Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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 ...

Study Shows that Ideology Affects Perception of Whether Speech Is Threatening

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

A study performed by Yale University's Cultural Cognition Project found that individuals' perceptions about whether a particular protest is illegally disruptive are strongly affected by their cultural worldviews and ideologies.

In the study, subjects were divided into two groups and asked to watch a video of a protest to determine whether the protesters were "intimidating, interfering, obstructing or threatening." One group of subjects was told that the protesters were gathered outside of an abortion clinic to demonstrate their opposition to abortion. The other group of subjects was told that the protesters were gathered outside of a college recruitment center to protest the military's exclusion of gays and lesbians.

The subjects were also asked questions on a variety of subjects and classified, based on their views, on two different and separate dimensions-the egalitarian/hierarchy scale and the individualism/communitarian scale. People who are more egalitarian reject traditional social strata and hierarchies, and those who are more individualistic reject the imposition of communal norms. Even though every subject was shown the same video, the study predicted that subjects who were both egalitarian and individualist (labeled EI) would be more likely to deem the anti-abortion protestors disruptive, but less likely to deem the anti-military protestors ...

Another Attempted Smear of Planned Parenthood

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

Live Action, the anti-choice group that has been attempting to smear Planned Parenthood with heavily edited videos of its activists posing as sex traffickers in Planned Parenthood offices, has released another video. And this one, according to a Planned Parenthood press release, has also been heavily altered:

In an interview with the FBI, the two health center workers featured in the video said that they did not hear the words “sex work” or “sex worker,” uttered by the actors on camera who were hired by Live Action to play the role of a “pimp” on the videotape in an effort to undermine the credibility of Planned Parenthood staff in Live Action’s coordinated lobbying effort to support legislation that would bar Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funds.

In addition, it is clear from the edited tape that there are two or more video sources, as well as an additional audio source, increasing the opportunity for manipulation and selective editing.

Unlike other publicized tapes, the hoax “patients” in New York were not able to get beyond the reception desk for a private consultation. Like other encounters that have been recently publicized in Virginia, our staff responded professionally to questions, discussed these encounters ...

Tibetan Singer Released From Jail

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011
Singer had recorded and distributed CDs calling for Tibet's independence and the return of the Dalai Lama.

Winter 2011 ‘FIRE Quarterly’ Now Available

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

The winter issue of our newsletter, The FIRE Quarterly, is now available! This edition focuses on the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act and its implications for free speech on campus, while also highlighting FIRE's recent cases at Northern Illinois University and Syracuse University (a recent victory!). We also praise the University of Virginia for eliminating the last of its unconstitutional speech codes, becoming FIRE's 13th "green light" institution.

FIRE's co-founder and chairman Harvey Silverglate provided this issue's "From the Board of Directors" article, thanking FIRE's supporters who have been the fuel behind its fight for liberty on campus. He writes:

Every one of you who has given FIRE any financial support, in any amount, has helped enable the work of the single most talented, hard-working, and ingenious group of full-time academic civil libertarians ever assembled. Since FIRE's founding in 1999, they and their predecessors have won 191 public victories, with many more cases resolved privately, at 139 colleges and universities with a total enrollment of nearly three million students. That's a lot of students whose college education was at least a little unburdened from the stultifying oppressiveness of politically correct, tendentious, unfair administrative (and sometimes ...

New Video: How Washington State Censored a Student Musical

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

In a new video from the 2010 Campus Freedom Network (CFN) Conference, former Washington State University (WSU) student Chris Lee discusses how administrators at WSU subsidized a group of protesters to disrupt his satirical play, Passion of the Musical.

When he wrote, directed, and produced Passion of the Musical in 2005, Chris sought to create a show "so offensive to everyone, they would have to speak about things that are important to them." After WSU officials received a complaint, however, the school bought a block of tickets for protesters to attend the play. These protesters shouted down the action on stage, and even physically threatened the actors, while campus police stood by and declined to intervene. Appallingly, WSU defended the hecklers, saying they were responsibly exercising the right of free speech. However, the university eventually reversed its position after FIRE took the case public.

For more video coverage of our cases, visit FIRE's YouTube channel or video page.

Virginia Newspaper Touts Growing Number of ‘Green Light’ Schools

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

With only 14 "green light" colleges and universities in the entire country, the state of Virginia should be proud to be home to two of them. Writing in the Daily Press (Hampton Roads, Va.), Michael F. Cochrane commends the University of Virginia (UVa) and The College of William & Mary for preserving free speech on campus:

As Virginians we can be justly proud that our state has some of the top colleges and universities in the nation. We have colleges that are ranked nationally in sports and academic achievement.

But now we have a new reason for pride: The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has identified the University of Virginia and the College of William and Mary as two of only 13 colleges and universities in the country (in a total of 439 institutions) with "speech codes" that do not violate the provisions of the First Amendment of the Constitution.

(Cochrane can be forgiven for not realizing that Arizona State University very recently went green, pushing the count of "green light" schools from 13 to 14.)

While Cochrane and FIRE praise UVa and William & Mary for protecting basic student rights, unfortunately, six Virginia schools in our ...

