Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Beijing Offers Quake Aid To Japan

Saturday, March 12th, 2011
Chinese media coverage of the biggest tremor to hit Japan is limited.

Religious group sues N.H. town for sign-permit denial

Saturday, March 12th, 2011

CONCORD, N.H. — A New Hampshire religious group is suing the town of Chichester after local planners denied a permit to erect a 12-foot-high electronic sign to display Bible verses on busy Route 4.

The group, named Signs for Jesus, says the 4-3 vote last month to deny the permit violated their free-speech and equal-protection rights. They say a tractor store less than a mile away received approval in January to construct an electronic sign.

The planning board said the permit was denied because members felt it would pose safety concerns by distracting drivers with lengthy messages at a busy intersection.

Signs for Jesus plaintiffs, in their lawsuit filed this week in federal court in Concord, say the sign approved for the Bobcat tractor sales company one mile east is roughly the same display dimension as the sign they want to erect — 4 by 6 feet.

The town's zoning board of appeals and the state Department of Transportation both approved the Signs for Jesus proposal, with DOT saying it would not pose a traffic hazard.

"It's content-based discrimination," said attorney Michael Tierney, a member of the Alliance Defense Fund, which represents the religious group. The ADF is a national ...

Have You Benefited from Public Access to PubMed?

Friday, March 11th, 2011

April 7, 2011 marks the third anniversary of a groundbreaking policy that has dramatically improved access to a trove of medical and scientific knowledge. Whenever the National Institutes of Health (NIH) allocates taxpayer money for scientific research, the much-heralded NIH Public Access Policy ensures that the fruits of that research are made freely available to the same taxpayers that funded it. Every day, NIH's free PubMed Central database provides valuable research data to students, academics, and individuals looking for up-to-date knowledge about health issues. Alongside other members of the Alliance for Taxpayer Access, EFF has long supported this common-sense initiative -- taxpayers, after all, pay for a great deal of NIH research, and this policy simply gives them access to the research they fund.

To celebrate the third anniversary of this policy, the Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) is launching a campaign to raise awareness about the benefits of public access to taxpayer-funded research. They have issued a call for stories -- a chance for users to explain how they have benefited from the NIH databases. If you have found articles on PubMed Central to be useful, please submit a story. This is your chance to tell the ...

This Week in the News: Adam’s Vanderbilt Speech Still Provoking Discussion

Friday, March 11th, 2011

Torch readers will remember that Adam delivered a speech at Vanderbilt University on February 23rd about Vanderbilt's restrictive policies and free speech violations at other institutions. Trevor Williams of The Vanderbilt Torch (no relation) was the most recent author to write about Adam's critique of Vanderbilt's sexual harassment policy, community creed, and other speech-restrictive policies.

Out west, the Idaho State Board of Education voted to suspend the Idaho State University (ISU) Faculty Senate on February 17, just one week after the Faculty Senate recorded a vote of no confidence in ISU President Arthur C. Vailas. A recent post in The Chronicle of Higher Education mentioned FIRE's letter to President Vailas, in which we called the state board's suspension of the Faculty Senate a "dire threat to academic freedom and faculty governance."

The Supreme Court of the United States ruled last week in Snyder v. Phelps that the First Amendment protected the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) from civil liability for staging an anti-gay, anti-soldier, and anti-you-name-it protest at a military funeral. This week, FIRE Board of Advisors member Nat Hentoff commended the Court's decision and praised FIRE for its support of WBC's right to free speech in an article published at ...

Blogger Detained for Subversion

Friday, March 11th, 2011
Chinese police seize a dissident writer, warn his wife against using Twitter.

Problematic ‘Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act’ Returns to Congress

Friday, March 11th, 2011

Yesterday, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) reintroduced the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. The legislation was first introduced last November, but failed to reach a vote before the end of the 111th Congress.

The exact text of the newly reintroduced bill is not yet available on, the Library of Congress' legislative information tracker, and as of this morning, neither Senator Lautenberg's nor Representative Holt's offices were able to provide the exact text or to confirm that the text of the legislation is unchanged. However, Senator Lautenberg's press release indicates that the new bill will mirror the previously introduced legislation. According to Senator Lautenberg's press release, if enacted the legislation would:

require colleges and universities that receive federal student aid to have in place a policy that prohibits harassment of students based on their actual or perceived race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religion.  Schools would have to distribute that policy to all students, along with information about the procedure to follow should an incident of harassment occur, and notify students of counseling, mental health, and other services available to victims or perpetrators of ...

