Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Speech Code of the Month: California State University – Chico

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for March 2011: California State University - Chico.

We frequently talk about the impact of speech codes on student speech. But speech codes can affect faculty members, too, and the ability of faculty to teach controversial or sensitive material without fear of punishment is critical to the functioning of a university. That is why CSU Chico's definition of sexual harassment [.pdf] is so profoundly troubling:

Teachers who make disparaging remarks about or implicitly devalue students for their gender or sexual orientation can undermine students' academic, professional, and personal growth just as much as those who make discriminations based on race, religion, age, or other physical or cultural characteristics.

Examples of this type of sexual harassment include

1. Explicit use of derogatory terms or stereotypic generalizations.

2. Use of "humorous" images or statements that demean or trivialize people because of gender or sexual orientation.

3. Reinforcement of sexist stereotypes through subtle, often unintentional means, such as using classroom examples in which professional people like psychologists, managers, or politicians are always referred to as men. Similarly, gays and lesbians may habitually be associated only with certain professions.

4. Continual use of ...

Army charges WikiLeaks suspect with ‘aiding the enemy’

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

WASHINGTON — An Army private suspected of leaking hundreds of thousands of sensitive and classified documents to the WikiLeaks anti-secrecy group was charged yesterday with aiding the enemy, a crime that can bring the death penalty or life in prison.

The Army filed 22 new charges against Pvt. 1st Class Bradley E. Manning, including causing intelligence information to be published on the Internet. The charges don’t specify which documents, but the charges involve the suspected distribution by the military analyst of more than 250,000 confidential State Department cables as well as a raft of Iraq and Afghanistan war logs. Thousands of the documents have been published on the WikiLeaks website.

Although aiding the enemy is a capital offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Army prosecutors have notified the Manning defense team that they will not recommend the death penalty to the two-star general who is in charge of proceeding with legal action.

The Army has not ruled out charging others in the case, pending the results of an ongoing review. Army leaders have suggested that there may have been supervisory lapses that allowed the breach to occur.

The release of the State Department cables was denounced by U.S. ...

7th Circuit backs students’ right to wear ‘Be Happy, Not Gay’ shirt

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

CHICAGO — A federal appeals court has upheld the rights of suburban Chicago students to wear T-shirts with the words "Be Happy, Not Gay."

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' March 1 ruling involves a dispute at Neuqua Valley High School. Alexander Nuxoll, who was banned from wearing the shirt to school, and Heidi Zamecnik, who wore a similar T-shirt to school in 2006, filed a lawsuit saying their free-speech rights had been violated. Both students have since graduated.

School officials blacked out the words "Not Gay" on Zamecnik’s T-shirt. The incident happened the day after a "Day of Silence," which was held to draw attention to the harassment of gay students.

The unanimous three-judge panel said in Zamecnik v. Indian Prairie Unit District 204 that a school which "permits advocacy of the rights of homosexual students cannot be allowed to stifle criticism of homosexuality."

The panel said the school failed to prove the shirt caused a "substantial disruption" and that "Be Happy, Not Gay" is not an instance of fighting words.

The president of the Indian Prairie Unit District 204 board declined to comment on the ruling.

With 8-1 Ruling, Supreme Court Affirms Primacy of First Amendment in ‘Snyder v. Phelps’

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

In an overwhelming victory for free speech, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled today that the First Amendment protects speakers, even when their speech is truly "outrageous," against lawsuits for intentional infliction of emotional distress. In Snyder v. Phelps, eight members of the Court (with Justice Samuel Alito as the lone dissenter) upheld the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit's overturning of a multi-million dollar damages award against the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) for picketing at the military funeral of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder. The majority opinionand its affirmation that speech on public property cannot be punished simply for being shocking, offensive, or controversialreaffirms decades of the Supreme Court's First Amendment jurisprudence. The opinion thus serves to further safeguard free expression at our nation's public universities. However, the narrowness of the Court's ruling may leave vulnerable some types of incendiary speech.

Today's opinion, penned by Chief Justice John Roberts, focused in large part on the public nature of the WBC's speech. Roberts acknowledged that "[w]hether the First Amendment prohibits holding Westboro liable for its speech in this case turns largely on whether that speech is of public or private ...

Supreme Court Backs Government Transparency Over Corporate Privacy Claims

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

In a powerful ruling for government transparency and accountability, the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday rejected so-called “privacy” protections for corporate entities under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). EFF and a coalition of other groups filed an amicus brief in this case urging just this result, arguing that a new definition of “corporate privacy” would lead to broad swaths of previously public records becoming hidden from view.

The case, Federal Communications Commission v. AT&T, started when the company tried to block disclosure of records about its participation in the federal government’s E-Rate program. AT&T, invoking FOIA exemptions that were created to protect an individual’s private data like physical address or email address, argued that it was a “corporate citizen” entitled to “personal privacy.” EFF argued that this misreading of FOIA would create more delays in an already lengthy FOIA process and allow even more opportunities for corporations to block important records from the public eye, and we’re gratified to see the Supreme Court agree. As Chief Justice John Roberts said in his conclusion, “We trust that AT&T will not take it personally.”

Michigan State Admin: Stop Reading Your E-mail – It’s Inefficient!