LA County Sheriff Calls Peter King’s Bluff on American Muslims

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

Los Angeles County sheriff Lee Baca—who heads the nation’s seventh largest law enforcement agency, overseeing the safety of ten million people — is calling Rep. Peter King’s bluff on the congressman’s claim that the American Muslim community “does not cooperate” with law enforcement:

"If he has evidence of non-cooperation, he should bring it forward," said Baca at a forum held today by Muslim-American groups in advance of King's hearings on radicalization in the Muslim community. "We have as much cooperation as we are capable of acquiring through public trust relationships."

"I sit on the Major City chiefs association as one of three chairs," said Baca. "I also sit on the Major County Sheriff's Association and I'm on the national board of directors of the international association for the sheriffs departments. Here's the thing: I don't know what Mr. King is hearing or who he's hearing it from."

King has said that active law enforcement offiicials are often afraid to complain publicly that Muslim leaders don't cooperate with law enforcement, but that he hears the complaint often privately and from retired law enforcement officials.

"Muslim Americans in the county of Los Angeles have been overwhelmingly astounded by terrorist attacks -- like ...

FIRE’s Speech Code of the Month on ‘Daily Dish’

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011
Over on Andrew Sullivan's Atlantic blog The Daily Dish, Senior Editor Conor Friedersdorf challenges Claremont McKenna College's (CMC's) policy on "Acceptable E-Mail Usage" in his post "The Right To Disparage My Political Views." Thanks to Friedersdorf for linking to FIRE's February Speech Code of the Month on one of the Internet's most popular blogs!

Policing The Sacred – College Art Association Panel – Wednesday, February 9th, 12:30-2 PM

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011
Policing The Sacred, organized by the National Coalition Against Censorship, looks at the volatile relationship between art, politics and religion.In recent decades the tensions between these have become intense, evident in the American culture wars of the 90s, the Danish cartoon uproar, and ongoing battles over artistic depictions of religious figures, including the recent removal of a David Wojnarowicz video from a show at the National Portrait Gallery. The panel, open to the public, takes place on Wednesday, February 9th, from 12:30-2 PM.

EFF to Judge: Watch for Fairness in Mass Copyright Suits

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

One of the major problems with the mass copyright lawsuits we seen over the last year is that the judges hearing the cases often aren’t aware of the full legal and practical context of the litigation. That’s because they are asked to make important decisions (e.g., whether to allow the plaintiffs to send out subpoenas for the Does’ identities) before any of the defendants have had a chance to point out the fundamental flaws in the plaintiff’s case.

Last Friday, Electronic Frontier Foundation and its co-amici Public Citizen, American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of the Nation’s Capital took one more step toward addressing that problem for one of the cases in the District of Columbia, Call of the Wild v. Does 1-1062. This is actually one of the earlier troll cases: it was originally filed in March of last year, with the U.S. Copyright Group acting as counsel for the plaintiff. In June, EFF submitted an amicus brief noting critical due process and speech problems with the lawsuit. In January, the case (and several other mass copyright cases) was transferred to a new judge, Judge Beryl A. Howell. Shortly thereafter, USCG submitted a response to our brief.

We decided ...

Company settles dispute with worker who criticized boss on Facebook

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

WASHINGTON — Employers should think twice before trying to restrict workers from talking about their jobs on Facebook or other social media.

That's the message the government sent yesterday as it announced a settlement in a closely watched case against a Connecticut ambulance company that fired an employee after she went on Facebook to criticize her boss.

The National Labor Relations Board sued the company last year, arguing the worker's negative comments were protected speech under federal labor laws. The company claimed it fired the emergency medical technician because of complaints about her work.

Under the settlement with the labor board, American Medical Response of Connecticut Inc. agreed to change its blogging and Internet policy that bars workers from disparaging the company or its supervisors. The company also will revise another policy that prohibits employees from depicting the company in any way over the Internet without permission.

Both policies interfere with longstanding legal protections that allow workers to discuss wages, hours and working conditions with co-workers, the board said.

"I think it certainly sends a message about what the NLRB views the law to be," said Jonathan Kreisberg, the NLRB regional director in Hartford who approved the settlement.

"The fact ...

Ky. governor OKs posting of God phrases in Capitol walkway

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

FRANKFORT, Ky. — A legislative chaplain received permission Feb. 4 to post excerpts from historical documents that reference God in a Capitol walkway, settling a dispute that had raised the ire of lawmakers and ministers.

The governor’s office intervened in the dispute that made its way onto the Senate floor when a lawmaker questioned why the Rev. Lee Watts had been denied permission to display phrases from a variety of writings, including the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Pledge of Allegiance.

“I’m really glad the powers that be (at the) state Capitol have come around and allowed us to have our freedom of expression and freedom of speech,” said Watts. “As soon as it got some attention, everything worked out, and they’ve been accommodating, and I’m very pleased.”

Watts wants to display the God phrases on “Preachers Day at the Capitol,” when hundreds of Christian ministers come to Frankfort to pray for lawmakers and to hold a rally.

