Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

CIA declassifies WWI-era secret documents

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

WASHINGTON — The CIA lifted the lid on one corner of the cloak and dagger world of World War I, declassifying six of the oldest secret documents in the U.S. government archives, the agency announced yesterday.

The documents show top techniques used by spies, generals and diplomats to send secret messages in a diplomatic war that raged long after the guns stopped. The records reveal how invisible ink was used to send word between allies, and how spies learned to open letters to read each other's secrets without leaving a trace.

One document suggests this method for passing secret messages: soaking a handkerchief or collar in a mixture of nitrate, soda and starch, then drying the fabric. The chemicals come out when the cloth is placed in water. The liquid becomes invisible ink that can be loaded into a pen and used to write a message. The recipient develops the writing by applying a second chemical, iodate of potassium.

There's even a document written in French of the Germans' secret ink formula, showing the French had cracked the enemy's code.

"These documents remained classified for nearly a century until recent advancements in technology made it possible to release them," CIA ...

Federal judge: First Amendment protects neo-Nazi’s Web posts

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

CHICAGO — A federal judge ruled yesterday that a Chicago jury was wrong when it convicted a white supremacist of using his website to solicit violence against a juror in another case, saying the posts were protected by the First Amendment.

The decision cleared the way for William White of Roanoke, Va., to be released from a Chicago prison. The self-styled leader of the American National Socialist Workers Party has been in prison almost continuously since 2008.

In January the avowed neo-Nazi was convicted of one count of solicitation for publishing a juror’s name, photograph, home address, phone numbers and sexual orientation in 2008 on his website — The now-defunct site regularly attacked nonwhites, Jews and homosexuals and expressed approval for acts of violence. The juror had been foreman of a jury that convicted another white supremacist, Matthew Hale, of soliciting the murder of a federal judge.

But U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman reversed the conviction against White yesterday and denied a request by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald to stay the proceedings.

In the decision, Adelman wrote that “the government failed to present sufficient evidence” that the posts online were to solicit harm to the juror. “I further find ...

Court limits inmate lawsuits over religious rights

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled today that a federal law intended to protect the religious rights of prison inmates bars most lawsuits that seek money from states that violate the law.

The Court said in a 6-2 decision in Sossamon v. Texas that inmates may file suit to force states to change their policies, but without the threat of monetary damages that might cause states to speed those changes.

The Obama administration and Christian groups warned that a ruling against the inmates would undermine the effectiveness of the 11-year-old law, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

The Court ruled in a suit filed by Texas prison inmate Harvey Sossamon, who complained that he was denied the chance to participate in Christian worship services.

Feds seek to shut down fake news sites featuring acai-berry diet

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

CHICAGO — Consumers searching for unbiased journalism on the acai-berry diet clicked their way into a scam, according to federal regulators who have filed lawsuits in six states in an attempt to shut down the alleged Internet tricksters.

The Federal Trade Commission announced yesterday that it had asked federal courts to stop a wave of fake news sites that entice consumers to buy the unproven weight-loss products.

The sites violate federal law by using the logos of major news outlets to mislead consumers into thinking they're reading real news reports, according to the court filings. In reality, the sites are advertisements.

Over the past seven days, the FTC filed complaints in federal courts in Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Georgia and Washington. The complaints named 10 website operators and asked the courts to freeze their assets.

The defendants paid more than $10 million to advertise their fake news sites, the FTC said. It's not clear whether the defendants allegedly running the sites are connected, although content on the sites is similar or the same, said FTC attorney Steven Wernikoff in Chicago.

"We're still trying to figure that out," Wernikoff told the Associated Press yesterday. "There was some copying of ...

Update: Friday Hearing Canceled in Battle Over Twitter Records’ Role in Wikileaks Investigation

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

UPDATE: Friday's hearing about whether the government can collect the private records of three Twitter users as part of its investigation related to Wikileaks has been canceled.

Alexandria, VA - On Friday, April 22, at 10 a.m., a district court in Virginia will hear oral argument about whether the government can collect the private records of three Twitter users as part of its investigation related to Wikileaks.

Last month, following an initial challenge, a magistrate judge ruled in favor of the government and against the privacy rights of the users. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are challenging the magistrate's ruling on behalf of Birgitta Jonsdottir, an Icelandic parliamentarian who is appealing jointly with fellow Twitter users Jacob Appelbaum and Rop Gonggrijp. Also at issue is whether the users can learn which other Internet companies were ordered to turn over information about them to the government.

EFF cooperating counsel John Keker of Keker and Van Nest will urge the court Friday to require the government to protect the First Amendment freedoms of speech and association of the Twitter users and the Fourth Amendment rights of the users in their locations. ACLU attorney Aden Fine ...

See Below the Fold: La Salle Newspaper Rebels Against Administration’s Rule Requiring Prior Review

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

The Collegian, a student newspaper at La Salle University in North Philadelphia, is, in its own words, not what people typically expect of a college newspaper. For one, it lacks the freedom of the press enjoyed by many of its peer publications. As a recent editorial notes:

First and foremost, the Collegian is funded by the university. As such, La Salle is our publisher and has direct control over what ultimately gets printed.  This setup differs greatly from privately-held student newspapers, such as The Daily Collegian (Penn State University) or The Red and Black (University of Georgia), which have no such stipulations on their content, and act similarly to a traditional newspaper.


All of our content is posted to at least one day after the print issue hits newsstands.  This is because La Salle's administration requires prior review of our content to ensure that no inaccuracies or "potentially damaging material" are spread across the Internet, where anyone, even non-Lasallians can be affected by them.

The Collegian doesn't even have social media applications like Twitter accounts and Facebook pages because the administration fears that they would erode its powers of prior review.

La Salle is a private ...

