these concerns.

Although the briefing specifically concerned bullying in the K-12 setting, the tendency of restrictions on student rights in the K-12 setting to "trickle up" to higher education makes this an issue of serious concern to FIRE. Among the speakers at the briefing (video of which is available here) was Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali, the author of OCR's October 2010 guidance on bullying and harassment as well as the April 2011 guidance instructing universities to lower the standard of proof to a preponderance of the evidence when adjudicating sexual assault claims. UCLA law professor and First Amendment scholar Eugene Volokh also spoke at the briefing about the need to consider the First Amendment ...

Cryptozoic Entertainment Launches Free Digital Comics App, Benefitting CBLDF

Friday, May 27th, 2011

We first teamed up with Cryptozoic Entertainment to create the CBLDF Liberty Trading Cards, with proceeds going to the Fund. We’re taking a second step in our partnership and our shared dedication to Free Speech as Cryptozoic enters the world of digital publishing. Cryptozoic has launched a comic reader with top-quality content for the iPad™, iPhone™, and iPod Touch™, with a percentage of the profits dedicated to benefit CBLDF.

To celebrate the exclusive release of Blizzard™ manga on the Cryptozoic Comics app, Cryptozoic is offering a free download of the full 160-page manga, Warcraft: Legends Vol. 1, for the first week of its release (through June 2nd)!

The new Cryptozoic Comics app will include content from leading publishers such as IDW™ and Top Cow™, individual creators, and exciting original comics that have been exclusively designed by Cryptozoic for the new platform. Furthermore, the platform will feature critically acclaimed narratives from Blizzard’s™ extensive catalogue of manga, beginning with Warcraft: The Sunwell Trilogy Volume 1, Dragon Hunt, Starcraft: Ghost Academy Volume 1, and World of Warcraft: Death Night.

Another unique facet that Cryptozoic’s digital comic reader will provide is an interface link to Comic Book Legal Defense Fund announcements ...

CBLDF Congratulates Christopher M. Finan, Recipient of the 2011 FTRF Roll of Honor Award!

Friday, May 27th, 2011

CBLDF is delighted to congratulate Christopher M. Finan, president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) and friend of the Fund, for winning the 2011 Freedom to Read Foundation (FTRF) Roll of Honor Award!

As president of ABFFE, Finan helps defend the First Amendment rights of booksellers and their customers. His activism on behalf of Free Speech is further solidified by his longtime involvement with the Media Coalition, which defends the right to produce, sell, and have access to print and digital entertainment, and the National Coalition Against Censorship. Like CBLDF, targets of Finan’s activism include the “harmful to minors” statutes that would curtail creative free expression.

“Chris is one of the true happy warriors in the fight for free expression,” says CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein. “His organizational work with the Booksellers for Free Expression and the Media Coalition has helped knock out generations of bad laws that would have harmed the freedom to read, and his work on behalf of reader privacy has kept the government from looking over our shoulders since the notion was first contemplated with the passing of the PATRIOT Act. Chris is a terrific leader and well deserving of this ...

The More Things Change…: PROTECT IP Updates

Friday, May 27th, 2011

The PROTECT IP Act, known as PIPA, yesterday passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee with only minimal changes. The current draft bill is here. The good news is that the approval was quickly met by a much-welcome hold on the legislation from Senator Wyden of Oregon.

Wyden sums up our concerns with the bill very nicely:

At the expense of legitimate commerce, PIPA’s prescription takes an overreaching approach to policing the Internet when a more balanced and targeted approach would be more effective. The collateral damage of this approach is speech, innovation and the very integrity of the Internet.

On the more granular side, we have a few additions to the issues raised in our earlier post about PIPA:

The amended bill versus the bill as introduced

The current amendment includes an especially unfortunate edit that the Senate Judiciary Committee failed to highlight in a summary of changes. PIPA enables both the Attorney General and private parties to bring cases against websites “dedicated to infringing activities.” Under the first version of the bill, if a plaintiff “through due diligence” couldn’t find someone within the United States to sue, the Attorney General but not a private litigant was allowed to ...