State curator David Buchta, head of the Kentucky Division of Historic Properties, initially said he denied Watts’ request based on concerns about separation of church and state. Later he said he had misspoken and that he turned down the request ...

Artwork with Confederate flag removed from Ga. exhibit

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

OAKWOOD, Ga. — A college president says she ordered an instructor's painting removed from a faculty art exhibit amid controversy about the piece, which features a Confederate flag.

The flag is superimposed on images that include a hanged black man and a hooded Ku Klux Klansman, the Athens Banner-Herald reported.

Gainesville State College President Martha Nesbitt said in a news release that she had to consider the impact on the reputation of the school.

Athens artist Stan Bermudez, who created the piece, says the painting was ordered removed Jan. 25, two weeks after it went on display in the faculty art show, which ended Feb. 4.

It was also around the same time that retired Air Force Maj. Arnold Huskins of Grovetown, Ga., objected to the artwork on a website devoted to Southern heritage, Bermudez said. Huskins also urged readers of the site to contact the college president.

"I hate to see anyone malign or cast dispersion (sic) on the flags of soldiers — which the Confederate flag is — the flag of Southern soldiers," Huskins told the newspaper Feb. 3 in an e-mail.

"Mr. Bermudez's work would not have been controversial if he had not solely featured the Confederate ...

Judge says he’s close to allowing TV coverage of Jackson trial

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

LOS ANGELES — A judge says he will approve TV coverage of the involuntary manslaughter trial of Michael Jackson's doctor if the camera is unobtrusive.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor also said yesterday that he was moving up jury selection to March 24 because the original date of March 28 was too close to the absolute statutory limit for a speedy trial.

In an effort to clear pretrial motions, Pastor set another hearing for Feb. 15. By then, he says hopes TV outlets will have submitted a coverage plan for final approval.

Dr. Conrad Murray has pleaded not guilty in the death of the pop superstar from an overdose of the powerful anesthetic propofol and other sedatives.

Middlebury College Administration Violates Its Own Speech Code

Monday, February 7th, 2011

According to Middlebury College's Anti-Harassment Policy, prohibited harassment may include 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."

What, then, can we make of Middlebury's new video campaign aimed at ending dishware theft on campus? The campaign, which was profiled last week by The Chronicle of Higher Education, is a series of videos featuring the fictional "Aunt Des," described by the Chronicle as "a redheaded, acrylic-nailed caricature of a Greek-American New Jerseyite who's hell-bent on recovering the dishes." This description is borne out by the videos (where she speaks in a stereotypical New Jersey accent interspersed with the occasional Greek word) and on her Facebook page, where her interests include nail polish and the bouzouki, a Greek instrument. 

The character of Aunt Des is played by Maria Theresa Stadtmueller, a former stand-up comedian, who "drew inspiration for the character from her real-life Aunt Despina." While this is a common form of satire that can often bridge cultural gaps, it is beyond question that the "Aunt Des" videos stereotype...

Magic Horse Floats Above the Clouds

Monday, February 7th, 2011
"Shenma doushi fuyun," or “magic horse floats above the clouds,” is the most popular Chinese Internet phrase of 2010. The phrase is a Chinese pun that also means “just let it go.” Maneuver your magic horse past the clouds in this video game.

Tell Your Representative to Reject the PATRIOT Act Sneak Attack!

Monday, February 7th, 2011

Criminal Charges for Student Protesters Who Disrupted UC Irvine Event

Monday, February 7th, 2011

Nearly one year ago today, a few dozen people substantially disrupted a speech by Michael Oren, Israel's Ambassador to the United States, who was speaking at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) in the UCI Student Center for a public lecture on "U.S. Israel Relations from a Political and Personal Perspective." The lecture was sponsored by 10 campus bodies including the Department of Political Science and the School of Law, as well as the Consulate General of Israel and three other off-campus bodies. Last week, according to the Los Angeles Times, 11 of the disruptive protesters were charged with "conspiracy to disturb a meeting" and with actually disturbing the meeting.

From the video of the event, as we reported last year, it seems clear that the disruption was organized and intentional. At least some of the disruptive persons were reading off of prepared cards, and after the first sentence of each disruption, the same group of a few dozen people immediately burst into applausedisrupting even the disruptor, since nobody could hear what was said after the first sentence.

Indeed, according to the LA Times, the students who allegedly planned the disruption, several of whom allegedly ...

Muslim students face conspiracy charges over protest

Monday, February 7th, 2011

SANTA ANA, Calif. — A group of Muslim students accused of disrupting a speech by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren at the University of California, Irvine, were charged Feb. 4 with misdemeanor conspiracy counts, ending speculation about what would come from their actions nearly a year ago.

The 11 students each face one count of misdemeanor conspiracy to disturb a meeting and one count of misdemeanor disturbance of a meeting, the Orange County district attorney’s office said. If convicted, they could face anything from probation and community service to six months in jail.