Pentagon inquiry clears McChrystal of wrongdoing

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

WASHINGTON — A Pentagon inquiry into a Rolling Stone magazine profile of Gen. Stanley McChrystal that led to his dismissal as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan has cleared him of wrongdoing.

The probe's results released yesterday also called into question the accuracy of the magazine's report by Michael Hastings last June, which quoted anonymously people around McChrystal making disparaging remarks about members of President Barack Obama's national security team, including Vice President Joe Biden.

At the time he dismissed McChrystal, Obama said the general had fallen short of "the standard that should be set by a commanding general." The Defense Department inspector general's report, however, concluded that available evidence did not support the conclusion that McChrystal had violated any applicable legal or ethics standard.

"In some instances, we found no witnesses who acknowledged making or hearing the comments as reported," the Pentagon report said. "In other instances, we confirmed that the general substance of an incident at issue occurred, but not in the exact context described in the article."

The inspector general's report said it reviewed an unpublished Army investigation of the case and interviewed numerous eyewitnesses. It said McChrystal declined an invitation to provide sworn testimony, saying he ...

10th Circuit asked to rehear Secret Service lawsuit

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

DENVER — The U.S. Department of Justice has sided with attorneys for two Secret Service agents who were sued after arresting a man who confronted former Vice President Dick Cheney.

The department argues that the law protects agents when they’re making split-second decisions while protecting the president and vice president.

DOJ documents filed yesterday in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals support the agents’ request that the court overturn a three-judge panel’s ruling last month that allows a lawsuit filed by Steven Howards to proceed on First Amendment grounds.

Attorneys general from Colorado, Oklahoma, Utah, Wyoming, South Carolina and Vermont filed similar documents, arguing that the lawsuit would subject local police to lawsuits.

Secret Service agents arrested Howards in 2006, claiming he approached Cheney at a mall in Beaver Creek, west of Denver, and told him his Iraq War policies were disgusting and touched his shoulder.

Howards says in his lawsuit the arrest was done in retaliation for what he said. No federal charges were filed and state charges were dropped.

The court panel ruled that Howards could sue agents Virgil D. “Gus” Reichle Jr. and Dan Doyle on First Amendment grounds but threw out his Fourth Amendment claims ...

High court won’t hear appeal from Ky. Baptist Homes

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The Supreme Court has refused to hear a long-running dispute over public funding of a faith-based organization in Kentucky.

Lawyers for the former Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children had appealed to the high court after the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2009 that the lawsuit could proceed. The suit was filed in 2000 by three taxpayers and Alicia Pedreira, a lesbian who claimed religious discrimination in her firing from the center.

The appeals panel dismissed Pedreira's claim but allowed the suit's challenge to public funding of faith-based institutions to proceed.

Alex Luchenitser, an attorney with Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said the plaintiffs were pleased with yesterday’s decision by the Supreme Court not to hear the case.

A lawyer for Kentucky Baptist Homes, now called Sunrise Children's Services, did not return a call seeking comment in time for this story.

Okla. governor signs new funeral-protest restrictions

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

OKLAHOMA CITY— Gov. Mary Fallin has signed a bill that further restricts protests at funerals.

The measure, S.B. 406, is aimed at members of a Topeka, Kan., church who protest at funerals of fallen U.S. soldiers. Westboro Baptist Church members claim that God is punishing the country for its tolerance of homosexuality.

The measure by state Sen. Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate, prohibits protests within two hours before or after a funeral. It also increases from 500 feet to 1,000 feet the distance from a funeral that a protest can occur.

Brecheen has said the bill targets protests by Westboro Baptist. The group has protested at the funerals of several soldiers in Oklahoma.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month in Snyder v. Phelps that Westboro Baptist could not be held liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress for members’ controversial speech during funeral protests. The Court did not address whether funeral-protest laws — such as the measure in Oklahoma — are constitutional.

The Republican governor says Oklahoma’s new law will help protect grieving families from people trying to exploit their suffering.

First Amendment Center Online staff contributed to this report.

Why Righthaven’s Copyright Assignment Is A Sham – And Why It Matters

Monday, April 18th, 2011

For several weeks EFF and co-counsel Fenwick & West have been trying to persuade a federal district court to unseal a critical document Stephens Media produced in Righthaven v. Democratic Underground. The document, the Strategic Alliance Agreement between Righthaven and Stephens Media (publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal), and our accompanying supplemental brief were unsealed on Friday.

As the court explained, “Righthaven and Stephens Media have attempted to create a cottage industry of filing copyright claims, making large claims for damages and then settling claims for pennies on the dollar, with defendants who do not want to incur the costs of defending the lawsuits.” While Righthaven’s business is suing bloggers for copyright infringement, it is not a publisher. It does not produce the works that are the basis for its numerous lawsuits. Instead, it trolls the Internet, looking for news articles published by Stephens Media (Las Vegas Review-Journal) or Media News Group ( Denver Post) and, when it finds them, gets the publisher to “assign” the copyright so it can file a lawsuit. At least, that was the public story.

Getting this assignment right was essential because copyright law does not permit a person ...

Attack on ‘blasphemous’ art work fires debate on role of religion in France

Monday, April 18th, 2011

When New York artist Andres Serrano plunged a plastic crucifix into a glass of his own urine and photographed it in 1987 under the title Piss Christ, he said he was making a statement on the misuse of religion.

Controversy has followed the work ever since, but reached an unprecedented peak on Palm Sunday when it was attacked with hammers and destroyed after an “anti-blasphemy” campaign by French Catholic fundamentalists in the southern city of Avignon.

The violent slashing of the picture, and another Serrano photograph of a meditating nun, has plunged secular France into soul-searching about Christian fundamentalism and Nicolas Sarkozy’s use of religious populism in his bid for re-election next year.

Read more.