Administrative Priorities at UNLV Law

Friday, March 11th, 2011
From TaxProfBlog comes word that the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, which needs to fill a $2.26 million budget hole at its William S. Boyd School of Law, has decided to raise law school tuition and fees by a total of approximately $2.2 million (a 15-20 percent hike to the $20,000 in-state tuition and $33,400 out-of-state tuition for each student) while cutting a mere $68,351 from its operating budget and shedding a grand total of zero faculty or staff positions. You have to wonder: if UNLV law is so uniquely free of administrative bloat that $68,351 is really all it can afford to cut, why not just admit a couple extra students and make no cuts at all?

Va. Supreme Court to Hear Appeal Involving ‘Climategate’ and Academic Freedom

Friday, March 11th, 2011
Last week, the Supreme Court of Virginia agreed to hear an appeal by Kenneth Cuccinelli II, Attorney General of Virginia, regarding his investigation of former University of Virginia professor Michael Mann for possible fraud involving Mann's environmental research. A lower court had set aside his investigative demands without ruling on whether fraud had been committed. FIRE had expressed concern over the academic freedom implications of such a broad request for documents in such an investigation.

Senate panel approves Patriot Act extensions

Friday, March 11th, 2011

WASHINGTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee voted yesterday to extend until the end of 2013 three post-Sept. 11 terror-fighting practices that have raised concerns among civil liberties groups.

At the same time, the legislation, which was approved on a 10-7, mainly party-line vote, would end in December 2013 the investigative tool known as National Security Letters that compel businesses to turn over customer records without a judge's order.

Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., sought to answer criticisms of the provisions that would be extended — two from the post-Sept. 11 Patriot Act — by including new privacy and civil liberty safeguards and increasing oversight.

He said the bill, which now goes to the full Senate, strikes a balance between protecting both national security and civil liberties.

The measure would extend through 2013 the Patriot Act authorities to use roving wiretaps on multiple electronic devices and to obtain court-approved access to business records considered relevant to terrorist investigations.

It likewise extends authority for secret intelligence surveillance of non-American, "lone wolf" suspects not linked to specific terrorist groups, part of a 2004 intelligence act.

Congress has had to enact several short-term extensions of the three measures because of the ongoing debate over ...

Next hearings: radical Muslims in prison

Friday, March 11th, 2011

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee is pressing forward with his public examination of Muslim extremism in America, pointing to his first, tense hearing on the subject as a step toward desensitizing a taboo topic and rooting out terrorists on U.S. soil.

"There's an elephant in the room and nobody wants to talk about it. We talked about it today," Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said after the four-hour, emotion-filled session yesterday.

Just holding the conversation, he said, advanced the fight against al-Qaida's efforts to recruit one-man terrorist cells from within American Muslim communities and to suppress any effort to report those activities to law enforcement officials.

King said he would turn next to the issue of Muslim extremism in American prisons in hearings planned later this year.

"I remain convinced that these hearings must go forward — and they will," King said as he opened yesterday's session.

The conversation — a government examination of one religion in the U.S. — is fraught with distrust and politics that reflect the nation's ongoing struggle against terrorism nearly a decade after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

With photos of the burning World Trade Center and the Pentagon on display, ...

Broncos’ Cox waives hearing after judge rules it should be public

Friday, March 11th, 2011

CASTLE ROCK, Colo. — Details of sexual-assault allegations against Denver Broncos cornerback Perrish Cox will remain secret, for now.

Cox attorney Harvey A. Steinberg waived his client's right to a preliminary hearing, where investigators present evidence in court, after a judge ruled yesterday that it should be public. Steinberg argued that the public had no constitutional right to court proceedings leading up to trials.

Steve Zansberg, an attorney representing the Associated Press, the Denver Post and The New York Times, disagreed, calling closing such a hearing in Colorado unprecedented and noted that a judge in a sexual assault case involving Kobe Bryant did not approve of a similar request. Charges were later dropped against Bryant.

"There's no reason in logic and in law to treat this case differently... merely because the defendant is a professional athlete," Zansberg argued in court.

Douglas County Judge Susanna Meissner-Cutler ruled that Steinberg, prosecutors and Craig Silverman, an attorney representing the accuser, did not sufficiently make their case and ordered the hearing held in public.

Meissner-Cutler set the case for trial after Steinberg waived the preliminary hearing. Cox will be in court May 16 for a hearing where he's expected to enter a plea.

After ...

FIRE Still Waiting on Wesleyan to Do Right on Student Rights

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

As Robert wrote here a couple of weeks ago, Wesleyan University has started to back down from its earlier intention to institute a new policy (effective this fall) thatin an effort to force the Beta Theta Pi fraternity to seek official recognition from Wesleyanwould have prohibited students from engaging in any social activities on the property of any unrecognized off-campus organization.