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

Chances are that you check your e-mail at least once a day. If you are, though, you are wasting your time, says David Gift, Vice Provost of Libraries, Computing and Technology at Michigan State University. In a recent article (which extensively quotes our own Will Creeley) by student reporter Ian Kullgren in the Michigan State student publication The Big Green, Gift provided yet another piece of evidence for why the university richly deserves its place among FIRE President Greg Lukianoff's "12 Worst Colleges for Free Speech," featured at The Huffington Post. In defending MSU's unconstitutional policy that labels you a spammer for sending more than 10 friends, classmates, or faculty the same unsolicited e-mail within 48 hoursno matter how important or relevant the subjectGift let loose this jewel of common sense and constitutional analysis:

"The policy does not infringe on free speech. In the age of social networking and the web, email is a remarkably inefficient means by which to express and spread ideas; people in the MSU community have much more effective alternatives available to them," David Gift, Vice Provost of Libraries, Computing and Technology said in an email.

Whether or ...

Frank LoMonte on First Amendment Rights and Whether Open Government Laws Might Be Unconstitutional

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011
Frank D. LoMonte, Executive Director of the Student Press Law Center, writes for the American Constitution Society's blog on a case before the Supreme Court that addresses the First Amendment rights of public employees. Do laws against conflict of interest, or requiring transparency and open meetings (such as for student government meetings at public universities), need to meet the very high standards of strict scrutiny in order to protect the First Amendment rights of individuals holding government positions? Or do government officials not have this level of First Amendment rights when they are fulfilling their official dutiesCheck it out.

Supreme Court sides with funeral protesters

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

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

    The Court voted 8-1 in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan. The decision upheld an appeals court ruling that threw out a $5 million judgment to the father of a dead Marine who sued church members after they picketed his son's funeral.

    Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion for the Court in Snyder v. Phelps. Justice Samuel Alito dissented.

    Tony Mauro, First Amendment Center legal correspondent, was at the Court when Roberts announced the ruling. Mauro reported that Roberts delivered the ruling from the bench in a quiet, almost sorrowful voice, as if to apologize for protecting such offensive speech. He recited some of the messages conveyed by the funeral protest signs, including "Thank God for Dead Soldiers," and "Fags Doom Nations." Though the signs "may fall short" of refined commentary, Roberts said, they concerned "matters of public import" that came under the First Amendment's protection. The Westboro Baptist Church protesters were picketing peacefully on public ...

  • D.C. Circuit: Fired translator can sue Voice of America

    Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

    WASHINGTON — A former translator of U.S. broadcasts into Iran who was fired after making an Internet music video criticizing the Iraq War can continue her free-speech lawsuit under a ruling yesterday by a federal appeals court.

    Melodi Navab-Safavi said that in 2007 Voice of America terminated her contract for making an “anti-American” video, two weeks after the band she sang with in her off hours posted its song on YouTube.

    In the video, “DemoKracy” by the band Abjeez, Navab-Safavi portrays a journalist singing about the hypocrisy of the war’s stated aim of spreading democracy while the video’s images show bombs exploding in the streets, war-wounded Iraqi children and flag-draped coffins of U.S. soldiers.

    Navab-Safavi argued that she was speaking as a private person and that the firing violated her freedom of speech. Government attorneys said allowing Navab-Safavi to continue translating could compromise Voice of America’s journalistic integrity.

    “As a translator for Voice of America, plaintiff had to provide accurate and objective translations of the statements made by reporters, interviewees and other speakers,” the government argued in court filings. “If she was biased, or had a conflict of interest, neither the audience nor her supervisors could trust the accuracy and ...

    Ruling in funeral-protest case restates First Amendment principles

    Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

    Today's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to back the right of a small Kansas church to protest outside military funerals is shocking — and not surprising at all.

    Read more on Yahoo! News.

    First Amendment Fan Boys

    Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

    Calvin Reid of Publishers Weekly checked in with CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein about the Fund’s new digs and plans for 2011. Brownstein expects a busy year:

    “Stuff keeps coming in, comics are being challenged in libraries, librarians and patrons are being harassed by law enforcement and the issue is growing and very often its about comics,” Brownstein continued. “Librarians are getting threatening calls at home. As long as comics are cool, they will be challenged.”

    Check out the Publisher’s Weekly article here.

    Foreign Press Asked to ‘Cooperate’

    Tuesday, March 1st, 2011
    Chinese authorities respond after foreign reporters are roughed up in crackdown on protests.

    Jasmine Fallout Continues

    Tuesday, March 1st, 2011
    Chinese authorities harass and detain activists suspected of calling for protests.

    Free Speech Awakening at University of Georgia?

    Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

    Something good for free speech might be happening at the University of Georgia (UGA), and I don't mean the quiet retirement of the "Party in the UGA" orientation video.

    At the beginning of this academic year, UGA brought us Scootergate (video), in which a student was brought up on charges after he sent some negative feedback to UGA Parking Services. (After FIRE intervened, UGA dropped the charges.) UGA also literally brought us the speech policebetween August 1 and September 27, 2010, eight police reports were filed for "acts of intolerance," mainly involving constitutionally protected expression, such as the words "Dick and Sideboob" written on the dry erase board of a student's dorm room door. (We're still not sure whom that was supposed to be insufficiently "tolerant" towards.)

    But since then, it seems that UGA and some students have started to wake up about students' fundamental rights.