More Bad News for Righthaven: Domain Name Claim Dismissed in DiBiase Case

Monday, April 18th, 2011

Nevada federal judge Roger Hunt was busy last week. In addition to his widely reported decision in Righthaven v. Democratic Underground to unseal Righthaven LLC’s business agreement with publisher Stephen Media – an agreement that shows Righthaven's claim of copyright ownership is a sham – Judge Hunt also granted Tad DiBiase’s motion to dismiss Righthaven’s request to seize his domain name. As the judge noted, there simply is no legal basis for Righthaven’s threat to seize domain names as a remedy for copyright infringment.

While this latter ruling was overshadowed by the unsealing of the Strategic Alliance Agreement, it represents a crucial precedent for other Righthaven victims. Righthaven always requests this relief in its complaints, and then uses the demand as leverage in settlement negotiations. As Righthaven CEO Steve Gibson said last year, the company sees the domain name threat as “something available to deter infringements.” Websites that have built up strong name recognition are highly reluctant to put that domain at risk.

Yet, as we explained in our motion to dismiss, the threat is utterly improper. The country’s most popular online destinations, like the New York Times, Amazon and Yahoo!, have faced copyright infringement allegations based on their ordinary ...

This Month in FIRE History: Victory for Freedom of Association at Central Michigan University

Monday, April 18th, 2011

In April 2007, FIRE won an important victory when Central Michigan University (CMU) reversed a policy banning ideological and political groups from "discriminating" on the basis of "political persuasion." The case holds important lessons for freedom of association on campus that remain particularly relevant in light of last year's 5-4 Supreme Court decision in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez.  

The controversy at CMU began with a student effort to derecognize the school's chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) because of the group's unpopular views. When this effort failed, students began to disrupt YAF meetings and created a Facebook group dedicated to formulating ideas for dismantling the YAF chapter. Upon seeing a post advocating that members of the Facebook group attend YAF meetings, vote students opposing YAF's mission into board positions, and thereby force YAF's dissolution, YAF President Dennis Lennox II approached the CMU administration to determine whether the group could deny membership to students who did not believe in the group's mission. Assistant Director of Student Life Thomas H. Idema, Jr. informed Lennox that doing so would violate the school's non-discrimination clause, which stated that a group "may not discriminate in its membership criteria or leadership criteria ...

Ariz. shooting suspect’s former college releases records

Monday, April 18th, 2011

PHOENIX — In the wake of the Tucson shooting rampage, the community college the suspect had attended worked to maintain its routine even as it was being flooded by news-media queries about Jared Lee Loughner, including whether he had threatened anyone on campus.

Pima Community College's efforts came to light on April 15 as it released some 3,000 pages of e-mails and documents related to Loughner since the Jan. 8 shooting that left 13 people wounded, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and six dead.

Loughner, who is being held on murder and other charges in the attack, began attending classes at the college in 2005, but was eventually kicked out because of behavior campus police considered disturbing. He was told to get a mental health evaluation or not return.

Media requests included questions about whether the college ever sought to get Loughner a mental health evaluation when he was a student or whether he had ever threatened to kill anyone on campus. The college either refused to answer questions or released short, prepared statements.

Shortly after the shooting, the Associated Press requested all of the college's e-mails mentioning Loughner in 2010, prompting the school to hand over six e-mails from late ...

Tenn. county to display plaque featuring Ten Commandments

Monday, April 18th, 2011

DECATUR, Tenn. — The Meigs County Commission has decided to post a plaque featuring the Ten Commandments, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence at the county courthouse.

"We are going to hang them," county Mayor Garland Lankford said after the commission's work session on April 14. "We are only doing what several counties have done. If we are told to take them down, by an official source, we would, but not just because one person complains about them."

Lankford’s comments were made during a meeting in which he was overcome with emotion while saying he was accepting the plaque for the people of Meigs County.

The plaque was donated by June Griffin of Tennessee For the Ten Commandments Committee.

"This is a gift from the citizens of Rhea County. You all have the right to decorate your courthouse," Griffin said. "We stand upon the 9th and 10th Amendments (of the U.S. Constitution) — your right to do what you want to in this county."

Meigs resident Kim Duckett made an impassioned plea to the commission.

"We did do a petition to show that the Meigs County people do want this. People love God and his word needs ...

R.I. considers statewide cyberbullying ban

Saturday, April 16th, 2011

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Rhode Island schools would have a single, statewide policy to address cyberbullying under legislation being reviewed in the General Assembly.

The proposed policy would give teachers and administrators a uniform procedure to respond to bullying reports, notify parents and discipline students. It's designed to address what educators say is a growing problem of students using e-mail, text messages and social networking sites to bully or humiliate their peers.

The Senate Judiciary Committee reviewed the proposal on April 13. Minor changes are expected before the bill receives a vote. Several states have adopted similar standards.

Many Rhode Island schools already have policies in place to deal with cyberbullying. But the bill's main sponsor, state Sen. Beatrice Lanzi, D-Cranston, said uniform rules would make it simpler for parents, teachers and students to understand.

"This is happening across school districts," she said. "A kid from one school will post something about another child, and before you know it hundreds of students in both districts are talking about it."

It would be up to state education officials to work out the details of the policy.

Tim Duffy, executive director of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, says teachers and administrators ...

How China Gags its Media

Friday, April 15th, 2011
Government propaganda machine restricts reporting, issues 'approved' copy.

This Week in the News: Whistleblowing UCLA Professor Still Making Headlines and Hamilton College Wins Muzzle Award

Friday, April 15th, 2011

UCLA's gross violation of the rights of Dr. Enstrom, the whisteblowing professor fighting for his job after being told he did not fit his department's "mission," continued to elicit outrage in the media this week. Debra Saunders of the San Francisco Chronicle published both a column (reprinted in and a shorter blog post (containing's video on the case) criticizing the university's actions. Also don't miss Adam's excellent interview about the case with Mike Slater of The Mike Slater Show.