After a groundswell of student protest and a swarm of national media, spearheaded by FIRE's efforts, Wesleyan President Michael Roth promised to reconsider the policy and admitted its overbreadth. As he wrote in his official university blog on February 24:

I made two mistakes in this. First, the language (as many students have pointed out) is just too broad. Many students appear to see this as a threat to their freedom, and I want to be sensitive to that. The university has no interest in regulating the social lives of our students when they are away from campus, and the language we used suggests otherwise. We will change the language. My second mistake was not consulting enough with students ...

And since then ... well, nothing. The March 9 deadline by which FIRE asked for ...

Can China Cut Off The Internet?

Thursday, March 10th, 2011
Netizens in China say Beijing is experimenting with a number of tools that will further limit access to the Internet.

Ore. school bus driver loses job over Confederate flag

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

GRANTS PASS, Ore. — An Oregon school bus driver fired after he refused to remove a Confederate battle flag flying from his pickup truck has enlisted the help of a conservative civil liberties group in hopes of getting his job back.

The Rutherford Institute of Charlottesville, Va., sent a letter yesterday to First Student Bus Transportation Services demanding that Ken Webber of Medford be reinstated. The institute said flying the flag on the pickup truck while it was parked at the bus yard was protected by Webber's First Amendment right to free speech.

"These are important free-speech issues," said John Whitehead, institute president. "We are facing a crisis in this country of political correctness."

First Student spokeswoman Bonnie Bastian did not respond to a telephone call and e-mail for comment in time for this story.

Webber said he was fired on March 8 for gross insubordination after refusing for the second time to take the flag off his CB antenna while the truck was parked in the bus yard in Talent, which is owned by the Phoenix-Talent School District.

"The flag's flying," he said from Medford.

Phoenix-Talent schools Superintendent Ben Bergreen had demanded the flag be removed from school property, ...

News media win access to Loughner search-warrant records

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

TUCSON, Ariz. — Records of a police search of the home of the suspect in the Tucson shooting rampage were released yesterday after the judge overseeing the case granted news organizations’ request to unseal the files.

The Arizona Republic and KPNX-TV had argued that there was no basis for the records to remain sealed and that the public had a right to the documents. The search warrants, used by police to go into the home of Jared Lee Loughner after the Jan. 8 attack that killed six, had been sealed since Jan. 11.

Loughner’s attorneys had argued that their client’s right to a fair trial might be harmed by the release of the records. They said the documents contained potentially inflammatory statements by a law enforcement officer.

U.S. District Judge Larry Burns ruled yesterday that many of the records should be released. However, he said some files would remain sealed, such as any that contain information that may be inflammatory or that will not be admissible at trial.

The documents released yesterday show that police found two shotguns, ammunition and drawings of weapons in Loughner’s home. The search warrants also show police seized a printout of the U.S. Constitution, a ...

Ruling: Univ. of Ill. wrongly withheld student names

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

CHICAGO — A federal judge has ruled that the University of Illinois can’t use a federal privacy law to withhold the names of college applicants on a list of politically connected students at the heart of an admissions scandal.

The Chicago Tribune reported yesterday that U.S. District Judge Joan Gottschall ruled in the newspaper’s lawsuit against the university that the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act doesn’t require that students’ names, grade-point averages and test scores be withheld. The newspaper sought the names as part of its admissions reporting.

University spokesman Tom Hardy called the ruling a setback for privacy rights. The school hasn’t decided its next step.

The 2009 scandal over the admission of well-connected but underqualified students cost most university trustees their positions and President B. Joseph White his job.

Don’t Let TPP Become the Next ACTA: Contact Your Lawmakers and Demand Transparency!

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

Law Prof Suspended for Fake Classroom Examples Is Cleared by Committee

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

I reported last month that a law professor at Widener University in Delaware had been put on administrative leave and was barred from campus, 26 years into his teaching career at Widener, because of fake examples he used in his classes on criminal procedure. He even was facing dismissal. Now a campus committee has recommended that the charges be dropped.

"Instead of saying Plaintiff A or Defendant B, teachers use names that will grab the attention of students, wake them up from their distractions and make things memorable," his attorney, Thomas S. Neuberger, told the Philadelphia Inquirer last month.

According to Neuberger, professor Lawrence J. Connell was pressured to admit that he "was engaging in racist, sexist statements," mainly since his examples sometimes used the name of Widener Law School Dean Linda Ammons, who is a black woman. Connell refused to admit this, explaining later in an affidavit:

The hypotheticals often involve me, the students, and other law school actors familiar to the students. The law school actors have included, among others, Dean Ammons and her white male predecessors as well. The hypos engage the students, and the familiar characters enable them to remember the underlying rules and application.