The students were arrested Feb. 8, 2010, after shouting and protesting during Oren’s speech on U.S.-Israeli security, forcing the diplomat to stop his remarks for 20 minutes. Eight of the students were from UC Irvine, and three were from the nearby campus of the University of California, Riverside.

Muslim students from the Irvine school protested outside the district attorney’s office earlier this week after word leaked that a grand jury had been convened in the case.

Jacqueline Goodman, an attorney for all 11 defendants, said they would plead not guilty at an arraignment scheduled for March 11.

District Attorney Tony Rackauckas defended his decision Feb. 4, saying the ...

Calif. juror ordered to turn over Facebook posts

Monday, February 7th, 2011

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A California judge has ordered a juror to turn over Facebook messages he posted during the trial of several alleged gang members.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny said on Feb. 4 that Arturo Ramirez could face jail time if he doesn't give Facebook permission to disclose the postings within 10 days.

Defense attorneys had requested the disclosure to determine whether Ramirez was influenced by any outside communication.

The five alleged gang members were convicted last year in the 2008 beating of a man at a gas station. They have yet to be sentenced.

Ramirez's posts allegedly characterized the evidence as "boring" and revealed he was on the jury.

The newspaper reported that attorneys for Facebook were present for the Feb. 4 hearing and argued that disclosure of posts was precluded by federal computer privacy law.

The judge then ordered Ramirez — who, according to the Bee, was not at the hearing — to allow Facebook to make the postings available for judicial review in chambers.

Ramirez’s attorney said the judge's order an invasion of privacy and told The Sacramento Bee that he planned to appeal.

"It's a matter of principle and privacy," lawyer Kenneth L. Rosenfeld ...

Utah bill would declare marriage ordained by God

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill introduced in the Utah Legislature would define marriage in state law as existing between one man and one woman and supported by God.

The proposal reinforces the values of Utah residents but has no effect on current policies, said Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper.

Gay-rights supporters, however, worry that the bill introduced Feb. 2 could prevent non-traditional families from receiving state services.

House Bill 270 says government services, publicly funded programs and laws should strengthen the traditional family whenever possible. Some of the language mirrors a proclamation from leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The bill would provide guidance, not a mandate, said Christensen, its sponsor. For example, assistance programs for single mothers would not be eliminated.

"Although we're stating our guiding principles ... we are, with great compassion and our combined resources, providing to help people with all of life's circumstances," he said.

Brandie Balken, Equality Utah executive director, said individual agencies would have to interpret the law and base decisions on a narrow definition of family. The law could restrict services and access to programs or serve as an argument against adoption by single people, Balken said.

The bill ...

Nearly 37,000 L.A. city salaries posted online

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

LOS ANGELES — Salary information for nearly 37,000 Los Angeles city employees has been posted online in a move designed to make local government more transparent.

City Controller Wendy Greuel said on Feb. 4 that the salaries in the database reflect pay cuts, furloughs and other cutbacks, as well as increased pay due to benefits like overtime, bonuses, uniform and car allowances.

Greuel told City News Service that "Angelenos have a right to know how their taxpayer dollars are being spent."

The controller's office says Los Angeles is the largest city in the country to post a comprehensive list of employee salaries.

When news broke about the Bell City Council's inflated salaries, calls for the release of salary information increased.

Censorship and the Right’s Culture Wars

Friday, February 4th, 2011

In the Huffington Post today, People For President Michael Keegan looks at the battle over censorship at the Smithsonian and what it means for the coming right-wing culture wars. The fight over the Smithsonian, he writes, is “just the beginning”:

As the newly empowered House GOP gears up to start culture wars on issues from reproductive rights for women to religious freedom for American Muslims, there's an important lesson to be learned from what happened this winter at the Smithsonian. Institutions and individuals will continue to come under attack from the right's powerful extremist-to-media-to-politician echo chamber. But, as the Smithsonian's experience showed once again, there is little to be gained by caving in to this loud and usually dishonest bullying. Clough's attempt at compromise -- instantly removing a work of art from an important exhibit -- only drew louder threats to censor the exhibit as a whole, while causing some of the Smithsonian's strongest supporters to lose trust in the institution. Despite what most might hope, the right is not going to stop its culture war campaigns anytime soon. The only thing the rest of us can do is aggressively tell the truth, unapologetically stand on principle, and refuse to ...

This Week in the News: Greg’s Dirty Dozen Causes Big Vibrations, and Syracuse Drops Investigation of Alleged Blogger

Friday, February 4th, 2011

This has been quite the week for FIRE. No less than 21 articles mentioned our involvement in defending free speech on campus!

Greg's Huffington Post article, "The 12 Worst Colleges for Free Speech," was noted by numerous news sources across the country. Marshall University garnered the most numerous citations by far. Davin White, writing for the Charleston Gazette (Charleston, W.Va.), quotes Robert's and Sam's opinions on the dangers of Marshall's speech codes, while mentioning the university's plans to discuss changing the speech codes. Tony Rutherford of quotes Greg's explanation of how schools made the "dirty dozen" list, cites Sam's blog post designating Marshall's Standard 3 policy on respect and civility as the January 2011 Speech Code of the Month, and mentions Marshall's newfound desire to at least review its unconstitutional speech policies. In a column for The Parthenon, Marshall's student newspaper, Kelly Bugler mentions that Director of Judicial Affairs Lisa Martin is attending the Association for Student Conduct Administration conference in Florida this week to learn about what other institutions are doing to address outdated speech codes. Stephanie Schelkun of (Huntington, W.Va.) and The Herald Dispatch (Huntington, W.Va.) also mention Marshall's intentions to reform their ...