    The first sign came at the end of January, when the student newspaper The Red and Black reported, "Sudden shake-up stirs Office of Student Conduct." It's hard to infer exactly what this new constellation of administrators means, but earlier this month, The Red and Black reported ...

    ‘Arizona State Law Journal’ Blog Features Piece by FIRE Jackson Fellow

    Tuesday, March 1st, 2011
    The blog of the highly regarded Arizona State Law Journal features a post by FIRE's Justice Robert H. Jackson Legal Fellow Erica Goldberg. The piece discusses Arizona State University's recent alteration of its advertising policy applicable to student organizations, which allowed Arizona State to proudly become a green-light institution. Using the transformation of Arizona State's advertising policy from mandatory to aspirational as an example, Erica's post also discusses why converting unconstitutional speech prohibitions into aspirational speech policies makes so much constitutional difference. Check it out!

    2nd Circuit upholds conviction in virtual child-porn case

    Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

    ALBANY, N.Y. — A federal appeals court yesterday upheld the child-pornography conviction of a New York man who superimposed the faces of teenage girls onto sexually explicit photographs of nude adults in his computer.

    The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel said in U.S. v. Hotaling that John C. Hotaling's digital alterations are not expressive free speech protected under the First Amendment. The 50-year-old argued that his fantasies didn't actually hurt or exploit any children. Hotaling is in prison.

    While there was no evidence Hotaling distributed the images, the unanimous three-judge panel said the pictures showed the faces of six identifiable girls, who were "at risk" of damage to their reputations and psychological harm from knowing their images were exploited by a trusted adult. The panel cited evidence that the images had been formatted for possible Internet distribution, and that child porn now is circulated online primarily from one trafficker directly to another.

    Federal public defender Gene Primomo said he was "strongly considering" an appeal, requesting a hearing before the full 2nd Circuit. "I'm sure the client wants to do it."

    "They found an exception to the First Amendment based on something that he could have done with the ...

    News outlets challenge media restrictions in N.C. trial

    Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

    RALEIGH, N.C. — Media organizations challenged a judge’s decision to restrict coverage of a Cary man’s murder trial, arguing yesterday that rules such as prohibiting interviews outside the local courthouse infringe on the public’s right to access judicial proceedings.

    Attorneys representing the Associated Press and other news media filed a motion in the case of Brad Cooper. Superior Court Judge Paul Gessner has taken the unusual step of prohibiting the news media from reporting or showing the identities of an FBI agent and a Durham police officer.

    Gessner is also barring news media from doing interviews or recording near the Wake County Courthouse.

    Other news organizations involved the court motion include the News & Observer Publishing Company, Capitol Broadcasting Company Inc., WTVD Television LLC and Media General Operations Inc.

    Cooper is charged in the 2008 death of his wife, Nancy Cooper, whose body was found near a storm drain in an unfinished subdivision of the Raleigh suburb. He has pleaded not guilty and previously told authorities that his wife went for a jog and never returned.

    Jury selection in the case began yesterday.

    S.D. to let news cameras in some courtrooms

    Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

    PIERRE, S.D. — The South Dakota Supreme Court has approved rules for allowing news cameras and electronic recording equipment in the state's trial-level courts, Chief Justice David Gilbertson announced yesterday.

    Television cameras, still cameras and audio-recording devices will be allowed in circuit court hearings and trials only when a judge and all parties to a case agree.

    If all parties do not agree to have cameras in the courtroom, the judge can allow only audio coverage if the judge determines that would be appropriate.

    "We believe this is a middle path between an outright ban and total access," Gilbertson said yesterday in the Supreme Court's hearing room in the state Capitol. "We need to balance a person's right to a fair trial with the public access to the legal proceedings."

    The new rules will take effect July 1 to allow time for training judges, magistrates and other court staff, Gilbertson said.

    Dave Bordewyk, general manager of the South Dakota Newspaper Association, said the new rules represented a good step in improving news organizations' coverage of circuit court proceedings. He said he also appreciated Gilbertson's comment that the rules might be changed to expand access if cameras do not cause problems ...

    High court rejects corporate-privacy claim

    Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

    WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled today that corporations have no right of personal privacy to prevent the disclosure of documents under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

    Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the 8-0 opinion today in FCC v. AT&T, which reversed an appeals court ruling in favor of AT&T. The outcome was notable for its unanimity, especially in view of recent criticism from liberal interest groups that the Court tilts too far in favor of business.

    “The protection in FOIA against disclosure of law enforcement information on the ground that it would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy does not extend to corporations,” Roberts wrote. “We trust that AT&T will not take it personally.”

    At issue is information gathered by the Federal Communications Commission during an investigation of AT&T’s participation in the federal E-Rate program, which helps schools and libraries get Internet access. In December 2004, the telecommunications giant paid $500,000, but admitted no wrongdoing, to resolve allegations that it overcharged the government.

    Several months later, COMPTEL, a trade group representing some AT&T competitors, sought documents that the FCC obtained in its investigation. AT&T said all the information should remain secret.

    The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of ...

    Indiana University Eliminates Discriminatory Funding Policy Against Religious Groups

    Monday, February 28th, 2011

    The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) reports today that Indiana University-Bloomington (IUB) has eliminated a policy that had prevented the Christian student group Impact Movement from receiving student activity fee funds to help pay for its attendance at a national conference. Previously, groups at IUB had been excluded from receiving funds for activities that involve "religious proselytizing" or for "sectarian events."