Book Delayed by Crackdown Fears

Friday, May 27th, 2011
Former aides to ousted premier call for political reform in China.

Fired for Making Waves, Kutztown University Professor Takes Case to Federal Court

Friday, May 27th, 2011

Until being fired in October 2009, Will Plouffe had been a tenure track professor in the Criminal Justice Department at Pennsylvania's Kutztown University for just under two years. Transitioning into academia from his previous career as an attorney, Plouffe was seemingly well-suited for a long, successful career. So what happened? In Plouffe's telling, the answer is depressing, and Plouffe's fate now lies in the hands of a federal district court in Pennsylvania.

Plouffe's story begins during his first semester teaching at Kutztown, in the spring of 2008, when he was approached by the department chair with an unethical proposition. According to the complaint Plouffe filed in federal court in April 2010, the chair pressured Plouffe to credit another professor as a co-author on forthcoming articles by Plouffe. Initially, Plouffe refused, but, after repeated inquiries, he eventually relented, asking that the other professor at least contribute some work to a forthcoming article. The other professor did not do so, and the article was not published, much to Plouffe's frustration.

More aggravations followed. Plouffe's complaint alleges that the other professor twice managed to wrest classes assigned to Plouffe away from him, each time with the approval of the department chair. After the ...

Brad Paisley Joins 1 For All Campaign for First Amendment Awareness

Friday, May 27th, 2011

Brad Paisley is the latest celebrity adding his highly recognizable face to the 1 For All national public education campaign. 1 For All is designed to give better understanding to Americans about their freedoms granted by the First Amendment.

“Freedom is what makes America great,” Paisley says. “I count myself blessed to live in a country where I can exercise that right every day, whether I’m writing, recording or performing.”

1 For All launched last July, with print and online advertisements that were featured using the donated space of over 1,000 participating news organizations. The campaign was created after surveys which revealed only one in 20 Americans can name all five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Read more.

In ‘PolicyMic,’ FIRE’s Peter Bonilla Discusses OCR’s Threat to Free Speech

Friday, May 27th, 2011

In his latest piece for PolicyMic, Peter BonillaAssistant Director of FIRE's Individual Rights Defense Programexplains exactly how the April 4 "Dear Colleague" letter from the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) will negatively impact student speech rights on campus.

As Torch readers know, we've been focusing primarily on the due process implications of the letter's mandates. But, echoing Greg's piece for The Daily Caller earlier this week, Peter points out that OCR's failure to reaffirm that its enforcement of civil rights laws must respect First Amendment rights compounds the threat to student speech already presented by many universities' overbroad and vague sexual harassment policies. Peter writes:

What about incidents of "harassment" based on speech and expression, which also fall under OCR's regulatory authority? Here the picture is grim, as well. OCR's letter completely fails to recognize that its civil rights enforcement in higher education must be consistent with university students' First Amendment rights, which the Supreme Court recognizes time and again as important to society's well-being.

As I have discussed on PolicyMic before, a significant majority of universities maintain speech codes that flatly violate its students' free speech rights, often in ...

Much More Evidence of Viewpoint Discrimination by UC Santa Barbara Student Government Regarding Tonight’s David Horowitz Event

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

Earlier today I wrote about the clear case of viewpoint discrimination by the student government at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), when it twice denied funding for a lecture tonight by conservative writer and speaker David Horowitz due to Horowitz's viewpoints. In that post, I showed the strong evidence of viewpoint discrimination in the notes from the first meeting of the Associated Students Finance Board. (These notes show that they discussed their discriminatory plans during the meeting.) Discriminating on the basis of political views in student fee funding, which is what happened here on multiple occasions, violates the First Amendment.

In this post, I will discuss evidence from the Associated Students (AS) Legislative Council minutes of May 4, 2011, in which even more decisions were made to deny funding for the event due to Horowitz's viewpoints. There's no way in the world that UCSB's campus counsel could argue with a straight face that the decisions were constitutionalunless somebody has been lying to her and keeping her from seeing these minutes.

