Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

China Tops Media Crackdown

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011
A new report says China imprisoned the most reporters in the world in 2010.

Brown University Students Unlearn Liberty

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

At Brown University, an act of political protest came to a disappointing end when students apparently opposed to the protest's message simply removed it from view. The Brown Daily Herald reports:

A banner reading "Corporate Criminals Run Brown" appeared on Wayland Arch [of Wayland House, a Brown dormitory] facing Wriston Quadrangle Friday evening, a day before this weekend's meeting of the Corporation. Less than 24 hours later, the banner had been taken down.

The banner included a small "TM" for "trademark" beside the word "Brown."

The banner was a reference to Steven J. Rattner, a fellow of the Corporation of Brown University whose business practices have drawn scrutiny from government agencies in the past. (The Herald notes that while he has paid fines and faced temporary sanctions, he has not been convicted of any crime.)

The students, who are members of the group Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), note that this wasn't the first time a banner of theirs had been quickly removed from view, citing a similar incident when a banner of theirs was taken down from Faunce House, Brown's student union.

I am unclear on precisely what the rules for hangingand removing...

What Congress Can Learn from the Recent ICE Seizures

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

“COICA”, Senator Leahy’s Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act, is back. The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the legislation tomorrow morning.

As a reminder, COICA would give the government dramatic new copyright enforcement powers, most notably the ability to meddle with the Internet’s domain name system (DNS) and make entire websites effectively disappear, along with noninfringing content and lawful speech.

The bill’s main tool for targeting alleged infringement is suspension of domain names. We’ve gotten an early glimpse of how this provision might play out through recent enforcement efforts by U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) involving the seizure of domain names. The latest ICE action highlights an important point about COICA: the bill would take a seizure mechanism available under criminal copyright law and make it explicitly available in a civil context as well.

Earlier this month, ICE seized another ten domain names as part of an apparent ongoing strategy connected to its Operation in Our Sites project. Needless to say, we and others have lots of questions about ICE’s alleged bases for this action, some of which ICE revealed in the affidavit it filed in support of its seizure warrant ...

Don’t Mess With Texas: Another Texas Judge Scrutinizes Mass Copyright Litigation

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

Looks like the Texas courts are no place to file suit if you want to bypass due process. A few weeks ago, we reported that Mick Haig Productions had dismissed its copyright infringement lawsuit against 670 "John Does," complaining that the court's appointment of attorneys from EFF and Public Citizen had impeded its ability to prosecute its case. In a brief filed on behalf of the Does, EFF and Public Citizen had argued that Mick Haig should not be allowed to send subpoenas for the Does' identifying information, because it had sued hundreds of people in one case, in the wrong jurisdiction and without meeting the constitutional standard for obtaining identifying information. We have also raised questions about the plaintiff's conduct, as it appears it sent out subpoenas without the court's permission.

Last week, we learned that another federal judge in Texas is considering appointing attorneys to represent the Does in five mass copyright cases: Steve Hardeman LLC v. Does 1-168; Serious Bidness LLC v. Does 1-109; Funimation Entmn’t v. Does 1,337; Adult Source Media v. Does 1-247 and Harmony Films Ltd v. Does 1-739. (see below for the court's orders). In each case, Judge Royal Furgeson has ordered the ...

The Weiler Affair and Globalized Censorship

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011
Prof.  Joseph Weiler of NYU, and Editor-In-Chief of the European Journal Of Law, has contributed an incisive editorial regarding charges that he defamed an author through an unfavorable book review: …I was summoned to appear before an Examining Magistrate in Paris based on a complaint of criminal defamation lodged by the author. Why Paris you [...]

NEWSgrist Write-up On “Policing the Sacred” CAA 2011 Panel

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011
Joy Garnett of NEWSgrist has posted her reflections on the NCAC’s panel at CAA: ‘Policing the Sacred’ broached the most interesting age-old conundrum of art, religion and censorship. It asked that we ourselves examine the lines between hate speech, critique, parody, and appropriation of the sacred and its symbols by artists as well as by [...]

CPAC 2011: FIRE Successfully Spreads the Message of Liberty on Campus

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

It was a whirlwind three days for FIRE at the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), but we're happy to report that our nonpartisan message of liberty on campus was well received. It was great to see the support of so many current FIRE fans at our booth, and even better to be able to introduce the importance of unrestricted and open discourse on college campuses to those seeing FIRE's name for the first time.

FIRE Vice President of Programs Adam Kissel was also able to introduce the concept of "Unlearning Liberty" to a new audience by speaking on a panel entitled "Defending Free Speech on Campus," moderated by Professor Jan Blits from the University of Delaware on Saturday morning. As Torch readers will remember, Professor Blits won the Kirkpatrick Academic Freedom Award on Friday.

If you missed the event, you can watch Adam's remarks here (free registration required). Afterward, Adam sat down with Katie Pavlich of Townhall.com to discuss his talk and the state of free speech on college campuses.

Be sure to visit our Twitter account for more updates and photos from the conference!

House Rubber-Stamps PATRIOT Act Renewal, Don’t Let The Senate Do The Same!

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

Despite the valiant efforts of liberty-defending congresspersons from both political parties, the House of Representatives has just this evening passed an extension of the three USA PATRIOT Act surveillance powers that were set to "sunset" at the end of February, by a vote of 275 to 144. Now, the Senate is our last hope to stop PATRIOT renewal and obtain meaningful PATRIOT reform. The Senate is expected to vote on a PATRIOT renewal bill this week, so contact your Senators today and urge them to vote NO on the PATRIOT Act!

Of the 144 votes against the House bill, 26 came from Republicans, who argued that the law's broad surveillance powers constitute a big government intrusion into the lives of private citizens. For example, California Republican Dana Rohrabacher said:

I believe the American people have a legitimate fear of out-of-control government. And yes, they have a legitimate fear of out-of-control prosecutors and out-of-control spy networks.