Victory Over Transnational Libel Case Brought Against Book Review

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011
In a victory for academic freedom, the Tribunal de Grand Instance de Paris has ruled against a libel case brought against Prof. Joseph Weiler for’s review of The Trial Proceedings of the International Criminal Court. ICTY and ICTR Precedents, by Dr Karin N. Calvo-Goller. The judge ruled that Calvo-Goller engaged in forum shopping by [...]

Censorship and International Women’s Day

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011
Today is the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day! Censorship is about who has permission to speak about what in public. Women, both as speakers and subject, have often been marginalized or stricken from the public sphere, and so we’d like to provide some choice selections from NCAC’s work on censorship as it specifically impacts [...]

5 Favorite First Amendment Quotes: Matching Game

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

The First Amendment Center's David L. Hudson Jr. counts down his five favorite quotes from First Amendment jurisprudence here. The list includes a few FIRE favorites!

Can you match the quotation to the opinion?

1. "If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein."

2. "If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable."

3. "But, above all else, the First Amendment means that government has no power to restrict expression because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter, or its content."

4. "If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the process of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence."

5. "For, while the particular four-letter word being litigated here is perhaps more distasteful than most others of its genre, it is nevertheless ...

Rep. King: Hearings on Muslims in America will be fair

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

WASHINGTON — The Republican congressman who has organized controversial hearings into radical Islam called Muslims "part of the mosaic" of America and said yesterday that they shouldn't feel threatened or intimidated by his inquiry.

"If there is going to be animosity, I would blame it on my opponents," Rep. Peter King said in a nationally broadcast interview.

King, who heads the House Homeland Security Committee, has come under withering criticism for the hearings scheduled to begin tomorrow. Protests have already started, and comparisons to McCarthyism and the era of communist witch hunts are being heard.

In one appearance on morning television, King was asked if he was singling out the Muslim community rather than focusing on a more generalized terror threat against America.

"It might be politically correct, but it makes no sense to talk about other types of extremism, when the main threat to the United States today is talking about al-Qaida," King said. He noted that Attorney General Eric Holder has said there have been some 50 homegrown terrorists arrested in this country and that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the threat has never been higher.

"It would diffuse and water down the hearings" to broaden the ...

NPR CEO says resignation was necessary

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

WASHINGTON — National Public Radio President and CEO Vivian Schiller says she resigned this morning because it would have been too difficult for NPR to confront a possible loss of federal funding if she had remained in charge.

Schiller told the Associated Press that she resigned after a discussion with NPR's board of directors. She would not say whether she offered to quit or was asked to step down.

Her resignation comes a day after conservative activist James O'Keefe posted a hidden-camera video in which a fellow NPR executive blasted tea party Republicans as "xenophobic" and "racist" and said NPR would be better off without federal funding.

Schiller says NPR is facing the most serious threat yet to its funding — not because of the comments in the video but because of the massive federal deficit. She says there's "extraordinary pressure" on Congress to make cuts and that the remarks by NPR fundraiser Ron Schiller, were "outrageous and unfortunate" at such a critical time. (Ron Schiller is not related to Vivian Schiller.)

NPR has long been a target of conservatives who claim its programming has a left-wing bias. The budget bill passed by the House last month would end funding ...

Utah gov. signs bill limiting open-records law

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has signed a bill revising the state's open-records law only hours after more than 100 people rallied against the bill in the Capitol rotunda.

House Bill 477 makes the text messages and voice mails of government officials private and restricts access to most communication, including e-mails, between legislators and staff or constituents. Fees for records are to increase when the new law becomes effective July 1.

Herbert says revisions can be made to the law before its effective date.

Before yesterday’s signing, multiple speakers at a rally demanded a veto.

Kim Burningham, a board member with Utahns for Ethical Government, says the measure will dramatically reduce transparency in state government. Just because the effective date was delayed doesn't make the changes less draconian, she said.

Utah news-media outlets also opposed the bill vehemently, running front page editorials last weekend and paying for newspaper advertisements.

The changes to Utah's open-records law will be major, according to opponents. Currently, state law uses the content of a document or communication to determine whether it is public.

Fees would also increase. Along with administrative costs, government agencies could charge the full cost of overhead and staff ...

Ariz. Senate president limits news-media access to chamber floor

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

PHOENX — Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce is restricting the news media’s access to senators, saying that fellow lawmakers have complained about being bothered by reporters and camera crews.

Under one restriction, reporters may not leave the two press tables in the front of the chamber to approach individual senators before or after floor sessions without invitations from the lawmakers involved.

Pearce also said any on-camera television interviews before or after floor sessions must be done outside the Senate chamber.

The restrictions were announced to reporters and other news personnel by the Senate sergeant-at-arms immediately before yesterday’s floor session.