To make a long story short: After the Finance Board voted to give the UCSB College Republicans (CRs) nothing for the event, CRs President Steven Begakis ...

CFN Member Michael Tracey in ‘Reason’ on Unwise Rush to Legislate After Tragedy

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

In an article for Reason magazine (appearing in Reason's June 2011 print issue), Michael Tracey documents the mounting opposition of New Jersey residents to what's known as Kyleigh's Law--a New Jersey statute that places numerous probationary restrictions on drivers under the age of 21. Highly unpopular is the provision that young drivers place decals on the rears of their cars broadcasting their probationary status; some parents consider it a requirement to send a high-frequency signal to all potential predators that a young person is alone in a vehicle. 

Torch readers may now be thinking, "Traffic laws?" Of course, FIRE takes no position on the law's merits. But the impulse that led to the passing of Kyleigh's Law is a factor with potential effects reaching far beyond the sphere of teenage driving, a point Tracey illustrates with the example of another New Jersey-born piece of legislation: the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act, which has recently been reintroduced for consideration in Congress. (New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has already signed "anti-bullying" legislation on the state level.)
Tracey writes toward the end of his article: 

Last November, Michael Patrick Carroll, one of the 13 assemblymen who have reversed their position on ...

Christopher M. Finan receives the 2011 FTRF Roll of Honor Award

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

Christopher M. Finan, president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE), longtime member of the Media Coalition and member and chair of the board of the National Coalition Against Censorship, is the recipient of the 2011 Freedom to Read Foundation (FTRF) Roll of Honor Award.

Finan has a distinguished career in both study and activism on behalf of the freedom to read.  His work on behalf of free speech began in 1982 when he joined the Media Coalition as coordinator.  Finan joined ABFFE in 1998.  As President of ABFFE and member of a number of free speech advocacy groups, he has worked on a host of First Amendment issues, including federal, state and local legislation and litigation.  He has been particularly active in fighting state “harmful to minors” statutes and advocating the role of the bookseller as a partner with libraries, users, publishers and all who produce, distribute or use First-Amendment protected materials.  Finan has been a leader in the efforts to amend the USA PATRIOT Act.  Recently he has worked with ALA and brought in new partners to expand the influence and scope of Banned Books Week nationwide.

Finan’s book, “From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America” ...

Commentary: The Mugshot — to publish or not to publish?

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Los Angeles police investigating the assault of a San Francisco Giants baseball fan at Dodger Stadium on opening day are asking the news media not to publish the leaked photo of suspect Giovanni Ramirez. They are concerned that dissemination of the photo will influence witnesses who will be called in for police lineups.

It’s a valid law enforcement concern and an interesting illustration of the dynamics between the right to a fair trial and freedom of the press. It also raises some questions about whether news organizations should consider the consequences of the publication of an inarguably newsworthy image.

Read Ken Paulson’s commentary in full.

IFRT Immroth Award Winners Announced!

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

The winners of the John Phillip Immroth Memorial Award were announced in ALA News Tuesday.

Mike Blasenstein and Mike Iacovone have been named recipients of the John Phillip Immroth Memorial Award, presented by the American Library Association (ALA) Intellectual Freedom Round Table (IFRT).
The Immroth Award honors intellectual freedom fighters in and outside the library profession who have demonstrated remarkable personal courage in resisting censorship. The award consists of $500 and a citation.

The Immroth Award Committee recognizes the two for providing access to the banned video, David Wojnarowicz’s “Fire in My Belly,” in a high profile incident of censorship at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. After the Smithsonian Institution bowed to pressure to remove the artwork from the Hide/Seek exhibit, Blasenstein and Iacovone undertook their first act to preserve intellectual freedom by reintroducing the censored art into the gallery from which it was removed.

David Hurley, Chair of the Immroth Committee, reveals why Blasenstein and Iacovone were chosen: “What really impressed the committee about their actions was that it both restored access to the work that had been removed, for the duration of the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibit, while also drawing attention to the larger problem ...