    According to ADF's press release:

    In December of last year, Impact Movement sought activity funding to send some of its members to its national conference. The university permits partial funding of conference attendance for members of registered student groups and had approved funding for Impact Movement in previous years. Nevertheless, the IU Student Association Funding Board denied Impact Movement's request for 2010, citing the university's Student Organization Funding Guidelines. The director of student activities upheld the decision.
    ADF wrote to the university pointing out that such discrimination is unconstitutional, citing a recent United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit decision in favor of a group at the University of Wisconsin-Madison that had been similarly discriminated against. 

    We're glad to see this reversal at IUB.

    FIRE, meanwhile, continues to fight another unconstitutional funding policy in force at Northern ...

    Rob Kall Post On Arrest And Bloodied Treatment Of Silent Hilary Clinton Protestor

    Monday, February 28th, 2011
    (image from JusticeOnline) The audience stood to greet and applaud Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as she took the podium at George Washington University. But as the audience sat down again, a retired CIA analyst named Robert McGovern remained on his feet and calmly turned his back on Clinton in silent protest of her votes [...]

    Controversy Around 89 year Old Statue in Queens, NY

    Monday, February 28th, 2011
    Unveiled in 1922, Frederick MacMonnies’ Triumph of Civic Virtue was called sexist from the get go. And sexist it unarguably is (to an extent that it borders on a parody of sexism): Virtue is a club-wielding man, while Vice is two women being trampled beneath Virtue’s feet. The statue stirred up so much public debate [...]

    FIRE ‘Protecting Sexual Abusers’ at Vanderbilt?

    Monday, February 28th, 2011
    Last week, following Adam's talk on the state of student rights at Vanderbilt University, Vanderbilt senior Katie Des Prez penned a column in the student newspaper, The Vanderbilt Hustler, about FIRE's criticism of the university's speech code. Specifically, Des Prez takes issue with FIRE's "red light" rating of Vanderbilt, arguing that the university's restrictions on speech are wholly appropriate and that FIRE's call for Vanderbilt to revise its speech code amounts to "protecting sexual abusers."

    As Des Prez points out, Vanderbilt is a private university, and as such is not legally bound by the First Amendment, which prevents public universities from maintaining restrictive speech codes. Vanderbilt is, however, morally and perhaps even legally bound by the promises it makes to its studentsand Vanderbilt assures its students, as Des Prez acknowledges, that they "are entitled to exercise the rights of citizens and are subject to the responsibilities of citizens."

    In the United States, the "rights of citizens" include the right to speak freely within the parameters of the First Amendment. Des Prez seems to argue that "the responsibilities of citizens" include, on a university campus, the responsibility to engage only in civil expression and to submit to the ...

    First Look at Liberty Sketch Cards

    Monday, February 28th, 2011

    Thanks to the talent of Portland, Oregon’s comics community, the CBLDF is proud to kickstart the Liberty Trading Cards with this first look at cards created during a jam session held last week!

    Ill. teen says high school suspended him for wearing rosary

    Monday, February 28th, 2011

    COLLINSVILLE, Ill. — A southwestern Illinois high school student says he has been suspended for five days for wearing rosary beads to school.

    Collinsville High School sophomore Rodrigo Avila told St. Louis’ KSDK-TV that he wore the beads for religious reasons and that he got them from his godfather as a gift.

    But school administrators told him he no longer could wear them at school because they were considered gang-related, and administrators later suspended the teenager, Avila says.

    The school’s dress-code policy does not specifically bar rosary beads but states anything associated with possible gang affiliation isn’t allowed. Avila and his mother insist he’s not in a gang.

    The code does state that the principal has the final say in judging a student’s appearance.

    A message was left with the district’s superintendent was not returned in time for this story.

    N.Y. judge: Seinfeld can mock cookbook author on TV

    Monday, February 28th, 2011

    NEW YORK — A judge has thrown out a lawsuit by a cookbook author who accused Jerry Seinfeld of hurting her reputation by mocking her on national television.

    In a ruling filed with the court on Feb. 25, state Justice Marcy Friedman said it was clear the comedian was joking when he called author Missy Chase Lapine a “wacko” during an appearance on the “Late Show with David Letterman” in 2007.

    The judge said Seinfeld also has a constitutional right to express his opinion.

    The suit stemmed from a legal battle in which Lapine accused Seinfeld’s wife, Jessica, of stealing her idea for a book on how to get children to eat healthy. Both women had published their books that year. Lapine’s was called, The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids’ Favorite Meals. Jessica Seinfeld’s was titled Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food.

    The case became tabloid fodder, and Seinfeld addressed it on Letterman with a heaping of ridicule.

    “One of the fun facts of celebrity life is wackos will wait in the woodwork to pop out at certain moments of your life to inject a little adrenaline into your life ...

    Ariz. judge to allow live broadcast of sweat-lodge trial

    Monday, February 28th, 2011

    CAMP VERDE, Ariz. — A motivational speaker who led a sweat-lodge ceremony where three people died will have his manslaughter trial broadcast live, a judge has decided.

    Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Warren Darrow granted the request by In Session, formerly known as CourtTV, to televise James Arthur Ray's trial. Ray has pleaded not guilty to the three manslaughter charges stemming from the deaths near Sedona in October 2009.

