Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Group fights company’s bid to I.D. makers of bogus website

Friday, January 28th, 2011

WICHITA, Kan. — Lawyers representing the environmentalists behind a media hoax targeting Koch Industries Inc. have asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit by the Wichita-based company seeking the pranksters’ identities.

The Washington-based Public Citizen Litigation Group said the lawsuit would have a chilling effect on anonymous Internet communications and basic First Amendment rights. In a request filed on Jan. 26 in U.S. District Court in Utah, the group asked a judge to quash subpoenas obtained by Koch Industries and issue a protective order.

The nonprofit advocacy group contends it represents the anonymous members of Youth for Climate Truth.

The dust-up stems from a bogus website and fake news release issued last month that falsely announced the company was changing its financial commitments on climate change to fund more environmentally friendly groups. The hoax included a website with a similar web address and homepage of Koch Industries’ official site. The companies that registered and hosted the website are located in Utah.

“What Koch needs to understand is people have a First Amendment right to criticize people on the Internet — and that includes powerful corporations and government,” Deepak Gupta, the attorney for Public Citizen, said in a telephone interview. ...

House panel seeks details of 5 years of FOI requests

Friday, January 28th, 2011

WASHINGTON — The new Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is demanding details of every request for federal records made by citizens, journalists, companies and others during the last five years under the Freedom of Information Act.

It’s part of a broad congressional inquiry into President Barack Obama’s promises to improve government transparency.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said the committee is seeking the documents — expected to exceed tens of thousands of pages — to make sure that “all federal agencies respond in a timely, substantive and non-discriminatory manner” to requests for records under the information law.

Issa sent the letter to 180 federal offices across the government, including the departments of defense, education, justice, commerce, state and transportation, along with the CIA, EPA, NASA and others. Issa set a deadline to receive the materials by Feb. 15.

Some federal agencies receive tens of thousands of information requests each year. The Defense Department last year received 73,572 such requests, and the Justice Department received 63,682.

The committee wants lists that the government offices have maintained during the previous five years with the names of people who sought federal records, dates of their requests, descriptions of what ...

TV station airs video after Miss. high court gives OK

Friday, January 28th, 2011

JACKSON, Miss. — A Hattiesburg television station aired a video yesterday that allegedly shows guards abusing juveniles at a youth detention center, after the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that it could.

On Jan. 11, Youth Court Judge Mike McPhail barred WDAM-TV from airing the video because he said it would jeopardize the juveniles' privacy. Yesterday, the state's highest court vacated the judge's order.

The Associated Press was one of about three dozen news organizations and media trade groups that joined WDAM in challenging McPhail's ruling.

WDAM broadcast the video last night with the juveniles' faces blurred, the station's news director said. WDAM argued it had a First Amendment right to broadcast the video shot at the Forrest County Juvenile Detention Center.

"What's at stake for the public is the right to be free of government censorship," said Leonard Van Slyke Jr., an attorney for the station.

A former employee of the detention center provided the tapes to WDAM. The sheriff's department accused the former employee of stealing them.

The Forest County sheriff's department argued that a state law required WDAM to seek the youth court's permission to air the tape. James Dukes Jr., a lawyer for the sheriff's department, said ...

Congresswoman again introduces bill to outlaw nooses

Friday, January 28th, 2011

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For the fourth straight year, a congresswoman from Texas has introduced a bill that would criminalize the display of nooses with the intent to intimidate or harass others.

Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee introduced the Noose Hate Crime Act of 2011, H.R. 221, which provides: “Whoever, with intent to harass or intimidate any person because of that person's race, color, religion, or national origin, displays a noose in public shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 2 years, or both.”

Jackson Lee has introduced this bill each year since 2008, after a noose was displayed in response to the Jena Six controversy in Louisiana.

In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the bulk of a Virginia cross-burning statute in Virginia v. Black. The Court ruled that displaying a cross with the “intent to intimidate” meant that the law targeted only those displays of crosses that constituted true threats.