Greg’s ‘Best Schools for Free Speech’ List on ‘Huffington Post’ Already Big News

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Yesterday, Greg commended the nation's seven best colleges and universities for freedom of speech in a feature for The Huffington Post. The article has already sparked discussion among Huffington Post readers and other commenters. Further, the article has produced ripples through several news sources across the nation.

The Jackson Sun (Jackson, Tenn.) praised nearby University of Tennessee-Knoxville (UTK) for making the highly selective list. In an editorial, the Sun discussed the true meaning of higher education, defended free speech, and praised FIRE's efforts:

Higher education must be about more than studying the arts and sciences. It should be about more than qualifying for a higher-paying job. It should also be about developing critical-thinking skills, trying new ideas, challenging beliefs and learning to live with people and ideas that are different from our own. As Lukianoff noted in a published article on campus free speech: "A critical part of the college experience is grappling with ideas that you might not agree with or that might even offend you. In fact, if you go through four years of college without ever being offended, you should ask for your money back."

Too often, we take our First Amendment rights for granted. ...

Response to ‘Huffington Post’ Commenter’s Position on Campus Censorship and ‘Mixed Feelings’ about FIRE

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Yesterday, The Huffington Post ran my article commending the nation's seven best colleges and universities for freedom of speech. As we at FIRE hoped, the article generated a lot of important discussion in the comments section. In particular, one commenter, "snesich," noted that he/she has "mixed feelings about FIRE and the work they do." According to snesich,

I do feel that FIRE has often been used by the extreme right-wing as a tool to defend their "right" to hurl hateful and vicious words at people they don't like, for ethnic, religious, racial, gender or ideologica­l reasons.

Colleges may often overstep their bounds when they issue regulation­s and guidelines that try to create a civil and non-hatefu­l environmen­t on their campus. However, you can't dismiss these efforts as simple power-play­s on the part of the administra­tion. Usually, the intent is very good.

Also, remember, "free speech" works both ways. Free speech does not mean that David Duke can come to our campus, spew his hateful right-wing vitriol and just demand that people sit back and silently listen without any verbal reaction.

If you come to a campus and speak, people also have a right of free speech. And people on that ...

2011 Freedom to Read Foundation Election Results

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

The Freedom to Read Foundation (FTRF) is pleased to announce the winners of its 2011 board of trustees election, held in April.  Six trustees were elected to two-year terms, beginning in June: Helen Adams, Jonathan Bloom, Chris Finan, Christine Jenkins, Herbert Krug and Candace Morgan.  Bloom, Jenkins and Morgan were re-elected. Adams and Krug are newly elected, and Finan, who was a trustee in 2006, is currently serving out the term of Susan Hildreth, who resigned to become director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

These trustees will join Kent Oliver (Canton, Ohio), Judith Platt (Washington, D.C.), Carol Brey-Casiano (Washington, D.C.), Mary Minow (Cupertino, Calif.), and James G. Neal (New York) as elected board members.  The American Library Association president (Molly Raphael), president-elect (Maureen Sullivan), executive director (Keith Michael Fiels) and Intellectual Freedom Committee chair (Pat Scales) serve on the board as ex-officio.  Barbara Jones is the secretary of the board and executive director of the Foundation.

For biographical information on the six election winners can be found at

For more information on the Freedom to Read Foundation, visit


Twitter, Free Speech, Super-Injunctions and the Streisand Effect

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011
Co-authored by Cindy Cohn

This blog post was also published on the Index on Censorship blog.

Despite a super injunction in place to keep his name and the story of his extra-marital affair out of the tabloids, a British footballer has found that where there’s the Internet, there’s a way...for the story to get out, that is.