Democratic Representative Bobby Scott of Virginia added:

I do not accept the argument that in order to be safe it's necessary to give up our rights and freedoms.

Republican House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith insisted that the House's extension of the expiring PATRIOT provisions ...

House votes to extend key provisions of Patriot Act

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

WASHINGTON — The House agreed yesterday to a 10-month extension of three key law enforcement powers in the fight against terrorism that some privacy advocates from both the right and left regard as infringements on civil liberties.

The House measure, H.R. 514, passed 275-144, would extend authority for the USA Patriot Act-related provisions until Dec. 8. Common ground must be found with the Senate before the provisions expire on Feb. 28.

At issue are two provisions of the post-Sept. 11 law that give counterterrorism offices roving wiretap authority to monitor multiple electronic devices and court-approved access to business records relating to a terrorist investigation.

The third "lone wolf" provision permits secret intelligence surveillance of non-U.S. individuals not known to be linked to a specific terrorist organization.

Last week the House, in an embarrassment for the new GOP leadership, failed to pass the same bill under an expedited procedure requiring a two-thirds majority. Twenty-six Republicans joined 122 Democrats in voting against it. Yesterday's vote, in which the provisions needed only a simple majority to pass, drew 27 Republican no votes.

The main objections are to what critics see as unconstitutional search-and-seize authority and big government intrusions into private lives.

"I believe ...

Ousted USDA employee sues blogger

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

WASHINGTON — A former Agriculture Department employee who was shown in an edited video making what appeared to be racist remarks has sued the conservative blogger who posted the video that led to her dismissal.

Shirley Sherrod said yesterday that she was “still reeling” from being ousted in a racial firestorm last July. USDA officials asked Sherrod to resign after blogger Andrew Breitbart posted an edited video of comments she had made in a speech earlier in the year.

The clip showed Sherrod, who is black, telling a local NAACP group that she was initially reluctant to help a white farmer save his farm more than two decades ago, long before she worked for USDA. Missing from the clip was the rest of the speech, which was meant as a lesson in racial healing. Sherrod told the crowd she eventually realized her mistake and helped the farmer save his farm.

She later received numerous apologies from the administration, including from President Barack Obama, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asked her to return. She declined the offer, but she said at the time she might do some contract work with the department.

Sherrod’s lawyer released a statement yesterday saying she was ...

Iowa chain fights Subway over ‘footlong’

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

DES MOINES, Iowa — An Iowa-based convenience store has asked a federal judge to rule that the word "footlong" is part of the general English language and not the special property of the Subway restaurant chain.

Ankeny-based Casey's General Stores Inc. filed a lawsuit against Subway in U.S. District Court in Des Moines on Feb. 11 seeking a declaration that Casey's use of the word "footlong" to describe its 12-inch sandwiches doesn't violate any right owned by Subway.

Casey's lawsuit also seeks a declaration that "footlong" is a generic description of a sandwich that measures one foot, and that Subway's attempt to assert trademark rights is "frivolous litigation."

"We maintain the use of "footlong" by itself to describe a sandwich, which is approximately a foot long, is as old as the hills and everybody has that right and has had that right since they've been making foot-long sandwiches," Ed Sease, an attorney for Casey's, said yesterday.

The lawsuit was first reported yesterday by The Des Moines Register.

Subway, owned by Doctor's Associate Inc. of Plantation, Fla., has used the phrases "$5 footlong" and "five-dollar footlong" for years at its 34,000 stores.

Casey's describes sandwiches as "footlong" on menu boards at ...

Towson University’s ‘Towerlight’ Responds to Theft of Campus Paper

Monday, February 14th, 2011

At Towson University in Maryland, the editors of The Towerlight, the campus' student newspaper, are promising to take action after, according to initial reports, almost all of its most recent edition was stolennearly 10,000 copies in all (update, 2/15/11: a more recent estimate is that 2,000-3,000 papers were stolen). 

Such thefts are depressingly common on university campuses, as we at FIRE can attest. In fact, The Towerlight notes that this is the third such occurrence at Towson in the past three semesters alone! Not only is this form of censorship unprincipled and thuggish, it is nonsensicalwhatever content in the paper motivated the thefts, it has surely gained increased prominence as the censorship sends viewers to the papers' websites to learn what was so allegedly controversial.

Newspaper theft is not only immoral and counterproductive, it is is also illegal, as The Towerlight points out:

While The Towerlight is a free publication, no one is free to take multiple copies in order to keep information away from its intended audience.

According to the Maryland Newspaper Theft Law, adopted in 1994:

(a) "Newspaper" means any periodical that is distributed on a complimentary or compensatory basis.

(b) A person ...

FIRE’s Creeley on Religious Campus Controversies

Monday, February 14th, 2011

FIRE Director of Legal and Public Advocacy Will Creeley is featured in the latest op-ed from nationally syndicated columnist Terry Mattingly, who writes the weekly "On Religion" column for Scripps Howard News Service. Will discusses controversies over religion on campus.

From the Mohammed cartoons to disputes over whether openly gay students should be able to lead evangelical Christian student groups, religion adds a great deal of passionate debate to many campus disputes. Discussing past FIRE cases, Mattingly writes:

Anyone who explores academic hallways on American campuses will find lots of cartoons posted on professors' office doors and bulletin boards.

But what if the cartoons included the Prophet Muhammad?

In one famous case, a professor at Century College in Minnesota dared to post the Muhammad cartoons that were published in a Danish newspaper. Facing fierce criticism, she put the images behind a curtain so that anyone passing her bulletin board would not see them unless they chose to do so. Administrators quickly created a policy requiring advance approval of all posted items.

It's easy to find hot religion buttons on campuses. What if a club tried to screen Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" and administrators banned it, citing its ...