    Darrow has allowed one still and one video camera in previous hearings, but had not addressed live coverage before Feb. 25.

    In Session's request said the live coverage would advance Arizona's tradition of courtroom access. Prohibiting it would be akin to telling the news media when it can publish information, said attorney David Bodney.

    "The public has substantial rights to know about the activities here," he said.

    County attorney Sheila Polk expressed concern that witnesses might be intimidated by live coverage and that it would affect fair trial rights.

    "Nobody, and especially the state, has objected to coverage of this trial," she said. "This is not an issue of the state wanting to operate in the dark. The issue is of live camera coverage."

    Darrow said the likelihood of harm did ...

    High court turns away Ore. church’s appeal in defamation case

    Monday, February 28th, 2011

    WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has refused to toss out a defamation award to a fired pastor, despite claims by the church that dismissed him that its actions are protected by the Constitution's religious freedom guarantees.

    The Court today rejected an appeal from the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel in Vernonia, Ore., asking the justices to throw out a $355,000 jury award.

    Tim Tubra was fired as an interim pastor in 2004 after church officials accused him of misappropriating church money. Tubra sued the church for defamation after he learned that officials had made the accusation public in a letter read aloud to the congregation.

    The church argued it had a right to speak to members about church matters without any interference from the courts.

    An Oregon appeals court disagreed.

    Mass. town fires firefighter for Facebook postings

    Saturday, February 26th, 2011

    BOURNE, Mass. — A veteran Bourne firefighter has been fired for posting comments critical of his superiors and other town officials on his Facebook page.

    Town Administrator Thomas Guerino released a ruling on Feb. 23 that said 16-year firefighter Richard Doherty had "disqualified himself" from his job because his postings "that ridicule and disparage" others were in violation of department rules.

    According to the Cape Cod Times, Guerino said in the ruling that on one occasion, Doherty reportedly used a homosexual slur, and in another he wrote of his anger at having to work on July 4.

    Guerino also said that some of Doherty’s postings were apparently made while the firefighter was on duty.

    Doherty did not comment, but Gilbert Taylor, the fire department's union president, said the union would support Doherty if he appealed the termination.

    Taylor told the newspaper that the town is trying to portray Doherty as a bigot, racist and homophobe, but “if anything, he’s guilty of being a very vocal person. He speaks before he thinks.

    "He has a right to be stupid, and he has a right to say what he wants to say,” Taylor was quoted by the newspaper as saying. “Just because ...

    IFRT Montly Video Series: Jim Neal

    Friday, February 25th, 2011

    The Intellectual Freedom Round Table (IFRT) presents the seventh in its monthly video series of interviews. This month’s video features Jim Neal, Vice President for Information Services and University Librarian at Columbia University in the City of New York, speaking with IFRT Chair Loida Garcia-Febo about about libraries, library workers and copyright matters.

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

    Jewish Group at Amherst College Receives Funding After AAS Senate Debate, but Concerns Remain about Senate Funding Policies

    Friday, February 25th, 2011

    According to a column by Romen Borsellino in The Amherst Student, the Association of Amherst Students (AAS) Senate at Amherst College, of which Borsellingo is a member, debated during a meeting on February 14 whether a new Jewish student organization, the Jew Crew, should receive funding for an event. Detractors claimed that the Jew Crew was too similar to the existing Jewish student organization on campus, Hillel, while supporters noted that the two served different purposes. Eventually, the AAS Senate reached an almost unanimous decision to fund the event.

    While this is good news for the Jew Crew, the broader implications of the debate are a bit disconcerting. First, there's no reason to deny a student group's otherwise valid event funding request simply because some believe that its mission is too similar to that of another organization. Even more concerning, though, is Borsellino's quote about a proposed resolution for the AAS Senate on value judgments:

    This resolution sought to put into words the fact that we should be able to decide to fund something based on whether or not we like the cause. The problem is, that's what we already do. 

    While this type of viewpoint-based decision-making would clearly ...

    New Honorees in the Takedown Hall of Shame

    Friday, February 25th, 2011

    Co-authored by Eva Galperin and Abigail Phillips

    Bogus copyright and trademark complaints have threatened all kinds of creative expression on the Internet. EFF’s Takedown Hall of Shame collects the worst of the worst. Today, we welcome two new additions to our gallery of villains.

    Penrose Triangle

    Our first addition to the Hall of Shame involves the Penrose Triangle, an “impossible object” created by Oscar Reutersvärd of Sweden in the mid-1930s. Last week, Thingiverse, a site where users share 3D designs for printing, received a takedown notice for a 3D design of the triangle. Who sent this takedown notice? Not Reutersvärd. The sender and alleged copyright owner appears to be one Ulrich Schwanitz. Apparently, Mr. Schwanitz also created a 3D model of Reutersvärd’s triangle and is claiming that the version on Thingiverse violated his copyright. You can see a photo of his version here.

    Copyright in what, you might ask—the original image? If someone else created the earlier illustration of this triangle, then Mr. Schwanitz can’t have the copyright in the image unless he somehow acquired it, or an exclusive right, from the owner. Nor can he claim a copyright in the process of converting the image to 3D; it’s a neat ...