Partially in response to the draconian nature of the super injunction the footballer obtained, tens of thousands of Twitter users published his name, briefly turning it—along with the name of his alleged mistress—into a Twitter trending topic, with purportedly as many as 75,000 individuals tweeting the name. The athlete—who has now been named in British media as well as in Parliament as Ryan Giggs—reportedly obtained a court order in British High Court to demand Twitter reveal the identities of users who had posted the tweets. We call this public backlash to overbroad censorship attempts the Streisand effect.

Publishing truthful information about a matter of public concern is and should be protected expression. Yet these injunctions prevent the press and the public from reporting on details of a court case, and can even include preventing a mention of the fact that an injunction ...

Harvey and Kyle on ‘Minding the Campus’ on What Yale Should Have Said to OCR

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

FIRE Co-founder and Board of Directors Chairman Harvey Silverglate and Program Associate Kyle Smeallie have written an excellent, though-provoking piece on Minding the Campus about what Yale University President Richard Levin should have said to the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) regarding the Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) fraternity. Under investigation by OCR for allegedly maintaining a sexually hostile environment, Yale announced last week that it was suspending DKE for five years for chants uttered by its pledges as part of a hazing ritual in October 2010.

Rather thanfrom all appearancescave in to federal pressure so quickly and so thoroughly, Harvey and Kyle argue that Yale missed an opportunity to stand up for student free speech everywhere, as well as for its own stated commitments to open dialogue on campus. They write in the form of an open letter from Yale's President Levin to Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali.

A sampling of the letter, with Harvey and Kyle writing as President Levin:

As I shall endeavor to explain below, I do not believe that sanctioning students for their speech-even at its most disturbingly misogynistic-is an option open to Yale's administration.

First, we ...

FIRE Names Seven Best Schools for Free Speech on ‘Huffington Post’

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

FIRE President Greg Lukianoff commended the nation's seven best colleges and universities for freedom of speech in an article for The Huffington Post today. The article is a companion to our highly publicized list of our nation's 12 Worst Schools for Free Speech published in January.

The colleges listed as the nation's best are Arizona State UniversityDartmouth CollegeThe College of William & Mary, the University of PennsylvaniaCarnegie Mellon University, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, and the University of Virginia.

In determining the seven best colleges and universities for freedom of speech, FIRE considered whether the school's policies restrict speech protected by the First Amendment and whether the school had censored speech in recent years. Each of the seven institutions chosen has earned a "green light" rating in FIRE's Spotlight database of university policies. FIRE awards a college or university a "green light" rating if it does not maintain any policies that seriously imperil speech on campus. Only 14 schools out of the nearly 400 FIRE rates have earned "green light" ratings.

We invite Huffington Post readers to nominate their own candidates in the comments section after reading FIRE's list. As ...

First Amendment Rodeo 5/9-5/23, 2011

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

Newspaper Asserts a First Amendment Right to Erase Hillary Clinton from Situation Room Photo

Oak Harbor mom upset over book
See also
Washington State Mom Files Complaint Against School Over Sex-Ed Book

US prisoners refused all books except Bible

Merrill school board: no ban on book

‘Sexy’ Children’s Book Pulled from Library Shelves
See also:
Fourth-grader’s mom complains about sex in book

Government Insists on Right to Censor Book

Frederick County school board agrees to review textbook
See also:
Textbook raises questions for some Frederick parents

Before banning, let’s discuss ‘Lovingly Alice’

Freedom of Speech/Education

ACLU accuses Sumner County Schools of promoting Christianity

‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ canceled at Morgan over concerns about racial slurs
See also:
ACLU asks Morgan County high school to reconsider showing play

N.Y. school can censor cartoon in ‘forum’ and independent newspapers
See also:
Court Backs Censorship of High School Paper’s Sex Cartoon

Privacy/Patriot Act
Bill Summary and Status – H.R.1800: PATRIOT Act Extension

‘House Judiciary Committee moves on PATRIOT Act provisions with no reforms’

Reid offers new legislation to extend several provisions of the PATRIOT Act

AP sources: Hill leaders agree on Patriot Act

Leaders reach Patriot Act deal – Politico

Support ...