Clampdown on Egypt Reaction

Monday, February 14th, 2011
China's government fears comparisons with the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy movement.

Under Pressure from FIRE, UMass Amherst Revises 2010′s Speech Code of the Year

Monday, February 14th, 2011

Under pressure from FIRE, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst has revised its policy governing rallies on campusand not a moment too soon. FIRE supporters will remember that the policy had earned UMass Amherst intensely negative attention, both here on The Torch and in the national media.

In January, FIRE named the policy the 2010 Speech Code of the Year. In the post announcing this dubious distinction, Sam explained just why UMass Amherst's policy was a cut aboveor belowall the rest:

While all 12 Speech Codes of the Month in 2010 flagrantly violated students' right to free expression, one-the University of Massachusetts Amherst's policy on "Rallies"-was so egregious that it deserves special mention as 2010's Speech Code of the Year.

UMass Amherst's policy on "Rallies" has special regulations applicable to what it calls "controversial rallies"-and it leaves "controversial" wholly undefined, giving the administration unfettered discretion to invoke the policy when it sees fit. If a rally is deemed controversial, it may only take place between noon and 1 p.m. on the Student Union steps, and must be registered at least five days in advance. That's just one hour a day on one tiny ...

Privacy in the Wake of Olympic Security: Wikileaks Sheds Light on How the U.S. Pressured Brazil

Monday, February 14th, 2011

Privacy advocates have observed for years that countries hosting the Olympic Games introduce increasingly heightened security and surveillance measures for the event, but rarely cut back on public surveillance after the games are finished. Because these expanded surveillance measures are often made permanent, we noted with interest a report released by the whistle-blower website Wikileaks that detailed how the United States lobbied Brazil about security and information-sharing strategies after the latter was chosen to host the 2016 Olympic Games.

Despite lengthy diplomatic cables on this issue, the cables from the U.S. that have been made public did not address the very serious privacy, civil liberties and public accountability implications of the widespread use of surveillance technologies. It remains to be seen what types of security and privacy protocols Brazil will be implement in the coming years. But history shows that the Olympic Games often result in increased security and public surveillance measures that persist long after the games end – to the detriment of privacy.

According to the cables released by Wikileaks, the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia reported on opportunities for the United States Government (USG) to take advantage of the Games to broaden their influence on the government of ...

Tufts’ Reaction to Placement on ’12 Worst’ List Validates FIRE’s Choice

Monday, February 14th, 2011

The administrative response to FIRE's placement of Tufts University on our list of "The 12 Worst Colleges for Free Speech" in The Huffington Post further demonstrates why student expression is in jeopardy at Tufts.

An article published Friday in the Tufts student newspaper The Tufts Daily discusses the list and explores the university's troubled record of interfering with free expression on campus. This history includes Tufts finding the conservative student newspaper The Primary Source responsible for "harassment" for its controversial pieces on affirmative action and Islamic extremism. The Tufts Daily article quotes Dean of Student Affairs Bruce Reitman, who vehemently disagreed with FIRE's characterization of Tufts as stifling free speech. Reitman's response displays both a misunderstanding of free speech protections and a startling lack of logic:

Reitman said that FIRE itself is guilty of not truly respecting the freedom of expression.

"If FIRE is saying we are at fault because we are restricting people from having an opinion that can be voiced, aren't they doing exactly that by saying a group of people doesn't have the right to call something harassing behavior?" he said. "I think they're hypocritical even in making this argument. So they're saying that people ...

2nd Circuit rejects whistleblowing custodian’s appeal

Monday, February 14th, 2011

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A former custodian who warned school officials about possible asbestos in a gymnasium lost his appeal before the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In 2003, while working as head custodian at Somers Central High School in Lincolndale, N.Y., Norman Morey received a phone call about a mass that had fallen onto the gymnasium floor. Morey feared that it might be asbestos and warned school administrators. The result was that Morey lost his job — supposedly for reasons unrelated to his asbestos report. However, Morey had never been disciplined before voicing his concerns about asbestos.

In March 2010, a federal district court granted the school officials summary judgment, finding that Morey’s speech was job-duty speech within the meaning of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2006 decision in Garcetti v. Ceballos.

Under Garcetti, public employees have no First Amendment protection — even for whistleblowing — when they make statements as part of their official job duties.

Morey appealed to the 2nd Circuit, which affirmed the lower court in its Feb. 9 decision in Morey v. Somers Central School District.

“The district court correctly concluded that, on the evidence of record, any reasonable jury would be required to find that ...

Jury returns $5M libel verdict against Va. newspaper

Monday, February 14th, 2011

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — A former high school athlete has won a $5 million libel verdict against The Virginian-Pilot newspaper in Norfolk.

A Circuit Court jury found on Feb. 11 that Kevin Webb was libeled by a December 2009 article that said he bullied a schoolmate at Great Bridge High School.

Webb claimed he was falsely accused in a report stemming from Webb's sentencing for misdemeanor assault and trespassing convictions involving the schoolmate's father.

The newspaper denied the allegations and stood behind its story. Lawyers for the newspaper asked to have the verdict set aside as being contrary to the law.

Judge Randall D. Smith postponed recording the verdict pending further arguments on the request.

The newspaper declined to comment on the verdict.

Ex-NCAA players take on video games for using likenesses

Monday, February 14th, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO — There was a time when Sam Keller and his teammates couldn't wait to get their hands on Electronic Arts Inc.'s latest edition of NCAA Football, which included their team and images down to Keller's distinctive visor he wore while playing quarterback for the University of Nebraska in 2007.

EA shares undisclosed royalties with the NCAA for use of college stadiums, team names and uniforms and the players' images in a game that racks up hundreds of millions of dollars in annual sales. Because they are amateur athletes, the players don't receive any direct benefit from the appearances of their nameless images in the game.