Pearce later defended the order when another senator questioned him about it during the floor session.

Pearce said several senators whom he didn’t identify had complained that they could not work at their desks on the floor while being surrounded and bothered by news personnel at their desks.

“This floor belongs to members,” Pearce said. “It’s just a matter of respect. It’s a matter of decorum. It’s a matter of being able to conduct the people’s business in the proper atmosphere.”

Democratic Sen. Steve Gallardo of Phoenix said the restrictions are “stopping the conversation” between lawmakers and media personnel.

“It’s never ...

Supreme Court Rejects Appeal of Seventh Circuit Decision Protecting First Amendment Rights of Religious Student Organizations

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

On Monday, the Supreme Court of the United States rejected an appeal by the University of Wisconsin at Madison (UW) against a ruling from the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit that prohibited the university from denying funding to student organizations that engage in religious activities. This decision represents a victory for the First Amendment rights of students and student groups, and leaves intact the conception of student groups as private speakers in a government-established forum (i.e., the student organization structure).

The Seventh Circuit, which covers the states of Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin, had ruled that UW could not create a system that funded student organizations' speech generally but denied funding for activities such as worship, prayer, and religious training sessions. Badger Catholic, a religious student organization, challenged the UW system after the group was denied funding from the student activity fee to support summer training camps with Roman Catholic Masses, a program that brought nuns to campus to speak with students and distributed rosary booklets.

According to a 2-1 opinion by Judge Frank Easterbrook, when a public university supplies funding for certain types of activities, like counseling, the First Amendment does not permit that university to ...

SUNY Brockport Student Government Claims Right to Steal Student Newspaper

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

Recently, the State University of New York at Brockport (SUNY Brockport) has been home to one of the stranger incidents of newspaper theft I've come across in my years at FIRE, coupled with one of the most breathtakingly bad justifications for such activity.

First, the theft. According to William Matthias, Editor in Chief of the newspaper in question, The Stylus:

[Brockport Student Government, which partially funds The Stylus] Treasurer Kyle Kirchgraber recently "borrowed" bundles of The Stylus newspapers, or at least authorized the removal of the bundles, to present to the BSG appropriations committee during the budget review process. He wanted to show the board how much money The Stylus "wastes" on printing. In the process, he committed theft and violated the First Amendment.

Not your usual theft, it would appear, in that it seems not to have been motivated by the Stylus' content but by a plan to demonstrate that the paper was printing more copies than students were picking up (ever heard of a camera?). But we've seen plenty of student governments retaliate against publications that gave them unfavorable coverage, so it would not be a surprise to find a content-based motive here as ...

Gainesville State College President Censors Faculty Art Critical of Confederate Heritage

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

After the president of Gainesville State College (GSC) removed a professor's painting from a faculty exhibition, FIRE is asking Gainesville State College to fulfill its moral and legal obligations to uphold free speech and academic freedom on campus. Art instructor Stanley Bermudez's painting "Heritage?" portrays the Confederate flag in a critical context, which has prompted some complaints from outside the college.

Bermudez's painting was featured as part of GSC's 2011 Faculty Biennial Exhibition. It depicts torch-wielding members of the Ku Klux Klan and a lynching superimposed onto a Confederate flag. Venezuelan by birth, Bermudez provided a personal statement to be displayed with the painting, describing his own relationship with the flag. His statement read, in part:

[On] the KKK web site the rebel flag is used often. [This and other] things strengthen my negative view of the Dixie flag and the reason for this painting. This painting represents what I feel and think of when I see the flag. However, after living in Georgia for the last 4 years and talking to several people from Georgia, I have also learned that there is a strong heritage and pride associated with the flag that has nothing to do with the KKK ...

Tully Center for Free Speech Director on ‘Snyder v. Phelps’

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011
Roy S. Gutterman, Director of the Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University, writes on the Supreme Court's decision in Snyder v. Phelps: "[F]or every Westboro Church protest, there is a debate on legitimate public policy or government abuse that also demands protection."

Highlights From Texas Prison System’s Banned Books List

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011
The Texas Civil Rights Project has released a fascinating, detailed report on the nearly 12,000 books banned by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice from entering the state’s prison system. The arbitrary nature of the list, including Shakespeare’s sonnets and Fried Green Tomatoes at the Wistlestop Cafe, defies any security-based explanation. Check out the searchable [...]

Act Now: Less Than Three Months to Rein in PATRIOT and Restore JUSTICE!