IFRT Monthly Video Series: Robert Quinn

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

The latest Intellectual Freedom Round Table video is now available!
This video features Robert Quinn, founding Executive Director of the Scholars at Risk Network discussing academic freedom and the defense of human rights of scholars worldwide.

If you have any topics you would like to see featured in upcoming videos, please contact IFRT chair Loida Garcia-Febo directly at

The First Amendment Center Discusses the First Amendment and Secondary Education

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

As many teenagers will tell you, they simply want to be able to freely express themselves. The application of the free speech provisions of the First Amendment during secondary education presents an interesting conundrum: balancing students’ desire for free expression with the need to maintain an effective educational environment. Often, legal decisions regarding free speech in secondary school publications align with the latter, giving secondary students somewhat diminished First Amendment rights.

The First Amendment Center took a moment to analyze a recent federal appeals court decision regarding the publication of a cartoon in the Ithaca High School newspaper, The Tattler. Students made multiple attempts to publish a cartoon depicting stick figures in various Kama Sutra positions. After the school rejected the cartoon, the students published it in an independent version of the paper, which the school also blocked from distribution. The appeals court upheld the earlier decision that the school had the right to censor the cartoon.

In voicing their opinion on the case, The First Amendment Center noted that it presents a potentially potent educational opportunity:

“The best student newspaper advisers don’t reflexively censor or roll over for student newspaper staffs, but do everything they can to help ...

Commentary: Marking a big Supreme Court victory for press freedom

Monday, May 23rd, 2011
Monday, May 23, 2011

Forty-five years ago today the U.S. Supreme Court protected press freedoms by ruling in Mills v. Alabama (1966) that a state could not prohibit election-day editorials in newspapers.

James E. Mills, the editor of the Birmingham Post-Herald, ran afoul of Alabama’s so-called Corrupt Practices Act, which made it a crime “to do any electioneering or to solicit any votes … in support of or in opposition to any proposition that is being voted on in the day on which the election affecting such candidates or propositions is being held.”

The newspaper had run an editorial on election day, Nov. 6, 1962, in support of a city initiative to establish a “mayor-council” government in Birmingham to replace its city-commission form of government. The editorial also severely criticized the existing city government.

A state trial court judge had ruled the law unconstitutional, but the Alabama Supreme Court reversed and ruled that Mills should have to stand trial. On appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court struck the Alabama law down on First Amendment grounds.

Read David Hudson’s commentary in full.


Ohio College to Review Ban on Peaceful Distribution of Literature on Campus

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

Ohio's Sinclair Community College (SCC) has announced that it will review an unconstitutional policy that prohibits all distribution of literature on campus by individual students. SCC banned a student from distributing literature about abortion, birth control, and breast cancer to her classmates after class. After FIRE intervened, the Chair of SCC's Board of Trustees, Lawrence Porter, stated that this policy and a second, conflicting policy would be reviewed.

SCC student Ethel Borel-Donohue's story began during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month last October, when she distributed roughly 15 flyers relating to National Breast Cancer Awareness Month to various students in her Probate Law I course after class. Borel-Donohue is a student in SCC's Paralegal Program. The flyers discuss possible risks of breast cancer related to birth control and abortion. (Of course, FIRE takes no position on the merits of the science discussed in the flyers.)

Borel-Donohue was summoned to the office of Judge Michael Brigner, Paralegal Program Chair, and they met on November 2, according to Borel-Donohue's written account. Brigner reportedly stated that a student had complained to him about being "offended by the material in the brochures." Brigner then told her she "had no right to hand out ...

Internet Firms Sued Over Rights

Monday, May 23rd, 2011
China's Baidu and Cisco of the U.S. are challenged in separate court cases.

Register Today for the 2011 Campus Freedom Network Conference!