But Keller and an increasing number of players, such as former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon, think they should and have filed at least nine federal lawsuits against the NCAA and EA over the last two years.

Keller will be in Pasadena tomorrow to watch his team of lawyers urge the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold a trial judge's decision that EA and the NCAA appear to owe the former Cornhusker and — by extension — thousands of other former players millions of dollars for using their images in the ...

What’s Better than an “Internet Kill Switch”? Regular Security Updates

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

The US government is deliberating about how to approach the “cyber” security problem. But the solution the government needs to network security isn’t sweeping authority over the Internet — it’s common-sense security practices they’ve heretofore failed to implement.

As we previously said, it is unfortunate that the government tends toward the dramatic and seeks to broadly expand its powers in the name of security, while continuing to overlook more prosaic issues. Bruce Schneier explains,

GAO reports indicate that government problems include insufficient access controls, a lack of encryption where necessary, poor network management, failure to install patches, inadequate audit procedures, and incomplete or ineffective information security programs. These aren't super-secret NSA-level security issues; these are the same managerial problems that every corporate CIO wrestles with.

Moreover,

The best thing the government can do for cybersecurity world-wide is to use its buying power to improve the security of the IT products everyone uses. If it imposes significant security requirements on its IT vendors, those vendors will modify their products to meet those requirements. And those same products, now with improved security, will become available to all of us as the new standard.

We know the market pressure approach ...

Fla. judge allows Casey Anthony’s Web postings at trial

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

ORLANDO, Fla. — Lawyers prosecuting a Florida mother charged with killing her 2-year old daughter will be able to present to the jury information about her MySpace postings and her tattoo.

Circuit Judge Belvin Perry in Orlando ruled on Feb. 10 that prosecutors can tell jurors about Casey Anthony's tattoo and as well as her postings on the social networking site during her trial set to begin in May. Anthony got the tattoo, which reads “"La Bella Vita" or the beautiful or good life around the time her daughter went missing.

Anthony has pleaded not guilty in the death of her daughter Caylee and said a baby sitter kidnapped her daughter.

Her attorneys had argued the tattoo and her MySpace postings are irrelevant to the case. But prosecutors say they show her state of mind at the time Caylee disappeared.

Kan. neighbors’ feud sparks free-speech debate

Saturday, February 12th, 2011

WICHITA, Kan. — A bitter and surreal feud among families at one corner of Wichita’s east-side College Hill neighborhood has raised questions about blight, tolerance, common courtesy and freedom of speech.

The years-long battle drew attention from neighbors and passing motorists in October, when David Grebenik posted six hand-written signs on the east side of his house at Second and Bluff.

The signs accuse neighbor Stephenie Vega of calling Grebenik’s family a “house full of retards.” Vega’s name and address are on the signs, along with Grebenik’s statement that he has a “mentally challenged” son and a daughter who is blind and has cerebral palsy.

The feud took another turn recently when Grant and Janet Rine, who live across the street from Grebenik, decided to move. The couple plans to lease the 3,000-square-foot prairie-style house they’ve been restoring for nearly a decade.

“The emotional abuse alone has taken my health from me,” Janet Rine said. “There’s a lot of this type of thing going on in neighborhoods, and people are helpless … . We simply can’t take it anymore.”

Grebenik, a self-employed contractor, says he’s being unfairly targeted by neighbors and “harassed” by police and city inspectors over the condition ...

This Week in the News: Another Busy Week for FIRE

Friday, February 11th, 2011
The first full week of February was characteristically busy for FIRE.

Greg's Huffington Post article, "The 12 Worst Colleges for Free Speech," made the news for the third consecutive week, with two articles published about Yale University's placement in Greg's "dirty dozen." Sam Lasman, writing for Yale's student newspaper, the Yale Daily Newsencouraged Yale to improve its free speech protections and foster an atmosphere of open and vigorous debate. Meanwhile, an editorial in the same newspaper disagreed with Yale's placement on the list in part because of the existence of the famous Woodward Report, the work of a Yale committee led by historian C. Vann Woodward in the 1970s, which declared that "the paramount obligation of the university" is to protect all university members' right to free expression.Unfortunately, the Report, authored in the 1970's, has not stopped Yale from implementing repressive speech codes and, even worse, trampling students' and faculty members' rights to freedom of speech over the last decade, solidifying Yale's place on Greg's list. 

Now that Arizona State University (ASU) has earned a "green light" rating, FIRE is focusing on reforming the speech codes of ASU's fellow public institutions, including the ...

‘Inside Higher Ed’ Quotes FIRE’s Shibley on University of Alabama Controversy

Friday, February 11th, 2011
Inside Higher Ed's Allie Grasgreen reports today on the ongoing controversy gripping the University of Alabama's Tuscaloosa campus, where a white fraternity member reportedly shouted racial epithets at an African-American student last week. Covering the university's response to the incident, Grasgreen quotes FIRE Senior Vice President Robert Shibley:

While the university's Black Faculty and Staff Association issued a statement calling for "swift and exact disciplinary action against the accused perpetrator" who shouted the slur, others were not keen on the message that Witt delivered - or the lack of information in it. "It's dangerous to give racist language too much power by treating it like Lord Voldemort, where it can't be named," said Robert Shibley, senior vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. "College students are adults and they have the right to know the information about what's happening on their campus. Withholding that information is counterproductive."

...

Although colleges can and do get rid of instructors and board members for using racial epithets, their options for handling students are more limited. On a public university campus, racial slurs are protected under the First Amendment until they reach the point of harassment, Shibley said. (Fraternities, which ...