Up north, Hamilton College earned a Muzzle Award for forcing all first-year male students to attend "She Fears You," a lecture by Keith Edwards that he described as an "emotional and cognitive intervention" aiming to teach that certain views about masculinity will be "no longer acceptable in any way." For those who missed Adam's excellent post (reprinted by The Moral Liberal) on the topic, Muzzle Awards are "awarded" annually by the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression to those who engage in "egregious or ridiculous affronts to free expression."

An article by Daniel P. Bader in the Utica Observer-Dispatch (Utica, NY) about Hamilton's Muzzle Award features quotes from Adam and Hamilton College ...

NCAC and FAP Send Letter To Marin Civic Center re: Nudes Censorship

Friday, April 15th, 2011
As blogged earlier this week, admins at the Marin Civic Center censored a painting of a nude female from an annual art show because an employee claimed it constituted sexual harassment. This morning, NCAC and the First Amendment Project sent Marin County a letter to show them the error of their ways. In it, we [...]

Gainesville State College Remains Unaccountable for Censorship of Faculty Artwork

Friday, April 15th, 2011

Gainesville State College (GSC) in Georgia is defending its censorship of a faculty member's painting involving the Confederate flag. FIRE has come to the defense of art instructor Stanley Bermudez, whose painting portraying the Confederate flag in a critical context was removed by administrators from a faculty art exhibition. Disappointingly, GSC has so far not seen fit to respond to FIRE's concerns and affirm the First Amendment rights of its students and faculty. Hopefully it will reverse courseand soon.

As we discussed in our March 8 Torch post, Bermudez's painting, titled "Heritage?", was featured as part of GSC's 2011 Faculty Biennial Exhibition. The painting depicts torch-wielding members of the Ku Klux Klan and a lynching superimposed onto a Confederate flag. After the painting was publicly criticized on the blog Southern Heritage Alerts, GSC President Martha T. Nesbitt removed it on January 25, without notifying or consulting either Bermudez or the director of the gallery where it was displayed. The next day, at an official reception for the exhibition, the space where "Heritage?" had previously hung for two weeks was empty, except for the personal statement Bermudez had prepared to place next to the painting.

Following the censorship, ...

Jaclyn Talks to About FIRE’s Summer Internship Program

Friday, April 15th, 2011

Jaclyn Hall, Associate Director of the Campus Freedom Network, was recently interviewed by's Eye of the Intern blog about FIRE's ten-week Summer Internship Program for undergraduates. Jaclyn, a former FIRE intern herself, talked about how to get involved in the free speech movement, what prospective interns can do to stand out from the crowd, and how they can really shine during and, perhaps more importantly, after their internships.

FIRE looks forward to the arrival of its newest summer interns on June 6. In the meantime, Torch readers are strongly encouraged to check out Jaclyn's interview in its entirety.

SPLC Open Letter to Obama: What World Press Freedom Day 2011 Can Mean for Students’ Rights

Friday, April 15th, 2011

May 3, 2011, kicks off the first-ever U.S.-hosted World Press Freedom Day, an event established in 1993 to commemorate the underlying principles of press freedom and draw attention to the frequent hurdles journalists face to keep the public informed. In anticipation of the event, the Student Press Law Center (SPLC), one of our frequent allies in defending free speech on campus, has issued an open letter to President Obama that appears in The Washington Post today as a half-page advertisement (page A21). FIRE is proud to be one of the signatories. While we join the SPLC in its enthusiasm for the event, we also join the SPLC in its desire to use the event as an opportunity to acknowledge the areas in which America's free expression freedoms fall short and how they can be improved to respect the First Amendment in its entirety.

The letter, signed by an impressive coalition of 38 different free expression and journalism organizations, asks President Obama and his administration to

publicly acknowledge the unfinished work of press freedom in our own nation, to denounce the shameful practice of stifling candid discussion of school issues, and to ensure that this World Press Freedom Day concludes ...

YouTube Sends Users To Copyright School: Will Content Owners Have to Go, Too?

Friday, April 15th, 2011

YouTube announced its new and “improved” copyright policies yesterday, and it’s a mixed bag for YouTube users: they have a new opportunity to remove strikes on their accounts, but they have to watch some copyright propaganda first.

First, credit where it is due: YouTube is doing the right thing by jettisoning its one-size-fits-all three strikes termination policy. As YouTube recognizes, legitimate users may nonetheless get hit with takedown notices, and a repeat infringer policy should account for the fact that “there are different degrees of on-line infringement, from the inadvertent and noncommercial, to the willful and commercial.” We’ve suggested broader changes, but this is an important step in the right direction. We're also glad to see that the re-vamped “Copyright Education Center” contains good resources on fair use.

However, YouTube is also now requiring users who receive takedown notices to go to “copyright school," and that school has a pretty misleading curriculum.

As an initial matter, if YouTube is going to ask users to learn more about copyright when they get a takedown notice, they should require the same of rightsholders whose takedowns are disputed. As we have been reminded all too often, many content owners are badly in need ...

Introducing Ari Cohn

Friday, April 15th, 2011

We are pleased to introduce the newest member of the FIRE team: Ari Cohn. Ari is an attorney from Chicago, and thanks to the generosity of Mayer Brown LLP, Ari is able to join FIRE as a legal fellow until he begins work at the firm's Chicago office this fall. Ari graduated cum laude from Cornell Law School in 2010, and from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2007, where he studied political science and sociology.

Here are Ari's own words to describe what drew him to FIRE:

I've always been kind of a First Amendment nerd. And I think that exposure to academic freedom issues actually helped develop my First Amendment fascination and led me to develop a more nuanced understanding as well.

I had a really great professor at the University of Illinois who would often spend substantial time extolling the virtues of the ‘marketplace of ideas' and lecturing us on the academic freedom issues of the day. He would eventually become a mentor and a role model, and often challenged my ideas and encouraged me to go out and find others who would likewise challenge everything I thought I knew. Throughout the years I found that ...