Monday, May 23rd, 2011
FIRE's 2011 Campus Freedom Network Conference will be held July 14-16 on the campus of Bryn Mawr College, just outside of Philadelphia. The CFN Conference brings together committed students from across the country to learn from eminent First Amendment scholars and meet fellow advocates for free speech on campus. Attendees will hear from distinguished keynote speakers including Nick Gillespie, editor in chief of and, and Robert Corn-Revere, a partner at the law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine in Washington, D.C., and a First Amendment expert with extensive experience in communications, media, and information technology law. Other sessions will feature a panel of students involved in previous FIRE cases, as well as FIRE staff discussing the philosophical and legal arguments for First Amendment rights on campus and how we can improve the culture of free speech at colleges and universities.

The conference is FREE, and FIRE will provide up to $300 to reimburse expenses for attendees to travel to Bryn Mawr. Space is limited, so interested students should register soon! Students can apply at

At CSU Long Beach, Petition Drive Nearly Results in Firing of Student Editor

Monday, May 23rd, 2011
A drama over press freedom has come to an end at California State University - Long Beach (CSULB) recently, when members of CSULB's student government thought better of a petition to remove Kevin O'Brien as editor in chief of the Union Weekly, a student fee-funded opinion and humor magazine, on the basis of articles found offensive by members of the CSULB community. 

As the Daily 49er, an independent CSULB publication, wrote of a recent protest against the Union Weekly:

The protest stemmed from two Union Weekly articles. The first was a review critical of the 41st annual Pow Wow American Indian gathering. The article's author and Union Weekly Campus Editor Noah Kelly apologized for the March 14 article, titled "Pow Wow Wow Yippee Yo Yippy Yay," shortly after its printing. Critics called the piece racist and culturally insensitive. 

The second article was written last semester and titled "How to Get Laid: A Girls' Guide for Guys." Some argued the piece promoted sexual violence.

We see these kinds of controversies numerous times per year at FIRE, and the cycle that usually results: controversial article published, calls for apology (or punishment) from members of the university community, public airing ...

Survey: Online learning and intellectual freedom

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom is developing online learning opportunities on a wide range of issues. We would appreciate your input on how we can best meet the library community’s need for educational offerings on intellectual freedom topics. Please take a moment to complete this very brief survey, which will close June 7, 2011.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!

Mike Huckabee (Erroneously) Opines that LSU Counter-Protestors Were Engaged in Protected Speech

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

Last week, we wrote about a protest by Louisiana State University (LSU) graduate student Benjamin Haas, the ensuing counter-protest at LSU, and Chancellor Michael Martin's response to the whole situation.

Haas originally expressed his intent to hold a protest at the LSU parade grounds, where he planned to burn an American flag. After failing to obtain the necessary burn permit, Haas decided instead to read a statement aloud. In response, a massive counter-protest was held at LSU. While Haas and another student were attempting to speak, the large and unruly crowd of counter-protestors shouted them down, and some began to throw bottles and other trash at Haas, despite the presence of mounted police. Eventually, the scene became hostile enough that police had to escort Haas to another location for his own safety.

Late last week, FOX News host and former Arkansas governor/presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee waded into the debate, regrettably coming to the defense of the trash-hurling counter-protestors.

With regard to the Supreme Court's decision in Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989), which held that flag burning is protected expressive conduct under the First Amendment, Huckabee wrote in an email that the Court
ruled that burning ...

Media Clampdown ‘Political’

Monday, May 23rd, 2011
In China, 70 percent of foreign journalists say they have faced police harassment.

This Week in the News: Lowering Due Process Standards and Unlearning Liberty

Friday, May 20th, 2011
Regular Torch readers know that two weeks ago, FIRE sent an open letter to the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) about its April 4 "Dear Colleague" letter which, among other things, mandates that colleges and universities lower the standard of proof to a "preponderance of the evidence" standard when adjudicating student disciplinary matters concerning sexual harassment or sexual violence.

Our opposition to OCR's letter is gaining more and more media attention. In her nationally syndicated column today (printed in National Review Online and elsewhere), Mona Charen quoted Greg's concept of "unlearning liberty" to warn that efforts to classify offensive speech as harassment and to abandon due process protections are not only a recipe for disaster, but also a lesson in illiberal education.