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

Supreme Court to Hear Challenge to Law That Removes Works from the Public Domain

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

Today the Supreme Court agreed to hear an important case about whether Congress has the power to "restore" copyright protection to works that already exist in the public domain. To be clear, for more than 200 years the law has been settled – once a work was in the public domain, there it remained, and downstream users could feel free to use, store, or share it any way they saw fit. Now Congress, in enacting Section 514 of the Uruguay Round Agreements Act, is changing the game by granting copyright protection to works by foreign authors that, for a variety of reasons, were no longer protected by copyright (for example, if an author had failed to renew her copyright). This means that many works already in the public domain – Peter the Wolf, literature by Maxim Gorky, pieces by Picasso, and music by Stravinski, for example – that have been used and performed countless times would now be subject to copyright protection. Those who have used the works could now be required to pay hefty license fees, and – even worse – if they can’t afford those fees, cease use of the works.

Copyright laws create a balance between ...

High court won’t review ruling on student group funding

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

MADISON, Wis. — The U.S. Supreme Court says it won’t hear an appeal of a lower court decision to grant a Catholic student group funding from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The decision by the high court effectively ends UW-Madison’s appeal process. The university has argued that its funding of Badger Catholic’s religious activities is a violation of the First Amendment.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed in a 2-1 decision last September. The court ruled UW-Madison’s refusal to fund the group’s religious worship activities or materials constituted viewpoint discrimination by the university.

UW-Madison settled another lawsuit from the group in 2007 after refusing to pay for any of the group’s activities.

Ties With Foreign Media ‘Strained’

Monday, March 7th, 2011
Reporters in China are harassed and warned away from possible protest sites.

A Defense of Uncivil Speech in Robert’s Latest ‘Pajamas Media’ Column

Monday, March 7th, 2011
FIRE Senior Vice President Robert Shibley's latest Pajamas Media column discusses the establishment of a "civility" institute at the University of Arizona. Robert takes on recent calls for civility on campus and across the country by reminding us that while civility may be valuable, it cannot be mandated without censoring the very speech the First Amendment was designed to protect. You can check out his argument in full, and comment if you wish, at Pajamas Media.

Justices reject broad use of FOIA exemption

Monday, March 7th, 2011

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court today rejected the government’s broad use of an exemption in the federal Freedom of Information Act to withhold documents from the public, ruling for a Washington state resident who wants Navy maps relating to its main West Coast ammunition dump.

The Court, by an 8-1 vote in Milner v. Department of the Navy, threw out an appeals court ruling that backed the Navy’s decision to withhold maps showing the extent of damage expected from an explosion at the ammunition dump near Port Townsend in western Washington.

Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the Court, said maps could not be withheld under a FOIA provision that deals with a federal agency’s “personnel rules and practices.” Kagan said that part of the law concerns “issues of employee relations and human resources.”

Justice Stephen Breyer dissented, saying the courts have consistently allowed broad use of the exemption for 30 years. “I would let sleeping dogs lie,” Breyer said.

The case before the Court revolved around competing ideas of public safety. The government said that releasing the maps could allow someone to identify the precise location of the munitions that are stored at its base on Indian Island.

But Glen ...

Public media put millions of dollars into investigative work

Monday, March 7th, 2011

WASHINGTON — NPR, PBS and local public broadcast stations around the country are hiring more journalists and pumping millions of dollars into investigative news to make up for what they see as a lack of deep-digging coverage by their for-profit counterparts.

Public radio and TV stations have seen the need for reporting that holds government and business accountable increase as newspapers and TV networks cut their staffs and cable television stations have filled their schedules with more opinion journalism.

“Where the marketplace is unable to serve, that’s the role of public media,” PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger said last year at a summit on the future of media at the Federal Communications Commission. “PBS exists to serve the people, not to sell them.”

In the past three years, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting has invested more than $90 million in federal funds on new journalism initiatives. That includes a $10 million local journalism initiative that is paying for the creation of five regional centers that will help local PBS and NPR stations cover news that affects wider geographic areas. Also, a $6 million grant from the group expanded the PBS investigative series “Frontline” from a seasonal series with a ...

High court won’t hear atheist’s challenge to ‘In God We Trust’

Monday, March 7th, 2011

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court won't hear an atheist's latest challenge to the U.S. government's references to God.

The Court today refused to hear an appeal from Michael Newdow, who says government references to God violate the First Amendment’s separation of church and state and infringe on his religious beliefs.

This appeal dealt with the inscription of the national motto "In God We Trust" on U.S. coins and currency. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled in March 2010 that the phrase is ceremonial and patriotic and "has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion."

The high court refused to hear Newdow's appeal of that decision.

"In God We Trust" was first put on U.S. coins in the 1860s and on paper currency in the 1950s.

The case is Newdow v. Lefevre, 10-893.