Pa. newspaper sued for publishing wrong mug shot

Friday, April 15th, 2011

ERIE, Pa. — The Erie Times-News says it is being sued by a man whose mug shot mistakenly ran with a story the newspaper published about a robbery.

Gary N. Wiley, of Albion, is suing the newspaper because it published his picture with the story in April 2009, even though the defendant in the case was a different man with a similar name — Gary C. Wiley.

The newspaper says the photo it ran was a mug shot mistakenly provided by the Crawford County Correctional Facility in Meadville.

The newspaper says it printed a correction that explained the mistake.

Gary N. Wiley’s attorney, Paul Susko, says in a lawsuit filed April 12 that the Times Publishing Co. was “negligent” for publishing the photo in the newspaper and online and committed libel.

Executive Editor Rick Sayers has declined comment because the suit is ongoing.

7th Circuit dismisses legal challenge to National Day of Prayer

Friday, April 15th, 2011

MADISON, Wis. — A federal appeals court yesterday threw out a previous ruling that the National Day of Prayer was unconstitutional and ordered that a lawsuit challenging President Barack Obama's right to proclaim the day be dismissed.

A three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation did not have standing to sue because while it disagrees with the president's proclamation, that proclamation has not caused the group any harm.

"Hurt feelings differ from legal injury," the appeals court said in Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Obama.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled in April 2010 that the prayer day was unconstitutional because it amounted to a call for religious action. Crabb said the government can no more enact laws supporting a day of prayer than it can encourage citizens to fast during Ramadan, attend a synagogue or practice magic. The president appealed.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation issued a statement yesterday saying it would seek a review by the full appeals court. Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor called the decision cowardly.

"This decision is part of an ominous trend in the federal courts to deny Americans the right to challenge ...

Well-Meaning "Privacy Bill of Rights" Wouldn’t Stop Online Tracking

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

On Tuesday, Senators John McCain and John Kerry introduced the long-awaited Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights, a sweeping bill that covers online and offline data collection, retention, use, and dissemination practices. Unfortunately, the bill may fall short of what’s needed to protect our privacy.

This bill fails to address many of the issues surrounding pervasive online tracking that have been raised by privacy advocates, explored in the Wall Street Journal’s What They Know series, and highlighted by the FTC’s recent Privacy Report. The bill’s most glaring defect is its emphasis on regulation of information use and sharing, rather than on the collection of data in the first place. For example, the bill would allow a user to opt out of third-party ad targeting based on tracking – but not third-party tracking. The consumer choice provisions in Section 202 apply only to data use—not collection—unless that data is both "sensitive" and "personally identifiable." Moreover, Part III of the bill, which imposes lax limits on collection, cannot be enforced by state Attorneys General. This is backwards: the privacy risk is not in consumers seeing targeted advertisements, but in the unchecked accumulation and storage of data about consumers’ ...

Extensive Article on Controversy Over Campus Christian Groups in ‘Deseret News’

Thursday, April 14th, 2011
Michael De Groote of the Deseret News (Salt Lake City) has penned an extensive article about the controversy over Christian groups on campus and the Supreme Court's decision last summer in CLS v. Martinez. The article includes a map from FIRE data as well as quotes from Greg and Adam. Check it out here.

‘Herald Journal’ Examines Utah State’s Red-Light Rating

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

Azhar was recently quoted in an article in The Herald Journal (Logan, Utah) about free speech restrictions at Utah State University (USU). Unfortunately, like 260 other schools in our Spotlight database, USU possesses a red-light rating, meaning that it has at least one policy that clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.  

While USU in fact has two red-light policies, the article focuses on just the "Responsibilities of Students" policy as outlined in the Code of Policies and Procedures for Students, which states that "All interactions ... shall be conducted with courtesy, civility, decency, and a concern for personal dignity."  

Azhar believes that the policy is too vague and encompasses protected expression: 

To require that of students, or else subject them to sanctions under the policy, goes too far. What we often tell universities with policies like this is if you want to encourage students to behave in decent ways, that's perfectly within your rights. But if you say you're requiring them to act this way, then you're actually hurting their freedoms.  

To find out more about the state of free speech at USU, including students' and administrators' thoughts on the issue, I suggest that you ...

CBLDF Stumps for Free Speech at Stumptown Comics Fest

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

CBLDF jets back to the West Coast this weekend for Stumptown Comics Fest 2011, April 16-17 at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, Oregon!

Like CBLDF, Stumptown is no stranger to volunteerism — it was started in 2004 by a group of dedicated volunteers who wanted to produce a comics show that focused on creators. Since, Stumptown has grown enormously in size and accolades, and this year looks to be the biggest show yet, chock full of spectacular comics guests! You’ll be able to find CBLDF at booth 308 throughout the show.

To get Stumptown off to a roaring start, the convention and sponsor Dark Horse Comics have assembled an all-star cast of creators to take part in an exclusive dinner auction, the proceeds of which benefit CBLDF! Where else could you join Matt Wagner (Grendel, Mage, Green Hornet, Sandman Mystery Theater), Eric Powell (The Goon), Brandon Graham (King City), Steve Lieber (Underground, Whiteout), Carla Speed McNeil (Finder), and more for a bite to eat?! The auction is on now, and you have until 10:00 a.m. PDT on Thursday to bid on one of ten seats at dinner, ...

Federal Court Protects Middle School Students’ Ability to Wear ‘I Heart Boobies’ Bracelets

Thursday, April 14th, 2011
A federal district court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania held this week that a middle school may not enforce its punishment of two students for wearing bracelets containing slogans such as "I (heart) boobies! (KEEP A BREAST)" on the school's designated breast cancer awareness day. The court found that these bracelets, which were designed to reduce taboos about women's bodies to encourage breast cancer screenings and exams, were protected by the First Amendment. According to the court, which addressed middle school speech, "[n]othing in this decision prevents a school from making a case by case determination that some speech is lewd and vulgar while other speech is not.  It should be clear, however, that a school must consider the contours of the First Amendment before it decides to censor student speech." View the court's opinion here.