    Over 40,000 Does Dismissed In Copyright Troll Cases

    Friday, February 25th, 2011

    These have been some eventful weeks in the world of copyright trolling. Thousands of unnamed “John Does” in P2P file sharing lawsuits filed in California, Washington DC, Texas, and West Virginia have been severed, effectively dismissing over 40,000 defendants. The plaintiffs in these cases must now re-file against almost all of the Does individually rather than suing them en mass. These rulings may have a significant impact on the copyright trolls’ business model, which relies on being able to sue thousands of Does at once with a minimum of administrative expense. The cost of filing suit against each Doe may prove prohibitively expensive to plaintiffs’ attorneys who are primarily interested in extracting quick, low-hassle settlements.

    However, EFF has received reports that some Does are still receiving notices from their ISP’s informing them that their identities are being sought in relation to these cases. If you receive a notice from your ISP informing you that it has received a subpoena requesting your subscriber information in connection with one of the cases in the spreadsheet attached below, please contact EFF immediately by emailing

    Miss. governor signs new sunshine law

    Friday, February 25th, 2011

    JACKSON, Miss. — Gov. Haley Barbour yesterday signed a bill to strengthen Mississippi’s open-meetings and public-records laws.

    Starting July 1, individual officials could face fines of $500 to $1,000 for improperly closing meetings that should be open to the public. Under current law, taxpayers have been footing the bill for the fines.

    The measure, S.B. 2289, also says that starting July 1, a person could be charged $100 per incident for improperly denying someone access to public records. Current law says there’s a $100 fine but doesn’t specify that it’s for each incident.

    The Mississippi Center for Freedom of Information and the Mississippi Press Association were among the open-government groups lobbying for the changes, saying they could make officials more accountable for their own actions.

    City councils, county boards of supervisors, school boards and other public bodies are allowed to close meetings for specific reasons, such as discussing pending lawsuits or personnel decisions.

    While many government boards follow proper procedures for closing meetings, some have done so improperly.

    For example, Lauderdale County supervisors went into closed session this past September, saying they were going to discuss personnel matters. They inadvertently left on a camera that was putting the meeting’s video ...

    Facebook Doesn’t “Like” Nude Art

    Thursday, February 24th, 2011
    (image from It turns out that the enclosure of the World Wide Web into propriety social networks like Facebook has a downside, as the global art community is discovering. Facebook’s censors reviewers have repeatedly disabled accounts for posting images of Gustave Courbet’s iconic 1866 painting, “The Origin Of The World”, a frank and naturalistic [...]

    Local Paper Quotes Will on Wesleyan’s Policy Denying Freedom of Association

    Thursday, February 24th, 2011

    The Middletown Press of Middletown, Connecticut, home of Wesleyan University, is the latest news outlet to draw attention to Wesleyan's overbroad policy restricting students' freedom of association. In an article published today, Press writer Claire Michalewicz gets FIRE's Will Creeley's take on the policy. As we have covered extensively here on The Torch in recent days, the policy, scheduled to take effect in August 2011, will flatly prohibit Wesleyan students from "participating in social activities" on the property of any and all private organizations that are not recognized by Wesleyan.

    As Will says in the article, that just won't do:

    Will Creeley, Director of Legal and Public Advocacy at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), called the new policy "such a clear and obvious overreach on the part of Wesleyan administrators that we felt compelled to respond."


    Creeley said that as a private institution, Wesleyan doesn't have to abide by the Bill of Rights in the constitution, but must still adhere to the promises it made its students. The new policy, he said, interferes with students' freedom of assembly.

    Creeley said his colleagues had written a letter to denouncing the policy to Wesleyan president Michael Roth, ...

    Interview with FIRE’s Adam Kissel Featured in the ‘California Review’

    Thursday, February 24th, 2011

    The February 2011 issue of the California Review, a conservative student journal at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), features an extensive interview with FIRE's Vice President of Programs, Adam Kissel. Adam discusses some of the worst FIRE cases of the past five years, and analyzes a recent student media case at UCSD. When asked how students can show their support for free speech, Adam explains:

    Exercising your rights is one of the best ways to demonstrate your support for them. Some of the noblest expressions of support, however, come from people who publicly support others' right to express their views even while utterly despising those views. But a lot of people do not quite understand that acknowledging someone else's right to speak does not end the debateit begins the debate.

    Check out the full interview on the California Review''s website. The interview begins on the front page, and continues on page 6.

    Adam will also give a lecture about free speech at UCSD on March 4, in the Eleanor Roosevelt Room at Price Center West, beginning at 12:15 p.m. FIRE supporters in the San Diego area are encouraged to attend!

    Tenn. bill equates Islamic law with treason

    Thursday, February 24th, 2011

    NASHVILLE — Republican state lawmakers have proposed a bill that would make following the Islamic code known as Shariah law a felony punishable by 15 years in jail.

    First Amendment Center senior scholar Charles Haynes told The Tennessean that the bill was based on a complete misunderstanding of Shariah, which he described as a set of voluntary religious rules similar to Jewish religious law.

    The bill, introduced last week by state Rep. Judd Matheny of Tullahoma and state Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro, states that it exempts the peaceful practice of Islam, but it also labels any adherence to Shariah — which includes peaceful religious practices — as treasonous.

    Matheny said he was given the bill by the conservative Tennessee Eagle Forum. Eagle Forum State President Bobbie Patray said the measure was drafted by David Yerushalmi, an Arizona-based attorney who runs the Society of Americans for National Existence, a nonprofit that claims following Shariah is treasonous.