Smithsonian Regent’s Response to Censorship Outrage: what does it promise?

Friday, February 4th, 2011
In response to the national outrage over the removal of artist David Wojnarowicz’ video Fire In My Belly from the National Portrait Gallery following pressure from the Catholic League and Republican Congressional leaders, the Smithsonian Board of Regents formed an Advisory Panel*.

Free Speech in the Courthouse, the Workplace, and On the Street

Friday, February 4th, 2011
Anniston Star calls City Council’s proposal to bar public employees from criticizing city on social media “oppressive” The Star, Anniston, Alabama’s daily newspaper, has published an editorial responding to their City Council’s proposed policy to ban city workers from posting anything “embarrassing” about the local government. Public employees would be allowed to comment about the [...]

‘Indiana Daily Student’ Highlights Problems with Speech Codes at IU

Friday, February 4th, 2011

Connor Caudill at the Indiana Daily Student published a column this week highlighting FIRE's recent memo explaining problematic speech codes at Indiana University-Bloomington (IU). Caudill was surprised to learn that "[m]any of the policies at IU that govern our free speech rights as students are prohibitive."

The article explains two major problems with IU's policies. Caudill first discusses the Code of Students Rights and Responsibilities, noting that the IU definition of acceptable speech does not pass constitutional muster and that its "civility" language is mandatory rather than aspirational. (Public universities cannot constitutionally mandate that their students be "civil" at all times.)

He then cites the university's free speech zones, which quarantine student expression to certain areas of campus:

Another major issue I take with the University's policies on free speech is the areas designated as free-speech zones. Currently as students we are only allowed to organize protests and express freely in two areas of campus: Dunn Meadow and the Sample Gates.

Even more disheartening is the fact that the only place we can "spontaneously" assemble and express our opinions is Dunn Meadow, and we even have to register with IU to do so.

The article concludes with a call to ...

Progressive Coalition Stands Up for Planned Parenthood

Friday, February 4th, 2011

A diverse coalition of twenty six progressive groups, including People For the American Way and African American Ministers In Action, signed on to a letter to Congress standing up for Planned Parenthood against right-wing attacks originating from the radical anti-choice group Live Action. Politico reports:

Liberal groups are banding together to come to the defense of Planned Parenthood in the wake of the recent controversy over videos taped inside the clinics. Conservative groups say that the films provide more than enough evidence for Congress to immediately de-fund the women’s health centers.

“We realized very quickly we needed to get together and stand up against the right wing smear machine and make a strong statement in solidarity with an important organization,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President for People for the American Way, another progressive group that signed onto the letter. “The bigger picture is too important- that’s why you see such a range of organizations on this letter.”

Read the letter below:

Dear Members of Congress,

Right-wing groups are once again attempting to destroy an organization dedicated to providing crucial primary care services to Americans that need them most. Armed with heavily edited videos, countless lies, and ...

UMass Amherst: Frequent Student Rights Violations and Unconstitutional Policies Ensure Place on ’12 Worst’ List

Friday, February 4th, 2011

When looking for another six schools to join the six schools on our Red Alert list and round out our "12 Worst Schools for Free Speech" feature for The Huffington Post, we had to think long and hard about whether or not to include the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Waitno we didn't.

When it comes to free speech issues, UMass Amherst has a rap sheet a mile long. Its mixture of restrictive written policies and numerous run-ins with the First Amendmentand FIREmade this decision about as hard as deciding if LeBron James might make a good addition to your pickup basketball team.

Let's go over the many ways UMass has violated student rights over the years:

  • In 2001, a few weeks after the September 11 attacks, a group of students held an anti-war rally to protest the use of force by the U.S. military in the middle east. The protest went smoothly. Shortly after that, however, when a group of pro-war students attempted to hold a rally in the same location, UMass Amherst revoked the group's permit two days before the event was to be held. When the students held the ...

Transmet Art Book Cover Revealed

Friday, February 4th, 2011 has a first look at Darick Robertson & Nathan Eyring’s cover to the upcoming Transmetropolitan Art Book, benefiting CBLDF! The project has met its goal, but the only way to get a copy is to preorder through Kickstarter, so reserve yours today!

Monumental Drawings: Unrest in Egypt

Friday, February 4th, 2011

 The latest mural by artist Sam Welty to appear on the First Amendment Monument in Charlottesville.