Closing sexual-assault trial to minors OK, says Wis. appeals court

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

MADISON, Wis. — A Milwaukee judge lawfully closed a sexual-assault trial to children after deciding they shouldn't be exposed to graphic testimony, a state appeals court ruled yesterday.

Ronald Carpenter's case raises questions about when judges can restrict access to criminal trials and whom they can keep out of court. Carpenter's attorney, Paul Bonneson, maintains Carpenter was denied his right to a public trial and said he would ask the state Supreme Court to take the case, saying the state needs a broader ruling because the issue will keep coming up in sensitive trials ranging from sexual assaults to homicides.

"It's going to happen again," Bonneson said. "There are other cases with other unpleasant facts, like murder cases, where the facts can be pretty gruesome. How do you handle that with minors present?"

Steve Means, the executive assistant for the state Justice Department, which handles felony appeals for local prosecutors, said the agency agreed with the appeals court ruling in State of Wisconsin v. Carpenter.

"He can file his petition (to the Supreme Court) and we will respond," Means said.

Carpenter, now 39, was charged in November 2007 with kidnapping, false imprisonment and multiple counts of sexual assault. According to ...

Public-broadcasting funding survives largely intact

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

NEW YORK — Despite efforts to strip government funding for public broadcasting, PBS chief Paula Kerger said the federal budget deal retained most of the money that President Barack Obama had set aside for public television and radio stations.

The deal allocates nearly $430 million for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a 0.2% cut from what the president had proposed. PBS is also due to receive $6 million to help public TV stations make the transition to digital services, less than it had hoped for, and funding for an education initiative, the amount to be determined by the Department of Education, she said.

If passed by Congress and signed into law, the budget deal would make for another year when there was much talk about defunding public broadcasting, but no action.

Kerger, president and CEO of the Public Broadcasting Service, said the response of viewers and listeners was key. The advocacy group Association of Public Television Stations coordinated a lobbying effort that induced half a million people to send e-mails to congressional offices and more to make phone calls on behalf of public broadcasting.

"That changed everything," Kerger said. "As eloquent as we hope we can be to articulate the ...

Mass. expands obscenity law to e-mails, texts

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

BOSTON — Gov. Deval Patrick has signed into law a measure designed to close what critics describe as a loophole in state law that fails to protect minors from obscene electronic messages sent to them by suspected sexual predators.

The change was included in a supplemental budget approved by lawmakers. It would bar anyone from using electronic means to purposefully disseminate harmful material to a person they know or believe to be a minor.

The language is the latest effort to reconcile free-speech rights with the desire to protect children from predators who use tools such as the Internet, sexually explicit text messages or e-mails to entice their victims.

A federal judge put on hold an earlier attempt to bring the law up to date, saying that the wording was too broad.

Federal judge backs off-campus religious class

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

SPARTANBURG, S.C. — A federal judge has upheld a Spartanburg school district's program to give credit to students who take an off-campus religious class.

The Herald-Journal of Spartanburg reported that on April 5, Senior U.S. District Judge Henry Herlong agreed to allow Spartanburg District 7 to continue to offer credit for students who participate in the Bible education class.

The course has been offered by Spartanburg County Bible Education in School Time at a church next to Spartanburg High School since 2007.

Robert Moss, Ellen Tillett and the Freedom from Religious Foundation sued in 2009, saying that giving credit violates the First Amendment separation of church and state.

South Carolina law allows credit if the evaluation is based on secular criteria and no public money is used.

Herlong ruled in Moss v. Spartanburg County School District No. 7. that the plaintiffs’ “allegations fail to establish that the adoption and implementation of the School District’s released time policy has the principal effect of advancing religion.”

“Viewed from the perspective of an objective observer, the School District’s policy does no more than merely accommodate students’ desire to partake in religious instruction,” he wrote. “The School District, therefore, has remained faithful to the ...

First Amendment Rodeo 3/28-4/11

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011


Michigan Think Tank Asks 3 Universities for Labor Professors’ E-Mails

Wisconsin-Madison to Release Professor’s E-Mails but Withhold Those Said to Be Private

Epsilon Breach Raises Specter of Spear Phishing

Appeals Court Strengthens Warrantless Searches at Border

See also : The court’s opinion

Erasing the Digital Past

Education Department Proposes New Student Data Privacy Rules

See also: Proposed rule for comment (comment deadline is May 23, 2010)


Maine Governor Orders Removal of Labor Mural

See also:  LePage removes labor mural over the weekend
LePage’s sudden removal of mural spurs outrage

Censorship / Book Challenges

Books: From Here to Eternity uncensored 60 years later


ACLU Demands That Schools Stop Unconstitutional Web Filtering Of LGBT Content

Banned Books

Suzanne Collins, Sherman Alexie make list of challenged library books

Freedom of Speech

Litchfield Chabad rabbi leads protest against library’s hosting of Arab speaker

See also:
EDITORIAL: Israel, Litchfield and free speech: Library is right
Litchfield Lecture Fuels Debate About Anti-Semitism
Litchfield Lecture That Upset Rabbi Takes Place Without Incident
Human rights author presents book talk at Oliver Wolcott Library in Litchfield

Library cancels anti-abortion movie in face of protests

See also: Anti-abortion group plans to sue library director
Marathon Library Cancels ...