    Haynes called the proposed law "nonsense" as well as unnecessary, because people of all faiths have to follow secular law in the U.S.

    "The government can't label religious laws as wrong or treasonous or evil," he said. "The government may not take sides in ...

    Report released on 1970 killing of L.A. journalist

    Thursday, February 24th, 2011

    LOS ANGELES — For many in the Latino community, the 1970 killing of Mexican-American journalist Ruben Salazar had the look of a political assassination.

    The KMEX-TV news director and Los Angeles Times columnist was in an East Los Angeles bar, taking a break from covering an anti-war rally, when a sheriff's deputy blasted two tear gas canisters through the doorway. One hit Salazar in the head, killing him instantly.

    His death transformed Salazar into a hero for those fighting for better police treatment and soured already bitter relations between the Latino community and authorities. Claims have persisted for decades that Salazar was targeted because of his reporting on police abuses.

    On Feb. 22, in response to news-media requests for documents in the case to be unsealed, officials released a report on Salazar's death and the investigation that followed. Documents from the case itself will be made available for review by the news media in the coming days.

    While the report found no evidence supporting suspicions that Salazar was deliberately killed, it states the death was due to a series of tactical blunders that would be unacceptable by today's law enforcement standards.

    The review "found a number of significant tactical decision-making ...

    Startup ordered to stop streaming TV programming online

    Thursday, February 24th, 2011

    WASHINGTON — In a key victory for television broadcasters, a federal court has ordered a Seattle startup called ivi Inc. to stop distributing broadcast signals over the Internet without broadcasters’ consent.

    U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald in New York issued a preliminary injunction against ivi on Feb. 22 barring the company from streaming copyright-protected broadcast programming online.

    Ivi captures over-the-air broadcast signals from stations in Seattle, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles and delivers them to subscribers who have downloaded its ivi TV player, which costs $4.99 a month.

    The company is being sued for copyright infringement by the big broadcast networks, local stations in New York and Seattle, public broadcasters, several large movie studios and Major League Baseball.

    Ivi said it would shut down its broadcast channel offerings while it appeals the court ruling.

    “The oppressive big media networks must open their doors to innovators or they will inevitably fall,” the company said in a statement. “People want responsible choice, not the one-size-fits-all television offerings imposed by powerful media interests.”

    In court, ivi has argued that it is entitled to the same rights to distribute broadcast programming that federal copyright law automatically grants cable TV operators.

    The Feb. ...

    N.H. justices: Expunged criminal records fair game in political race

    Thursday, February 24th, 2011

    CONCORD, N.H. — Even expunged criminal records are fair game during a campaign for public office, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled yesterday.

    The court unanimously rejected the invasion-of-privacy complaint filed by David Lovejoy against his opponent in the 2009 Rockingham County Sheriff’s race, incumbent Dan Linehan, and deputy sheriff Mark Peirce.

    Lovejoy accused Linehan and Peirce of leaking Lovejoy’s annulled simple assault conviction to the Portsmouth Herald in October 2008. The conviction stemmed from an incident in 1989.

    The Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s dismissal of Lovejoy’s lawsuit, saying candidates have less expectation of privacy to start with and that a prior assault conviction is relevant if the candidate is running for the county’s top law enforcement post.

    Lovejoy’s lawyer, Charles Douglas III, said he was disappointed his client can’t collect damages from Linehan and Peirce, who knew the annulled records were supposed to be kept confidential.

    “Hopefully the legislature will look at this,” Douglas said. “If someone in law enforcement does disclose and knows better, there should be a penalty in addition to criminal charge.”

    Linehan and Peirce resigned their posts to avoid criminal prosecution.

    Lovejoy claimed that Linehan and Peirce invaded his privacy by publicly disclosing ...

    What about Anonymous Speech Online?

    Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011
    Ken Paulson, president of the First Amendment Center, writes in USA TODAY about the First Amendment, the historical importance of anonymous speech, and how people are reacting to such speech online.

    New Board Vindicates First Amendment Rights at Southwestern College, Rescinds Punishment for ‘Free Speech Patio’ Protest

    Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

    Three faculty members at Southwestern College (SWC) in Chula Vista, California, have had formal reprimands removed from their records, following a vote by the new Governing Board that vindicates their First Amendment rights. Last academic year, the three professors were banned from campus, placed on leave, and formally reprimanded because they had joined with students who had strayed beyond the college's unconstitutional free speech zonea single patio.

    Now that the reprimands have been lifted, Southwestern must complete its revisions of its unconstitutional protest policy as soon as possible. FIRE and the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties (ACLU-SD) have been working with SWC to fully protect First Amendment rights in its protest policy.

    The professors' ordeal began on October 22, 2009, after a group of students and faculty members assembled in SWC's "free speech zone" to protest various actions taken by the SWC administration. According to a professor who was in attendance, one of the students said, "Let's go where they can hear us." When some of the protesters reached the courtyard where SWC Superintendent/President Raj K. Chopra's office was located, they were met by police officers who would not let them pass. ...

    Moot Court Competition Examines Real Student Cyber-Speech Issues

    Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011
    David Hudson of the First Amendment Center is connecting the dots between the hypothetical case presented in the 2011 First Amendment Moot Court Competition (in which the College Of William and Mary Law School emerged victorious — Go Tribe!) and the questions of freedom and accountability surrounding online speech facing administrators and communities around the [...]