Muzzle Update: VA Supreme Court Disallows Attorneys Fees Assessed Against Citizens Who Petitioned to Have Local Elected Officials Removed from Office

Saturday, March 5th, 2011

 In 2009, the Thomas Jefferson Center awarded a Jefferson Muzzle to Virginia Circuit Court Judge Westbrook J. Parker for ordering the organizers of an unsuccessful petition to recall four County Supervisors from office to pay $80,000 of the Supervisors’ attorneys’ fees.  The matter was appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court and yesterday the state high Court overturned the order finding that the statute under which the petitioners sought the recall did not authorize assessing attorneys’ fees against private citizens who initiate such recall actions.

Tweets can be costly — just ask Courtney Love

Saturday, March 5th, 2011

LOS ANGELES — Courtney Love's 140 character Twitter rants against a fashion designer are costing her more than $430,000, an attorney says.

The singer has agreed to pay Dawn Simorangkir $430,000, plus interest, to settle a lawsuit the designer filed in March 2009 over comments Love made on Twitter and her MySpace blog.

While the case didn't go to a jury, First Amendment experts say the case highlights the need for celebrities and average people to watch what they say online.

"People are getting in trouble for Twitter postings on an almost daily basis," said First Amendment Attorney Doug Mirell, a partner at Loeb and Loeb who did not handle the case.

"The laws controlling what is and isn't libelous are the same regardless of the medium in which the statements appear," he said.

Simorangkir's attorney, Bryan J. Freedman, agreed, and said Love's settlement should drive that point home.

"The fact is that this case shows that the forum upon which you communicate makes no difference in terms of potential legal exposure," Freedman said. "Disparaging someone on Twitter does not excuse one from liability."

Love's attorney, Jim Janowitz, said the settlement actually saved the rocker money. "This is a case ...

The Shifting Sands of DePaul University’s Censorship of Student Group

Friday, March 4th, 2011

DePaul University Vice President for Student Affairs James R. Doyle has played no small role in putting DePaul on our recent list of the "12 Worst Colleges for Free Speech," featured at The Huffington Post. He secured DePaul's spot not only by denying recognition to the student group Students for Cannabis Policy Reform (SCPR)in defiance of DePaul's promises of free speech and freedom of associationbut also by continuously shifting his rationale for doing do.

Briefly, let's recount Doyle's history with SCPR.

Following months of delays in processing the group's application, Director of Student Life Suzanne Kilgannon told SCPR via e-mail on September 15, 2010, that Doyle was uncomfortable with any possible appearance of university support for the group's efforts:

My apologies for such an extended wait regarding your interest in starting a club.  Despite our best arguments, our vice president feels very strongly that having an approved group on campus would send an institutional message that he believes we are not prepared to manage.

That defense (if you can call it that) seemingly disappeared after FIRE wrote to DePaul on September 30, replaced with Doyle's vague argument in his October 7, 2010, reply to FIRE ...

CFN Member Responds to Criticism of Red-Light Rating in ‘The Vanderbilt Hustler’

Friday, March 4th, 2011

Last Friday, The Vanderbilt Hustler published a column by student Katie Des Prez which questioned FIRE's assessment of the Vanderbilt Community Creed as well as the school's sexual harassment policies. FIRE's own Samantha Harris penned a response for The Torch to explain the chilling effect of Vanderbilt's red-light policies, and called on Vanderbilt to uphold its own promises of free speech on campus.

Kenny Tan, a Vanderbilt freshman and CFN member who organized Adam's recent campus speech, also submitted a letter to the editor of the Hustler this week in response to Des Prez, using quotes from Sam's blog:

Harris offers the example of federal magistrate judge Wayne Brazil. Brazil "ordered San Francisco State University to stop enforcing the California State University system's civility policy because it unconstitutionally impeded the open exchange of ideas." In this case, Brazil stated that "mandating civility could deprive speakers of the tools they most need to connect emotionally with their audience, to move their audience to share their passion" and doing so also prohibits "the kind of communication that it is necessary to use to convey the full emotional power with which a speaker embraces her ideas or the intensity and richness ...

Free Speech Zone Policy Debated at University of West Florida

Friday, March 4th, 2011

On Valentine's Day at the University of West Florida (UWF), people strolling the public university's Cannon Greens did not see the language of love displayed, but instead the graphic images of genocide victims and aborted fetuses provided by a California anti-abortion group. According to an article by Terry Strickland in UWF's student newspaper The Voyager, the display was held outside of UWF's "free speech zone" (between buildings 18 and 21 on the campus map), and not without complaint. Many students claimed that the display was "a violation of decency" and questioned why it had not been confined to UWF's free speech zone.

According to UWF regulations on freedom of speech and assembly, unscheduled assembly and public expression is confined to a free speech zone:

The assembly area designated on the campus map is established as the only campus location for unscheduled and unorganized public expression.