Please Read: Help FIRE Support Professor James Enstrom

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

Late last week, I sent a letter to FIRE's supporters via U.S. mail requesting their help. It's not often that a case is so egregious and has such wide-reaching negative consequences that FIRE asks for immediate resources to help us take action. Yet, that is exactly what we are facing in California, where scientists across the state are learning what happens to someone who challenges others' research in good faith. Now I'd like to share my thoughts on the situation with the Torch audience, and urge you to consider joining the many FIRE donors who have already pledged their support to FIRE as we fight to save Professor James Enstrom's job at UCLA.

Professor James Enstrom was let go from his job at UCLA after 34 years because he challenged scientific research that the California legislature used to enact policies regulating emissions from diesel fuel. Enstrom also was a successful whistleblower who exposed the fact that the lead "scientist" behind the original study that led to the new policies, Hien Tran, had falsely claimed to have a Ph.D. from UC Davis-when in fact, Tran had purchased it for $1,000 from a diploma mill. UCLA retaliated by telling Enstrom his research ...

Adam to Speak at American, Syracuse This Week

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

FIRE's Vice President of Programs Adam Kissel will speak at two colleges this week whose recent free speech controversies have drawn FIRE's scrutiny.

Today, Adam will speak at American University (AU) in Washington, D.C. He will discuss AU's speech codes, as well as a recent incident concerning the AU Student Government's (AUSG's) punishment of a student organization that had endorsed AUSG election candidates by revoking the group's endorsement "privileges."

Then, on Thursday, Adam will address students at Syracuse University College of Law (SUCOL). Syracuse earned a spot on FIRE's "12 Worst Colleges for Free Speech" list in The Huffington Post earlier this year for its investigation of student Len Audaer for "harassment" over a satirical fake-news blog about law school life.

American University
"Does AU Protect Freedom of Speech for Students?"
Wednesday, April 13, 7 p.m
Hughes Formal Lounge
University CenterCosponsored by AU Students for Liberty, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and SOC Undergraduate Council.

Syracuse University College of Law
"Violations of Free Speech at Private Universities"
Thursday, April 14, noon
SUCOL Room 204
Sponsored by the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy.

Reader Privacy Bill Passed Through California Senate Judiciary Committee

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

California has taken another big step towards updating reader privacy for the digital age. The State Senate Judiciary Committee passed through SB 602, the Reader Privacy Act, after hearing testimony from EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn and others in support of the bill Tuesday.

As Cindy told the judiciary committee, the books we choose to read reveal private information about our political and religious beliefs or interests, our health concerns, our financial situation, and our personal and professional lives. Maintaining reader privacy is fundamental to the dignity of Californians, and this principle is well ensconced in state law. However, with the market for digital books exploding, the law needs an update for the 21st Century.

Digital book services, libraries, and bookstores collect far more information than physical bookstores and libraries do. The data can include books browsed, how long a page is viewed, and even the electronic notes written in the margins. It's not hard to see the detailed portrait this could paint of your life. Without legislative protection, that information is a tempting target for the government or other litigants, like those involved in divorce cases, custody battles, or insurance disputes.

SB 602, introduced by California Senator Leland ...

Colo. officials vote to settle lawsuit over jail mail

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

BOULDER, Colo. — Boulder County has approved settling a lawsuit over a policy that restricted county jail inmates' outgoing mail to postcards.

The Longmont Times-Call reported that the county commissioners yesterday approved a settlement with the Colorado chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. The county will pay $65,000 in attorneys' fees to the organization and will allow inmates to use paper and envelopes.

Authorities say the mail will be inspected and stamped as uncensored inmate mail.

The ACLU sued last year when Boulder County started limiting outgoing jail mail to postcards. The group said the policy violated inmates' constitutional right of free speech.

Officials say they adopted the policy after sex offenders sent children letters addressed to a third party, who forwarded the letters.

El Paso County has revoked a similar policy.

Pa. students can wear ‘boobies’ bracelets for now

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

PHILADELPHIA — Breast cancer fundraising bracelets that proclaim "I (heart) boobies!" are not lewd or vulgar and can't be banned by public school officials who find them offensive, a federal judge in Pennsylvania said yesterday in a preliminary ruling.

The ruling in H. v. Easton Area School District is a victory for two Easton girls suspended for defying a ban on wearing the bracelets on their middle school's Breast Cancer Awareness Day.

"The bracelets ... can reasonably be viewed as speech designed to raise awareness of breast cancer and to reduce stigma associated with openly discussing breast health," U.S. Judge Mary McLaughlin wrote in a 40-page ruling issued yesterday. She added that the school district had not shown the bracelets would be disruptive in school.

The American Civil Liberties Union, representing the girls, had sued to overturn the ban and stop the school from punishing their clients. McLaughlin issued a temporary injunction that bars the Easton Area School District from banning the $4 rubber bracelets until the case goes to trial.

The judge heard testimony from the students and school administrators in December.

Easton school officials argue the slogan suggests a sexual double entendre and leads to in-school distractions. They ...

Obama administration, BP win Muzzle awards

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

Oil giant BP and the Obama administration were among the winners of the 20th Annual Jefferson Muzzle awards, a dubious distinction bestowed today by the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression to spotlight the worst censors of the previous year.

BP and the federal government appeared on the list for their roles in restricting news media access to the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The Obama administration joins every other presidency over the past 20 years as a Muzzle winner, said Robert O’Neil, the center’s director. “No administration has passed unscathed over this time period.”

O’Neil said there was a “sharing of responsibility” between BP and the administration but there certainly was “evidence of culpability on the part of the Administration” in limiting media access.

Other Muzzle winners include:

  • The Transportation Security Administration, which arrested a passenger who stripped to his shorts to bare the text of the Fourth Amendment on his chest to protest increased security measures such as body scans.

  • The Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, for removing a work of video art that included an 11-second display of ants on a crucifix.