Part I: FCC “Ancillary” Authority to Regulate the Internet? Don’t Count on It

Friday, February 4th, 2011

The FCC published its long-awaited final Report and Order on net neutrality at the end of December (more on that in part 2 of this post), but the debate is far from over. Republican members of Congress have loudly voiced their displeasure with the attempt to regulate internet activity; they’ve already filed a bill putting internet regulatory authority solely in the hands of Congress. Democratic members have filed their own bill establishing clear regulatory authority in the FCC, and they generally complain that the regulations don’t go far enough.

In addition, Verizon and MetroPCS recently challenged the FCC Order in the D.C. Circuit. Since the Order hasn’t yet been published in the Federal Register, we think they’ll have an uphill battle arguing that the issue is ripe for review. But it’s clear the companies are filing now for a reason: to try to ensure that the Order is reviewed by the same court that last year held the FCC had overstepped its authority in trying to regulate Comcast for its non-neutral practices regarding BitTorrent.

In that case, the Court rejected the FCC’s overbroad argument that it had “ancillary” jurisdiction to discipline Comcast based on its mandates under the Telecommunications ...

FBI, DOJ and DEA Stall Release of Records on Bid to Expand Surveillance Laws

Friday, February 4th, 2011

Today EFF filed a reply brief in its FOIA lawsuit seeking records from the FBI, DOJ and DEA that would justify the Administration’s need to expand federal surveillance laws like the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act (CALEA). The proposed expansion would require communications providers like Skype, Facebook, Blackberry and Twitter to build wiretapping capabilities right into their systems, and although we know Congress intends to turn to this issue early this year, FBI, DEA and DOJ have argued they can’t give us all the documents we asked for until the summer of 2012. To force the government to turn over documents on a timeline that would actually allow them to influence the debate, we filed a motion for partial summary judgment, asking the court to order the agencies to produce documents within 10 days.

This lawsuit is based on two separate but related FOIA requests, one of which has now been pending with the FBI for almost two years. The earlier request seeks documents on the FBI’s “Going Dark Program,” a program intended to bolster the Bureau’s electronic communications intercept capabilities that could be strengthened by new legislation. The second request, now pending for four months, ...

Calif. parents sue school district over charter effort

Friday, February 4th, 2011

COMPTON, Calif. — Six parents and their children sued the Compton Unified School District yesterday, alleging officials are trying to thwart their push to convert a failing elementary school to a charter school.

The parents immediately won a temporary injunction from Superior Court Judge Robert O'Brien, who blocked the district from using a complex process to verify signatures on a petition for the charter school.

"This is the first step in what will be a long battle to get these children their basic right to education," said attorney Mark Holscher, who is representing the parents without charge.

In a statement, the district said it was confident the judge would allow the verification process to proceed after hearing the district's legal arguments at a hearing scheduled for Feb. 24.

The lawsuit was sparked by the district's move to verify signatures on a petition submitted by 61% of parents at McKinley Elementary School in December, stating they want the school to be turned over to independent charter operator Celerity Education Group next school year. That move would likely result in current teachers and administrators losing their jobs.

Compton Unified, one of the lowest performing districts in the state, has rejected six applications ...

U.S. officials condemn attacks on journalists in Egypt

Friday, February 4th, 2011

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has issued a sharp criticism of attacks on journalists, peaceful demonstrators, human rights activists and diplomats in Egypt.

Clinton said the attacks violated international norms on freedom of the press and that journalists must be allowed to report on the demonstrations.

Clinton condemned "in the strongest terms" the pro-government mobs that have beaten, threatened and intimidated reporters in Cairo. Attacks as well on peaceful demonstrators, human rights activists, foreigners and diplomats were "unacceptable under any circumstances," she said.

Clinton pointed the finger at Hosni Mubarak's government without explicitly blaming the 82-year-old president for the violence. Egypt's government must hold accountable those responsible for the attacks and "must demonstrate its willingness to ensure journalists' ability to report on these events to the people of Egypt and to the world," she said.

Foreign photographers reported attacks by Mubarak supporters near Cairo's Tahrir Square, the scene of vicious battles between Mubarak supporters and protesters demanding he step down after nearly 30 years in power.

The Egyptian government has accused news-media outlets of being sympathetic to protesters who want Mubarak to quit now rather than complete his term as he has pledged.

White House spokesman Robert ...

FIRE President Greg Lukianoff to Speak at Cal Poly on Monday

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011
FIRE President Greg Lukianoff will be hosted by the College Republicans at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) on Monday, February 7. Greg's speech will begin at 7 p.m. in Building 26, Room 103. Greg will be speaking about the chilling effects of campus censorshipa topic all too familiar at Cal Poly, where FIRE has intervened on behalf of students and faculty whose expression was endangered under Cal Poly's abandoned CARE-Net program and on behalf of one student who was targeted in particular for his protected speech. Since Adam Kissel spoke at Cal Poly last spring, the university has appointed a new president but maintained its "yellow light" status in our Spotlight speech code database due to the school's restrictive speech policies. Those in the Los Angeles area who missed Greg's speech at the Claremont Colleges last night have an opportunity to come out to support FIRE and encourage Cal Poly to fulfill its constitutional obligation to protect free speech on campus.

Smithsonian Regent’s Response to Censorship Outrage: what does it promise?