DMCA Copyright Policies: Staying in the Safe Harbors While Protecting Your Users

Friday, February 11th, 2011

One of the less-heralded issues in a series of prominent cases (here, here, and here, for example) testing the limits of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act ("DMCA") safe harbor provisions is the question of when and how service providers must terminate the accounts of "repeat infringers." As a condition of safe harbor eligibility, the DMCA requires that service providers "adopt and reasonably implement" a repeat infringer policy that provides for termination of users' accounts "in appropriate circumstances." But what does this requirement mean? How does one “adopt and reasonably implement”? Who are "repeat infringers"? What do service providers need to do to comply with the law and protect their users' rights to post lawful content?

The right answers to these questions are crucial, because while termination may be needed to punish (or at least impede) large-scale infringers, improper termination can have drastic consequences for legitimate users.

Consider, for example, the effect of YouTube's termination policy on animal-rights advocates Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK). SHARK videotapes rodeos in order to expose animal abuse, injuries, and deaths and posted more than two dozen videos to YouTube to publicize animal mistreatment. In December 2008, the ...

University of Delaware Professor Jan Blits Receives Jeane Jordan Kirkpatrick Academic Freedom Award

Friday, February 11th, 2011

FIRE is pleased to announce that University of Delaware professor and FIRE friend Jan Blits will receive the Jeane Jordan Kirkpatrick Academic Freedom Award tonight at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) from Michael Grebe of the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. The $10,000 award is given annually to a person who has been outstanding in upholding academic freedom and the ability to speak freely at America's colleges and universities. In 2009, Professor Blits received FIRE's own Prometheus Award for his efforts in ending the University of Delaware's appalling political indoctrination program.

Blits, along with fellow University of Delaware professor Linda Gottfredson (co-recipient of FIRE's Prometheus Award), was instrumental in ending the University of Delaware's Residence Life program, which sought to indoctrinate every student in its dorms with a heavily politicized definition of "sustainability." Aspects of the program notoriously included defining "racist" as a term that applies "to all white people," as well as intrusiveand frankly creepyquestions to students from their dormitory resident assistants like "when did you discover your sexual identity?" Students who resisted these attemps at indoctrination, such as one who answered the intrusive question about her sexual identity with "none of your ...

FIRE’s Shibley Addresses ‘Free Expression Tunnel’ Controversy in N.C. State Paper

Friday, February 11th, 2011

Since fall 2010, when a group of students painted North Carolina State University's Free Expression Tunnel black and blocked access to other students following the appearance of homophobic and racial slurs, the N.C. State community has debated how to handle such controversies. The most recent coverage of the issue in N.C. State's student newspaper, The Technician, has discussed the possibility of putting a single student group in charge of overseeing the content of the tunnel's message. The Technician's editorial board strongly opposes such a resolution, and the majority of N.C. State students, fortunately, seem against it as well. Today The Technician published a letter from FIRE's Robert Shibley (who also investigated the incident back in November), adding FIRE's voice to the mix. 

Robert writes in part:

Free expression should be just that: free. N.C. State will not benefit from having a student group with the mission of deciding when an individual student's expression should be erased just because the exercise of his or her First Amendment rights annoys someone. America has always had a different answer--answer "bad" speech with more speech, and convince others that you are correct with the power of your ideas.

Thanks to The ...

Proposal to honor KKK leader on Miss. license plate causes stir

Friday, February 11th, 2011

JACKSON, Miss. — A fight is brewing in Mississippi over a proposal to issue specialty license plates honoring Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

The Mississippi Division of Sons of Confederate Veterans wants to sponsor a series of state-issued license plates to mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, which it calls the "War Between the States." The group proposes a different design each year between now and 2015, with Forrest slated for 2014.

"Seriously?" state NAACP president Derrick Johnson said when he was told about the Forrest plate. "Wow."

Forrest, a Tennessee native, is revered by some as a military genius and reviled by others for leading an 1864 massacre of black Union troops at Fort Pillow, Tenn. Forrest was a Klan grand wizard in Tennessee after the war.

Sons of Confederate Veterans member Greg Stewart says he believes Forrest distanced himself from the Klan later in life. It's a point many historians agree upon, though some believe it was too little, too late, because the Klan had already turned violent before Forrest left.

"If Christian redemption means anything — and we all want redemption, I think — he ...

Ga. court hears arguments in Olympic bombing libel case

Friday, February 11th, 2011

ATLANTA — The Georgia Court of Appeals has heard arguments in a lawsuit by the estate of Richard Jewell over newspaper coverage of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing.

The estate is continuing to press the late security guard's claims against The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

At issue are stories in which the newspaper reported that authorities suspected Jewell of planting the Olympic park bomb and believed he made a 911 call warning of an impending bombing.

Jewell was cleared of the bombing, which killed one person and injured more than 100.

Attorney L. Lin Wood Jr. told Court of Appeals judges on Feb. 9 that statements in the newspaper's articles were false.

The newspaper's attorney, Peter Canfield, said guilt or innocence was not the issue because the AJC was reporting on the investigation, something newspapers have the privilege to do.

Teen’s ‘bitch’ yell in theater ruled disorderly conduct

Friday, February 11th, 2011

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A juvenile was guilty of disorderly conduct when she yelled "bitch" at a theater in Wyandotte County, Kan., a state appeals court has ruled.

The juvenile, known in court papers as “H.A.-G.,” had argued that she did not commit disorderly conduct because her profane word did not constitute “fighting words” — words that are likely to incite an immediate breach of the peace.

The incident occurred in June 2009. When the theater manager saw a large number of teenagers going into one of the theaters, he turned on the lights and warned everyone against excessive noise and the use of cell phones. If there were such disturbances, he told the audience, people would be asked to leave.

After the movie started, the manager heard a loud noise coming from where H.A.-G was sitting. He asked her and another girl to leave. As she was leaving, H.A.-G. yelled “bitch.” An off-duty police officer working as a security guard arrested her.