    VIDEO: Policing The Sacred Panel at CAA, Organized by NCAC

    Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011
    Were you unable to make it to NCAC’s “Policing the Sacred” panel on religion and freedom of expression at this year’s CAA? Now is your chance to take in the discourse and debate with these full-length videos!

    Federal judge dismisses religious challenge to Obama health plan

    Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

    WASHINGTON — A federal judge yesterday threw out a lawsuit claiming that President Barack Obama's requirement that all Americans have health insurance violates the religious freedom of those who rely on God to protect them.

    U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler in Washington dismissed a lawsuit filed by the American Center for Law and Justice, a Christian legal group founded by evangelist Pat Robertson, on behalf of five Americans who can afford health insurance but have chosen for years not to buy it.

    The case was one of several lawsuits filed against Obama's requirement that Americans either buy health insurance or pay a penalty, beginning in 2014. Kessler is the third Democratic-appointed judge to dismiss a challenge, while two Republican-appointed judges have ruled part or all of the law unconstitutional. Kessler wrote that the Supreme Court would need to settle the constitutional issues.

    Three of the plaintiffs — Margaret Peggy Lee Mead of Hillsborough, N.C., Charles Edward Lee of San Antonio and Susan Seven-Sky of West Harrison, N.Y. — are Christians who say they want to refuse all medical services for the rest of their lives because they believe God will heal their afflictions. They say being forced to buy insurance ...

    NYPD ordered to turn over shooting reports

    Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

    NEW YORK — The New York Police Department must hand over more than a decade's worth of internal reports on shootings that include details from witnesses and the officers' first-hand accounts, according to a trial court ruling made public yesterday.

    State Supreme Court Justice Emily J. Goodman's decision in a lawsuit by the New York Civil Liberties Union means reports will be made public on more than 800 incidents since 1997 in which officers fired at civilians. They will include details on famous cases like the 1999 shooting of Amadou Diallo, and lesser-known ones in which no one was struck.

    Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the department would comply with the trial court’s ruling, but he noted the department already releases comprehensive findings in an annual firearms-discharge report. In that report, every shooting is discussed — whether it involved a human, animal or otherwise; how many shots were fired; and the race of the people involved.

    Those reports have been available for at least three years. Kelly called the annual report in-depth and well done.

    "I think we've passed that issue," he said. "I think that litigation may have been started before we started issuing that report."

    The statistical information ...

    Va. school district removes Ten Commandments displays

    Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

    RICHMOND, Va. — A southwest Virginia school system has again removed all displays of the Ten Commandments, a month after reposting them despite concerns that doing so was unconstitutional.

    The Giles County School Board called a special meeting yesterday and voted to remove the framed, 4-foot-tall, biblical texts, said Amanda Tickle, the board’s clerk.

    The Ten Commandments had been posted in the district's five schools and technology center for at least a decade next to framed copies of the U.S. Constitution. School officials took them down in December on the advice of the school board's attorney. That move came after the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a civil rights group, notified Superintendent Terry Arbogast about the issue.

    The board reversed that decision Jan. 20 after a group of parents and ministers argued that schools had a moral obligation to reinforce God's teachings.

    A telephone message left for Arbogast wasn't returned in time for this story.

    The Freedom From Religion Foundation and other groups say such displays clearly violate the Constitution's separation of church and state, and have threatened legal action.

    Kent Willis, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, said Giles County school officials hadn't notified his group ...

    ‘PolicyMic’ Interviews Peter about Civility, Greg’s ‘Dirty Dozen,’ and More

    Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

    FIRE's Peter Bonilla is a contributor to PolicyMic, a new "online platform for debate and high-quality political discussion that highlights the country's sharpest young thinkers - liberals and conservatives alike." Recently, PolicyMic interviewed Peter about FIRE's mission.

    Peter spoke persuasively against the idea that colleges need administrators to enforce a "balance" between free speech and "civility" on campus:

    I think much of what supposedly necessitates a "balance," in the eyes of college administrators and some students, is an illusion. A common example of this is the straw man created when people say that free speech ends where "hate speech" begins. Well, it doesn't. Almost all of what we call "hate speech" is as free as any other speech. Does this mean we have to suffer fools quietly? Of course not. There are any number of ways people remedy hurtful or inflammatory speech - starting with passionately speaking their opposition to it and doing what they can to encourage more productive dialogue. But to effectively address it, we need to come from a place of understanding that people have the right to say what deeply offends us. If we start with the assumption that certain topics, even certain words, are ...

    Two FIRE Speeches in Nashville This Week

    Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

    FIRE supporters in the Nashville area have two chances this week to see our Vice President of Programs, Adam Kissel, talk about free speech on local campuses.

    Tonight, Adam kicks off his speaking engagements in Nashville at Belmont University, sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences and the Department of Political Science. Adam will give a lecture titled "Threats to Civil Liberties on College Campuses" at 7 p.m. CST in the Vince Gill Room.

    Tomorrow, February 23, Adam will speak at Vanderbilt University. Young Americans for Liberty has reserved Wilson Hall Room 103 for his discussion on "The State of Student Rights at Vanderbilt University," beginning at 5 p.m. CST.

    For full details on both speeches and other upcoming FIRE events, check out FIRE's Calendar of Events or Speakers Bureau Map.