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011
In response to the national outrage over the removal of artist David Wojnarowicz’ video Fire In My Belly from the National Portrait Gallery following pressure from the Catholic League and Republican Congressional leaders, the Smithsonian Board of Regents formed an Advisory Panel*.

Horrible, Terrible Anti-Choice Bill Now Only Terrible

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

The House GOP met with widespread outrage last week when the news broke that a radical anti-abortion bill it is backing would, among other things, exclude many instances of rape from already very limited federal abortion coverage. The bill, written by Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, would have only allowed for abortion coverage for pregnancies resulting from “forcible rape”—a radical redefinition of rape that would exclude instances where a woman is drugged, statutory rape of a minor, and many instances of date rape.

The swift response from pro-choice groups and strong outcry from Americans (including a popular Twitter campaign) has now led the House GOP to back down on the rape provision, removing “forcible” from the language in the bill. But Smith’s bill, if passed, would still be disastrous for reproductive choice rights. The “No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act,” which has 173 Republican co-sponsors, would make the Hyde Amendment—the provision that prohibits Medicaid funding for abortion—permanent and apply it to all areas of the federal budget. It would, among other restrictions, prohibit people who use federal subsidies for private insurance coverage from purchasing insurance plans that cover abortion—thereby jeopardizing abortion coverage on the private market.

The ...

Women Forced to Abort

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011
China's One-Child policy leads to widespread suffering and abuse.

Join the Fight for Liberty on Campus with a FIRE Widget or Badge

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

You've retweeted our news, voiced your opinion about cases on our Facebook page, and witnessed the chilling impact that campus censorship has on students and faculty by watching our YouTube videos. Still itching to do more to combat the unconstitutional policies that violate the essential expressive rights of students on our nation's campuses? Here's a simple, yet highly effective weapon: Post a FIRE widget or badge to your website or blog!

Each month, FIRE features a college or university with a particularly egregious speech code as Speech Code of the Month. Now you can take part in encouraging these institutions to abandon their repressive policies by posting our Speech Code of the Month widget on your website or blog. The widget updates automatically, featuring a different school's policy every month (check out this month's pick here).

FIRE also offers a "Red Alert!" widget. This widget links directly to our Red Alert page, which lists the six "worst of the worst" schools when it comes to violating free speech on campus, and details their specific violations of individual rights.

And now, FIRE has a brand new badge that offers effortless yet powerful support for liberty on campus. ...

Numerous Unconstitutional Speech Codes Place Marshall University on Our List of ’12 Worst Colleges for Free Speech’

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

Marshall University stands out from the other institutions on Greg's list of the "12 Worst Colleges for Free Speech" in The Huffington Post in that its policies alone, rather than specific cases of First Amendment violations, put it on the list. This distinction has not gone unnoticed, with the writers of an editorial in The Parthenon, Marshall's student newspaper, as well as the Charleston Daily Mail, wondering why Marshall was placed on the same list as blatant free speech abusers like Syracuse University (which wisely dropped its investigation of alleged SUCOLitis blogger Len Audaer this week) and Michigan State University.

As we often emphasize at FIRE, we are concerned not just with instances of censorship, but also with the underlying policies that permit such censorship to occur. In fact, our Spotlight ratings are solely based on the extent to which an institution's written policies restrict protected speech. While administrators today might enforce the unconstitutional policies only to punish truly unprotected expression, students under a new administration might not be so lucky. FIRE has seen plenty of administrators stretch conduct codes in order to punish protected speech. Furthermore, we will never know how many students have ...

As International Privacy Day is Celebrated, Governments Continue to Chip Away at Privacy Rights

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

"Effective data protection is vital for our democracies and underpins other fundamental rights and freedoms." - Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship.

Last Friday, privacy advocates and government officials in countries across the world celebrated the 5th annual International Privacy Day — even as individual privacy is threatened by surveillance proposals and security breaches worldwide. This day commemorates the first legally binding international agreement on data protection – the Council of Europe’s Convention 108- which was opened for signature on January 28th, 1981. Last week’s celebration marked the 30th anniversary of Convention 108, which has served as a foundation for many countries’ national data protection laws. It is an opportunity to raise public awareness about privacy threats and to urge governments to protect citizen's privacy rights.

In Europe, the celebration highlighted citizens' rights with respect to collection and processing of their personal data. 
Several events organized by governmental and privacy advocates drew attention to the value of privacy in our societies. The European Court of Human Rights joined the celebration by compiling some of its key judgments protecting citizens’ privacy rights. The European Data Protection Supervisor, an independent authority tasked ...

6th Circuit: Ohio judge can’t display Ten Commandments

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

CINCINNATI — An Ohio judge violated the U.S. Constitution by displaying a poster featuring the Ten Commandments in his courtroom, a federal appeals court ruled yesterday.

A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal district court's ruling that Richland County Common Pleas Judge James DeWeese violated the First Amendment’s separation of church and state by displaying the poster.