Hans Bader mentioned our open letter in his Washington Examiner piece about the litany of due process problems within OCR's guidance which, he lamented, has encouraged several schools already to lower their standards of proof. Bader also referenced Samantha's and Erica's Torch pieces on the matter over at In student news, Will was quoted offering objections to the OCR guidance in an article by Samantha Forcum of the Daily Nexus, the University of ...

Columnist Mona Charen Highlights FIRE’s Efforts Following New OCR Threat to Students’ Rights

Friday, May 20th, 2011

Nationally syndicated columnist Mona Charen discusses FIRE's ongoing fight for students' rights in the wake of the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights' (OCR's) newly required standard of evidence for campus sexual misconduct cases in her column today. In her piece, "The Tyranny of Hurt Feelings," Charen pays close attention to how the lowered standard will contribute to an atmosphere already plagued by overly vague and broad harassment codes. Charen shares FIRE's concerns about the potential for extensive violations of students' rights:

The OCR's demand is consistent with two decades of "speech codes" and sexual harassment standards at American universities that seek to micromanage speech and thought. Greg Lukianoff believes that students are being trained at colleges to "unlearn liberty." As the definition of what constitutes "harassment" expands, the First Amendment freedoms Americans take for granted contract. It's a tyranny of protected feelings extending into ever more ridiculous realms.

A student at the University of New Hampshire was found guilty of harassment because he posted flyers in his dorm jokingly suggesting that female students who wanted to lose weight take the stairs instead of the elevators. A student at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis was found guilty of thought crime. ...

How Would the Kerry-McCain "Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights" Affect State Security and Privacy Laws?

Friday, May 20th, 2011

We’ve previously written about the Kerry-McCain "Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights," which tries to create a general federal privacy framework rooted in the Fair Information Practices (although we’re not sure how well it succeeds). Currently, federal privacy law is sector-specific, often applying only to certain types of information or certain categories of "covered entities," and thus leaving gaps in privacy protection. A good comprehensive federal privacy law could fill those gaps.

At the same time, privacy advocates are also fans of state privacy laws. States are often privacy innovators. A classic example is California’s pioneering data breach notification law, which helped shed light on just how often (and how badly) holders of our personal data mess up—and has since been copied by many states. There’s still no federal breach notification law.

More generally, many states have laws that authorize state officials (and in more limited circumstances, consumers) to bring consumer protection lawsuits against unfair or deceptive trade practices. In California, Business & Professions Code § 17200 can be enforced not only by the state attorney general but also by: 58 county district attorneys; 5 city attorneys (for each of the cities with populations over 750,000); and full-time city attorneys ...

Public cursing at ex-girlfriend leads to criminal conviction

Friday, May 20th, 2011

Don’t curse an ex-girlfriend in public. That appears to be the hard lesson learned by a Wisconsin man who apparently couldn’t control his emotions when seeing his former love in a Target store.

Read all about it.

Apple Should Stand Up and Defend its Developers

Friday, May 20th, 2011

Update: We were pleased to learn that Apple has decided to stand up for its developers. Its detailed letter to Lodsys, sent yesterday, explains in no uncertain terms why the patent infringement allegations are baseless and improper. Let's hope this ends the matter.

We've been waiting expectantly for Apple to step up and protect the app developers accused of patent infringement solely for using a technology that Apple required they use in order to sell their apps in Apple's App Store. Apple's failure to defend these developers is troubling and highlights at least two larger problems: patent trolls and developers' vulnerability when harassing and counter-productive patent litigation comes around.

In case you missed it, Lodsys – a troll whose sole business model is owning and suing on patents – has sent letters to many of Apple's app developers accusing them of infringing a patent that covers the in-app purchasing functionality that Apple provides as part of its operating system. In addition to these accusations, Lodsys' letters demanded payment. Unfortunately, suing app developers – who often lack the resources required to defend a lawsuit – is a trend we’re seeing more and more often.

What’s different here, however, is ...