Kansas’ disorderly conduct statute defines the offense as "brawling or fighting"; "[d]isturbing an assembly, meeting or procession"; or using "offensive, obscene, or abusive language or engaging in noisy conduct tending reasonably to arouse alarm, anger or resentment in ...

‘Daily Wildcat’ on University of Arizona’s Red-Light Speech Codes

Thursday, February 10th, 2011
Writing for the University of Arizona (UA) student newspaper the Arizona Daily Wildcat, Eliza Molk highlights FIRE's certified national mailing to colleges and universities at the end of last year regarding important developments in the case law in 2010 and discusses UA's red-light speech codes. Molk's article points out that UA was one of 296 public institutions nationally to receive our most recent certified mailing in the wake of important legal victories for free speech such as Smith v. Tarrant County College District and McCauley v. University of the Virgin Islands.

Hopefully UA can follow the example of its rival in Tempe: As Molk discusses, Arizona State University very recently revised its last remaining speech code and became the latest green-light institution. Molk cites our own Samantha Harris on UA's prospects for similar reform:

Arizona State University eliminated their advertising policy excluding certain types of controversial expression on Feb. 1. They are now one of 14 schools with a "green light" rating from the foundation.

...

"FIRE certainly hopes that the U of A will change its policies since, as a public university, it is legally bound to protect its students' First Amendment rights," Harris said. ...

Noted Profs Fish, Nelson Conduct ‘Great Debate’ on Academic Freedom

Thursday, February 10th, 2011
Last week, the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) hosted its eighth Arthur N. Rupe Great Debate, on the subject of "Academic Freedom in a Time of Crisis." The debate featured noted academics Stanley Fish, a New York Times blogger and professor of law and humanities at Florida International University, and Cary Nelson, English professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and president of the American Association of University Professors. What went on at the debate? The Santa Barbara Independent has a full report.

‘New York Review of Books’ Discusses Lingering Controversy Over Muhammad Cartoons

Thursday, February 10th, 2011
Writing for the blog of The New York Review of Books, Malise Ruthven examines why, five years after the printing of several cartoon depictions of Muhammad in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, the images remain so controversial. In discussing more recent incidents involving attempts to print the cartoons, Ruthven notes the Yale University Press's eleventh-hour excising of the images (along with other historical, non-controversial images) from Jytte Klausen's book The Cartoons That Shook the World. Ruthvert also notes the publication of Duke University Professor Gary Hull's book Muhammad: The "Banned" Images, which included a statement on freedom of expression co-signed by FIRE and numerous other leaders in academia and civil liberties. Torch readers can learn more about FIRE's involvement in the Yale University Press case here, and read an op-ed on the case by FIRE's Will Creeley published in the Providence Journal here.

Judge dismisses challenge to Air Force Academy prayer luncheon

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

DENVER — A prayer luncheon will go on at the Air Force Academy after a judge rejected a lawsuit brought by a watchdog group.

An academy chaplain said he would make it clear that today’s event is sponsored by the chapel and not the academy — one of the objectives of the lawsuit.

The lawsuit argued the luncheon would violate the constitutional separation of church and state because it appeared to be sponsored by the academy and because some faculty feared retribution if they didn’t attend, even though the event is officially voluntary.

U.S. District Judge Christine Arguello dismissed the suit, saying neither associate professor of economics David Mullin nor the Military Religious Freedom Foundation had shown the prospect of retribution was real and imminent.

She said the academy had clearly stated to faculty, cadets and staff that the event was voluntary and no one faced reprisals for being a no-show.

She also said government lawyers had shown the chaplains, not academy commanders, were the sponsors, although she said there was “some lack of clarity” in the way the event’s sponsorship was described.

She suggested the academy pay more attention to the details of such announcements in the future.

After ...

1st Circuit: Witnesses can proselytize behind Puerto Rico’s gates

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A federal appeals court in the United States has ordered gated communities across Puerto Rico to grant access to Jehovah's Witnesses so they can engage in their First Amendment right to proselytize.

The ruling comes nearly seven years after two religious corporations filed a lawsuit against the government of the U.S. territory arguing that Jehovah's Witnesses were being denied several rights, including freedom of speech, religion and travel.

Unlike in the U.S., where streets inside gated communities are private, such streets are considered public thoroughfares in Puerto Rico even though gates are allowed to be erected to control a neighborhood's entrances.

William Ramirez, director of the American Civil Liberties Union chapter in Puerto Rico, praised the Feb. 7 ruling in Watchtower Bible Tract Society of New York v. Segardia de Jesus.

"Door-to-door communication is a vital means of dissemination for small groups with limited resources to spread their message," he said yesterday.

A three-judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston called the case "novel and difficult" in its 30-page decision.

The panel ruled Puerto Rican gated neighborhoods cannot have locked and unmanned gates that bar access to public streets. It ...

Anti-Equality Testimony May Have Backfired in Maryland

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Yesterday in Maryland, both equality advocates and far right groups testified before a state senate panel considering a marriage equality bill. Opponents of the bill offered their standard arguments against marriage equality. And those arguments did succeed in giving at least one legislator second thoughts.

But not in the way the far right hoped.

State Sen. James Brochin had earlier this week announced that he would vote against the bill. Yet he was so moved by the vitriol of the bill's opponents that he is now considering changing his position and voting in favor of marriage equality. As the Baltimore Sun's Maryland Politics blog reports:

Baltimore County Sen. James Brochin found the testimony Tuesday by opponents of gay marriage "troubling," and said this morning that he may support the bill. The Baltimore County Democrat had previously said he was against same-sex marriage.

"The demonization of gay families really bothered me," Brochin said. "Are these families going to continue to be treated by the law as second class citizens?"

The Washington Post adds:

Brochin said in [a] news release that he was moved by testimony at the hearing, particularly that of the bill's opponents, which he called "appalling."