DeWeese's attorney, Francis Manion, says he and his client disagree with the 6th Circuit’s ruling in ACLU of Ohio v. DeWeese and are considering their options. They could ask the full appeals court for a hearing or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The judge hung the poster in his courtroom in Mansfield, north of Columbus, in 2006 after the U.S. Supreme Court let stand lower-court rulings that another Ten Commandment poster he hung in 2000 violated the separation of church and state. The latest poster titled "Philosophies of Law in Conflict" shows the Ten Commandments in a column listed as "moral absolutes" and secular humanist principles in another column listed as "moral relatives."

DeWeese attached a commentary to the poster that said he sees a conflict of legal philosophies in the United States — between ...

L.A. boy can use religious song at school talent show

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

LOS ANGELES — A fifth-grader will be allowed to perform to a Christian-themed song at his school talent show after a lawsuit accused the Los Angeles Unified School District of violating his free-speech rights, it was announced yesterday.

The nation’s second-largest school district, the PTA and the student’s lawyers reached an agreement permitting the 10-year-old to appear in tomorrow night’s talent show at Superior Street Elementary School, Superintendent Ramon Cortines said in a statement.

The district is “very pleased” that the situation was resolved, Cortines said.

The boy, a San Fernando Valley resident who is identified in court documents only as “B.H.,” planned to perform “interpretive movement” to the song “We Shine,” according to a lawsuit filed last week.

The song proclaims that “Jesus is alive and he’s coming again” and has the chorus: “We are the redeemed, we are the ones who are free, and we belong to Jesus.”

The boy auditioned for the talent show last month and a few days later, the school principal told his mother, Adriana Hickman, that the song was offensive and violated the separation of church and state, the suit contended.

The mother was asked, “Can he pick a song that doesn’t say ...

Pa. faith-healers sentenced in death of son

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

PHILADELPHIA — A fundamentalist Christian couple who relied on prayer to cure their dying toddler must take their remaining children for medical check-ups as part of their sentence in the boy’s death, a judge ruled yesterday.

Herbert and Catherine Schaible, who belong to First Century Gospel Church in Philadelphia, were previously convicted of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment in the pneumonia death of their 2-year-old son Kent.

Common Pleas Court Judge Carolyn Engel Temin said that, as adults, the couple is entitled to follow church teachings shunning medicine, which is seen as a lack of faith in God.

But the law says parents may not make that decision for their children.

“The welfare of the child is more important than the religious freedom of the parents,” Temin said.

Defense lawyers had argued the Schaibles did not know how sick Kent was before his death in January 2009. The boy’s symptoms had included coughing, congestion, crankiness and a loss of appetite, but the parents said he was eating and drinking until the last day, and they thought he was improving.

Speaking in court, Herbert Schaible asked the judge for leniency to allow the couple to support their family.

“We are grieving ...

Mass. judges agree to bar courtroom photos of suspects

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

BOSTON &151; For years, suspects in criminal cases in Massachusetts have shielded themselves from courtroom cameras by pulling hoods over their heads or positioning themselves in courthouse nooks where they can't be seen.

But lately, defense lawyers have been taking it a step further. Four times last month, judges agreed to prohibit the news media from photographing suspects in murder cases, citing possible identification issues if potential witnesses were to see the photos.

The rulings have sometimes been made over the objections of the news media and after the defendants' photos already have appeared in some newspapers or online.

Two suspects charged in the killings of four people in Boston's Mattapan neighborhood — including a 2-year-old boy and his mother — have won orders prohibiting the press from photographing them at their arraignments.

John Amabile, a lawyer who represents one of the men, Dwayne Moore, argued that allowing the news media to photograph Moore at his arraignment and disseminate his photo could subject eyewitnesses to "an unduly suggestive identification process" that could lead to a witness mistakenly identifying him as one of those responsible for the killings.

"It's not just the photo, but it's the manner in which it's presented, ...

Adherents ‘Took Their Turn’ to Die

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011
Church leaders in Vietnam look back at a deadly prison facility and a period of repression.

Binghamton’s Place on FIRE’s ’12 Worst’ List, Revisited

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

The Pipe Dream, an independent student newspaper at Binghamton University in New York, writes this week on Binghamton's inclusion on FIRE's "12 Worst Schools for Free Speech," as featured in The Huffington Post. Azhar has already done quite a nice job for FIRE in explaining what Binghamton has done to earn its place on the listnamely, the near-expulsion of social work student Andre Massena and the successful expulsion of social work student Michael Gutsellso I suggest you read his post if you haven't.

Binghamton Senior Director of Media and Public Relations Gail Glover offered brief comments for the article, however, which merit response.

"Binghamton University shares FIRE's commitment to free speech on college campuses and we welcome their advocacy efforts," Glover said.

But she also addressed the rating directly.

"With respect to the specific article, we do not believe it is a meaningful evaluation of what campuses as a whole are or are not doing relative to speech on campus, but rather serves mostly to promote FIRE as an organization by spotlighting those matters in which the organization is or has been involved," Glover said. "The specific incidents that place Binghamton on ...

Campaigner Detained in Beijing

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011
While most families celebrate the lunar new year, Chinese petitioners brave the cold in the capital.