  • The Virginia Department of Corrections, for denying prisoners access to the book ...
  • Nudes In The News! Marin County Civic Center Censors Artist

    Tuesday, April 12th, 2011
    The Marin County Civic Center has chosen to eliminate a nude painting by San Rafael artist Sylvia Cossich Goodman from a public exhibition. The full-frontal nude was accepted through what we can assume was a standard submission process, and was up in public for a week. So why take it down now? Because an employee [...]

    ‘San Francisco Chronicle’ and Others Criticize UCLA’s Treatment of Whistleblowing Professor

    Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

    Torch readers by now may be quite familiar with the story of Dr. James Enstrom, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) scientist and professor who is fighting for his job after being told he did not fit his department's "mission," in retaliation for critiquing some of the California Air Resources Board's (CARB's) scientific findings, as well as his whistleblowing on a CARB scientist with a fake Ph.D. and other problems at CARB.

    I reported last week on the media outrage that erupted concerning the case. UCLA's gross violation of Enstrom's rights continues to draw criticism in the media. Today, Debra Saunders of the San Francisco Chronicle published both a column and a shorter blog post (containing's video on the case) criticizing the university's actions. You also don't want to miss Adam's excellent interview about the case with Mike Slater of The Mike Slater Show.

    Sony v. Hotz Ends With a Whimper, I Mean a Gag Order

    Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

    After months of expensive litigation, Sony has finally settled its case against George Hotz and dismissed the remaining defendants from the case. Was it worth the thousands Sony paid in lawyers fees? That depends on Sony’s motivation.

    What Sony gets in the settlement (based on the final judgment filed yesterday): George Hotz agrees to leave Sony alone. Really alone. Since Hotz has announced he’s joining the boycott of Sony products, that may not seem like much to give up. But Hotz has agreed to do more than simply avoid hacking any Sony products; he has agreed not to even link to anyone else’s research on Sony products, or to share any Sony confidential information he might receive, even if he obtains it legally. In other words, Hotz is now under a gag order.

    But the rest of us are not. Hotz’s research remains public information. The security flaws discovered by the researchers allow users to run Linux on their machines again — something Sony used to support but recently started trying to prevent. So all Sony has really accomplished is to silence one lonely researcher, and anger loyal customers. Hardly seems worth it, right?

    Unless you assume that Sony had ...

    Win an Auction to Feast with Comics Greatest During Stumptown!

    Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

    Join Stumptown Comics Fest, sponsor Dark Horse Comics, and CBLDF for a unique dining opportunity with some of Stumptown’s top comics guests!

    Your winning eBay bid snags you one seat at this exclusive dinner event on Friday, April 15, at BridgePort BrewPub in Portland’s historic Pearl District. In addition to dinner, you’ll get a free sketch from each of our special guest artists and a weekend pass to the 8th Annual Stumptown Comics Fest!

    The artists you’ll be dining with include Matt Wagner (Grendel, Mage, Green Hornet, Sandman Mystery Theater), Eric Powell (The Goon), Brandon Graham (King City), Steve Lieber (Underground, Whiteout), and Carla Speed McNeil (Finder), just to name a few! Each artist is available to provide you with complimentary custom sketches of your favorite characters (paper will be provided).

    Any artwork not completed at the dinner itself will be available for pickup at CBLDF booth 308 during the Stumptown Comics Fest, which takes place at the Oregon Convention Center on April 16-17.

    Proceeds from this auction benefit CBLDF, so please, bid generously! Bidding starts at $30 per ticket, with only 10 tickets available. Act soon, because ...

    Do the Companies that Hold Your Data Stand with Users?

    Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

    What happens when governments go to your online service providers seeking information about you? Birgitta Jonsdottir, Rop Gonggijp and Jacob Appelbaum use online social networks to communicate about social and political causes – including their support for the online whistleblower website Wikileaks. But their decision to back Wikileaks drew the attention of the U.S. government.

    In connection with its investigation into Wikileaks, the Department of Justice issued a secret order to Twitter demanding the account information of Birgitta, Rop and Jacob. The order included a "gag" – meaning Twitter wasn’t allowed to talk about it. In fact, it wasn’t even allowed to tell Birgitta, Rop and Jacob about the government order for their account information.

    That could have been the end of it – but Twitter chose to stand with their users. Rather than silently acquiesce, Twitter stood up and fought the secret demand. It won the right to tell the three Twitter users about the government order – giving them an opportunity to seek legal counsel and fight for their right to privacy.

    Other Internet companies have stood up for users before, and still others have taken further steps to challenge overbroad orders directly and let the ...

    Proclaim Your Love for Banned Comics With This All-New T-shirt!

    Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

    You can announce to the world your support of CBLDF and Free Speech with this 100% cotton t-shirt, emblazoned with a blue logo announcing the you read banned comics! Conceived by noted designer and Eisner-nominated letterer Jared K. Fletcher, you are guaranteed to be the coolest kid on the block every time you put on this shirt! Available now!

    Humble Frozenbyte Bundle: Don’t be left out in the cold

    Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

    For the next 14 days, you can get the newly-released Humble Frozenbyte Bundle! Like the first two bundles, you pay what you want to download five independent, DRM-free, cross-platform computer games, and choose to divide your money between the game developers, Child’s Play, and EFF. The Frozenbyte Bundle includes Trine, Shadowgrounds Survivor, the unpublished game Splot, and gaming prototype Jack Claw, in which you get to rampage through a city, throw cars, and generally cause mayhem.

    Last year, the Humble Bundle’s innovative business model and their customers raised $500,000 for EFF. They proved yet again that consumers, given the right opportunities, will support content they want—without having to be sued, surveilled, or censored into compliance. EFF continues to protect freedom and innovation in the gaming world, whether we are arguing for the right of gamers to speak anonymously, defending video games from unconstitutional censorship, or protecting your right to resell, modify, or copy the games you have purchased. To find out more about our work related to video games, visit our latest issue page.

    Get your bundle today to support indie gaming and two important nonprofits!