Furthermore, according to the article:

... the area between Buildings 18 and 21 - perhaps half an acre - is designated as the only area on a 1,500-acre campus where unscheduled and unorganized public expression is permitted. According to this same policy, in order to use any other area, those ...

No more forced union dues for Mich. home-based child-care workers

Friday, March 4th, 2011

DETROIT — The state of Michigan will stop deducting union dues from thousands of people who provide child care at home, an official announced March 1, ending an arrangement created under a previous governor that sparked lawsuits over whether mandatory membership violates free-speech rights.

Under the policy change, the 16,500 providers would keep millions of dollars in union dues that had gone to United Auto Workers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The providers, none of whom are on the state payroll, receive government subsidies for watching children from low-income families.

The Department of Human Services announced in a news release that it also is stopping its relationship with the Michigan Home Based Child Care Council, which was affiliated with Mott Community College. Through the council, the unions were allowed to hold an election in 2006. Only 15% of the providers cast ballots, but 92% were in favor and the unions were certified.

“The council has not delivered on its original goals to enhance and improve the delivery of quality care for children whose parents receive assistance from the department,” Human Services chief Maura Corrigan said in a statement. “That’s why we will stop all funding ...

Judge orders protesters to leave Wis. Capitol

Friday, March 4th, 2011

MADISON, Wis. — About 50 pro-union protesters peacefully left the state Capitol late yesterday after a judge ruled they could no longer spend the night to show their opposition to Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to eliminate nearly all collective bargaining rights for public workers.

The judge also ruled the state had violated the public’s free-speech and assembly rights by restricting access to the building.

The protesters demanded to see a written copy of the order before they would go. University of Wisconsin-Madison Police Chief Susan Riseling read the order to the crowd, eliciting cheers when she read the judge’s determination that the state had unconstitutionally restricted access to the building.

“We won this battle,” said former Attorney General Peggy Lautenschlager, who represented unions that had challenged the state’s decision to limit building access. But she also told the demonstrators they needed to leave.

Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs repeatedly urged the crowd to leave peacefully.

“I don’t want to see anybody arrested,” he said.

Ultimately, the protesters left without incident, exiting to the beat of drums and cheers from supporters who greeted them with hugs and high-fives outside the doors. There were no arrests.

The drama played out after Dane ...

Foreign Media Warned Over Protests

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011
Chinese officials deny changes to reporting laws.

Save the Date! IFLA intellectual freedom satellite meeting in Miami, August 10-12, 2011

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

The Office for Intellectual Freedom will be teaming with the Committee on Free Access to Information and Freedom of Expression of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions to hold a three-day satellite meeting in advance of the 2011 IFLA World Congress.

“Intellectual Freedom in a Changing World” will take place August 10-12, 2011 in Miami, FL and will feature sessions on some of today’s key intellectual freedom and free speech issues in libraries and beyond.

Registration will open mid-March.  Stay tuned for more details.

Contact Jonathan Kelley at with questions.

Our ever more private public spaces

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011
The latest billboard controversy, around the removal of a billboard paid for by a Texas anti-abortion group from an advertising space in SoHo, owned by Lamar Advertising, comes as no surprise. In 2006 Lamar refused to run photographs by Polish artist Karolina Bregula that show same-sex couples holding hands. The photographs were to be displayed [...]

Supreme Court sides with funeral protesters

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

On March 2, the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment protects fundamentalist church members who mount anti-gay protests outside military funerals, despite the pain they cause grieving families.

Read more about the case.

Read the brief filed by the Thomas Jefferson Center.

Following Suspension of Faculty Senate, FIRE Asks for Answers at Idaho State University

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

In a letter yesterday, FIRE called upon Idaho State University President Arthur C. Vailas to explain the Idaho State Board of Education's recent decision to suspend Idaho State's Faculty Senate. The suspension was levied on February 17, just one week after the Faculty Senate recorded a vote of no confidence in Vailas. As The Chronicle of Higher Education reported:

In an apparently unprecedented step, the Idaho State Board of Education voted on Thursday to suspend the Faculty Senate of Idaho State University and instructed the university's president to put in place an interim faculty advisory structure.

In a statement released after its vote, at a meeting in Boise, the board cited an impasse between faculty leaders and the president, and said its action was "the most reasonable action to take at this time."

The board acted after hearing an update from the university's president, Arthur C. Vailas, on a controversial reorganization plan that includes changes in faculty governance. At the meeting, board members  questioned Mr. Vailas about the possibility of their working through "the current stalemate" over the proposed changes.  They also heard from Phil Cole, chair of the Faculty Senate, about faculty members' concerns with the reorganization plan and ...