"Witness after ...

Arizona Effort to End Constitutional Citizenship Faces Backlash

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Two bills proposed by Republican legislators in Arizona that would revoke constitutional citizenship are running into trouble in the State Senate. State Senate President Russell Pearce, a key force behind the state’s draconian SB-1070 anti-immigration law, is leading efforts to deny citizenship to US-born children of undocumented parents, rescinding a right plainly guaranteed by the Constitution's 14th Amendment.

The Arizona Daily Star reports that the bills were unlikely to win the approval of the Judiciary Committee, and now Pearce may bring the legislation to a more sympathetic committee. Children of undocumented parents, immigration activists, and members of the business community spoke out against what they called an unpopular, confusing, and dangerous attempt to undermine the Constitution:

A bid to deny citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants faltered Monday when proponents could not get the votes of a Senate panel.

After more than three hours of testimony at the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, yanked the two measures.

Gould said he lacked the backing of four other members of the Republican-controlled panel, which he chairs. Gould said he will keep trying to secure votes. And Senate President Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said, if necessary, he will ...

‘MiddBlog’ on Middlebury College’s Double Standard

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

MiddBlog, an "alternative news and events blog for Middlebury College students," has picked up on Sam's arguments about the college's new videos featuring fictional character "Aunt Des." The character, described by The Chronicle of Higher Education as "a redheaded, acrylic-nailed caricature of a Greek-American New Jerseyite," stars in a new series of videos encouraging Middlebury students not to steal dishes from dining facilities. As Sam pointed out on Monday, the use of the stereotype violates the college's overbroad harassment policy, which bans the use of "stereotypes," "circulation of written or visual materials," "taunts on manner of speech, and negative reference to customs" on the basis of, among other things, "place of birth, ancestry, ethnicity" and "national origin."

Writing for MiddBlog, JP Allen observes:

FIRE's main beef with Midd is that the College's vague and open-ended policies can be both ineffectual and too restrictive. The Aunt Des videos should technically count as inappropriate by the College's own standards (which FIRE says are too broad), yet they somehow just don't. If Aunt Des were of a different ethnicity, would things be different? If Aunt Des had been created by students instead of by the Administration? These questions can't ...

Green Lantern Member Card Leads 2011 CBLDF Member Incentives!

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

The CBLDF is pleased to announce our 2011 Membership Premium Program! This program is one of the easiest and most rewarding ways to support the Fund, with multiple donation choices to suit a variety of member needs.

Supporting the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund helps preserve comics as a vital medium for the next century. Everyone in the comics community, from fans to pros to retailers, has a vital interest in preserving the medium’s ability to grow, and by joining the CBLDF, you’d be helping protect First Amendment rights of the comics you love.

Joining the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund comes with a number of incentives, across these donation tiers, each with its own premiums and benefits. Of course, the number one benefit of membership is peace of mind. You’ll know that there’s someone at the other end of the phone when a retailer gets busted or an artist is brought up on charges. Become a member of the CBLDF and help preserve comics as a vital medium for the next century.

MEMBER:

  • At the $25 Member level, donors receive an exclusive CBLDF Membership card. This sturdy, plastic card fits easily in a wallet and provides special access ...

Amanda Palmer Asks Community For Response To Censored School Play

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011
Amanda Palmer, co-founder of the legendary Dresden Dolls and known for a wide variety of solo work, is a damn-proud alumna of the Lexington High School drama program. She credits it for granting her the opportunity to work with avant-garde material and forms that continue to influence her as a performer and artist. Naturally, then, [...]

Southwestern College Probation Continues

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011
Inside Higher Ed noted yesterday that the accrediting body for the California Community Colleges has continued with the probation of Southwestern College. As we wrote here almost exactly a year ago, SWC's accreditors cited a "culture of fear and intimidation" at SWC, which had thoroughly demoralized the campus. This culture of fear was nowhere better exemplified than in Superintendent/President Raj K. Chopra's suspension of four faculty members for their mere presence at a student rally. That SWC's blatant disregard of free speech has played such a significant role in putting its accreditation at risk stands as a warning that should be heeded by all college presidents, administrators, and trustees. 

Dissident Writer Missing

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011
A Mongolian activist from China has disappeared after two months of house arrest.

Egypt’s Internet Blackout Highlights Danger of Weak Links, Usefulness of Quick Links

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

In response to ongoing protests, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak ordered a shutdown of all Internet access for five whole days, from January 28 to February 2, but social media and news continued to flow in and out of the country thanks to a group of protagonists dedicated to supporting the flow of information.

EFF board member and co-founder John Gilmore once described the technical robustness of the Internet against censorship by saying: "The Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it." Egypt's Internet blackout demonstrated an additional dimension to this adage: that the Internet's anti-censorship features are enhanced by, and to some extent may depend upon, the willingness of individuals and companies to stand up for free expression.

Governments throughout the world are coming to know that citizens' ability to get and give information through the Internet is dependent upon "weak links," and that the most effective route to silencing communications is to lean on a weak link. This is how the Egyptian Internet blackout was carried out: Nearly all of the major ISPs in Egypt—Link Egypt, Vodafone, Telecom Egypt, Etisalat Misr, and Internet Egypt Network—took their services offline within minutes of each other, ostensibly under some kind of ...

Bi-Partisan Alliance Beats Back PATRIOT Act Sneak Attack in House Vote

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

UPDATE (2/9/11): In another move to fast-track PATRIOT Act renewal before three of its most controversial provisions expire at the end of the month, the House is expected to call another vote on a PATRIOT reauthorization bill any day now. Unlike the two-thirds majority that would have been needed to pass the measure on Tuesday, the next vote will only require a majority to pass. Your voice is needed now more than ever. Act now - contact your Representatives and tell them not to rubber-stamp the PATRIOT Act extension!

Today in the U.S. House of Representatives, an unlikely alliance of House Democrats and Republicans stood up for civil liberties and successfully beat back a fast-track attempt to reauthorize the USA PATRIOT Act without the much-needed checks and balances EFF has championed.

The renewal bill voted on today would have extended three dangerous surveillance provisions in the PATRIOT Act until December 2011, provisions that are otherwise set to expire at the end of this month. In order to pass under the fast-track procedure adopted by House leadership to prevent the introduction of any reform-minded amendments, the bill would have had to garner a two/thirds majority--that is, 290 votes. The renewal ...

Legal Battle Over Government Demands for Twitter Records Unsealed by Court

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Alexandria, VA - A federal court in Alexandria, Virginia today unsealed motions filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the American Civil Liberties Union, and others concerning government attempts to obtain Twitter account records about three individuals in connection with its WikiLeaks investigation. The documents were originally filed under seal late last month.

One of the newly-available motions is a request to unseal the still-secret court records of the government's attempts to collect private records from Twitter, Inc., as well as other companies who may have received demands for information from the government. The second motion seeks to overturn the December 14 court order requiring Twitter to provide information about its users. The third motion was subsequently filed to unseal the original two motions, A hearing on the first two motions is set for 10:30 a.m. on February 15 at the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia.

The ACLU and EFF represent Birgitta Jonsdottir, an Icelandic parliamentarian and one of the Twitter users whose records were sought by the government. The motion was joined by attorneys from the law firm Keker & Van Nest LLP and the Law Office of John D. Cline on behalf of Jacob Appelbaum and Rop ...

Federal judge tosses atheist’s challenge of funding for Ill. cross

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story erroneously reported that Rob Sherman previously succeeded in blocking a law that would require a daily moment of silence in public schools. A federal judge had ruled the moment-of-silence law unconstitutional. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, however, overturned that ruling, and last month, the judge lifted the injunction blocking the law from taking effect. The story below has been corrected.

ST. LOUIS — A federal judge on yesterday tossed a Chicago-area atheist’s lawsuit that sought to force the return of a state grant that helped pay for restoration of an 11-story cross that is considered a landmark in southern Illinois.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Michael McCuskey, central Illinois’ chief federal jurist, sided with the state and the caretakers of the Bald Knob Cross of Peace near Alto Pass. He upheld the recommendation of federal magistrate David Bernthal, who last week rejected Rob Sherman’s argument that the $20,000 grant was unconstitutional.

Bernthal ruled that the grant was made by the state’s executive branch and was not a designated legislative “earmark” as Sherman had alleged. Bernthal also found that the state’s economic-development agency has discretion in how it doles out ...

No Facebook for inmates under S.C. bill

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

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Inmates could not join Facebook or other social-networking sites, nor could their friends create memberships for them, if a new measure in the South Carolina Legislature becomes law.

South Carolina Democratic Rep. Wendell G. Gilliard and others introduced House Bill 3527 on Feb. 2. Under the measure:

“It is unlawful for an inmate to be a member of any Internet-based social networking website such as Facebook, Myspace, and Classmates. An inmate who joins an Internet-based social networking website or a person who establishes an account with an Internet-based social network website for an inmate is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, must be fined not more than five hundred dollars, or imprisoned not more than thirty days.”

The (Charleston) Post and Courier had reported on South Carolina inmates with Facebook accounts. One such story told of an inmate convicted of manslaughter who was able to post material from a cell phone in prison.

“This is an embarrassment to South Carolina that no lawmaker should tolerate," Gilliard told Post and Courier reporter Glenn Smith in a later story. “These inmates can use this to put people's lives in danger. We need to put a stop to this ...

House rejects extension of controversial Patriot Act provisions

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

WASHINGTON — The House yesterday failed to extend the life of three surveillance tools that are key to the nation's post-Sept. 11 anti-terror law, a slipup for the new Republican leadership that miscalculated the level of opposition.

The House voted 277-148 to keep the three provisions of the USA Patriot Act on the books until Dec. 8. But Republicans brought up the bill, H.R. 514, under a special expedited procedure requiring a two-thirds majority, and the vote was seven short of reaching that level.

The Republicans, who took over the House last month, lost 26 of their own members, adding to the 122 Democrats who voted against the extension. Supporters say the three measures are vital to preventing another terrorist attack, but critics say they infringe on civil liberties. They appealed to the antipathy that newer and more conservative Republicans hold for big government invasions of individual privacy.

The Patriot Act bill would have renewed the authority for court-approved roving wiretaps that permit surveillance on multiple phones. Also addressed was Section 215, the so-called library-records provision that gives the FBI court-approved access to "any tangible thing" relevant to a terrorism investigation.

The third deals with the "lone-wolf" provision of a ...

N.J. high court weighing limits of journalist-shield law

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011
TRENTON, N.J. — Shellee Hale readily admits she operates outside the boundaries of traditional news media, but says that shouldn't disqualify her from being covered by a New Jersey law that protects reporters from having to identify confidential sources. That contention is at the heart of a lawsuit argued before New Jersey's Supreme Court yesterday that is putting the state’s so-called shield law under a microscope in a case that could resonate with countless online commentators. Hale, of Bellevue, Wash., was sued for defamation by Freehold-based Too Much Media over comments she posted on an online bulletin board three years ago that accused the company of engaging in fraudulent practices and threatening the life of someone who divulged details about it, according to a court filing. Too Much Media makes software used by many online porn sites to track traffic from other sites to determine how much those sites should be paid in commissions. Hale claimed she was gathering information for an investigation of organized crime infiltration of the online porn industry and planned to publish her findings on a Web site and possibly in a book. She invoked the shield law to avoid identifying the person who was threatened ...