Jackson’s measure on nooses also contains the key “intent to intimidate” language.

Several states have anti-noose statutes.

  • California prohibits the hanging of a noose on public or private property with the intent to terrorize others.
  • In Louisiana and Virginia, it is a crime to display ...

Internet Security Savvy is Critical as Egyptian Government Blocks Websites, Arrests Activists in Response to Continued Protest

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

As we've seen in Iran and Tunisia, social networking tools have given activists in authoritarian regimes a powerful voice, which can be heard well beyond their own country. But the use of social networking tools has also given their governments ways to identify and retaliate against them. This week we are watching the same dynamic play out in Egypt. This is why it is critical that all activists —in Egypt and elsewhere—take precautions to protect their anonymity and freedom of expression. The protests in Egypt this week also highlight another important point: authoritarian governments can block access to social media websites, but determined, tech-savvy activists are likely to find ways to circumvent censorship to communicate with the rest of the world.

In an attempt to clamp down on Egyptian protesters, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s government is intermittently blocking websites and arresting bloggers, journalists, and dissidents. Like the Tunisians, Egyptian protesters have made heavy use of social media websites to share information about the protests with the outside world and with each other. In spite of the Egyptian government’s blocking of Twitter, tweets from the Egyptian protests in Suez and Cairo provided up-to-the-minute reports about protest activity, the movements of police, ...

U.S. Naval Academy Settles Complaint With Professor Critical of Its Affirmative Action Policies

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

The United States Naval Academy has agreed to a legal settlement with a tenured English professor after a federal investigation uncovered evidence that the Naval Academy violated his First Amendment rights. The professor, Bruce Fleming, had filed a complaint in 2009 with a federal agency, the Office of Special Counsel, claiming that top ranking Naval Academy officials denied him a raise based on his public assertions about the college's race-conscious admissions policies. In a widely circulated newspaper column, Fleming had written that the Naval Academy used an admissions process for minority students that was so much less demanding, it likely violated federal civil rights laws.

The settlement by the Naval Academy, the undergraduate college for the Navy, admits no wrongdoing. However, a news release by the Office of Special Counsel appears to indicate that the investigation produced evidence that the Academy violated Fleming's First Amendment rights. The Office of Special Counsel, which investigates federal whistleblower complaints, confirmed that it found evidence that the institution "illegally denied [an] employee a merit-pay increase because of public statements."

Fleming, who had criticized the college's affirmative action policies for several years, issued a statement after the settlement. According to Fleming, "[t]he reason I ...

Greg Discusses ‘The Dirty Dozen’ Colleges on ‘The Vicki McKenna Show’

Thursday, January 27th, 2011
Greg will appear on The Vicki McKenna Show tonight to discuss his Huffington Post feature on the 12 worst colleges for free speech at 5:35 p.m. ET. Tune in to listen on WISN in Milwaukee and WIBA in Madison. You also can listen live online.

Robert on the Proposed ‘Tyler Clementi Act’ in ‘Pajamas Media’

Thursday, January 27th, 2011
FIRE Senior Vice President Robert Shibley's latest article for Pajamas Media discusses the free speech problems with the proposed "Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act," about which FIRE has sounded the alarm previously. In his column, Robert asserts that "the 'Tyler Clementi Act,' as written, will add Americans’ First Amendment rights to the list of victims of the Clementi tragedy." Click here to read the whole column, and please feel free to comment on it on the Pajamas Media site if you're interested in doing so.

Supreme Court

Thursday, January 27th, 2011
As Obama's second appointment to the court awaits confirmation, learn more about the Court, its cases, and the people who have worn its robes.

FIRE in ‘The Huffington Post’ on America’s 12 Worst Schools for Free Speech

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

Today, The Huffington Post published FIRE's list of America's 12 Worst Schools for Free Speech. An expansion of FIRE's Red Alert List of the "worst of the worst" schools for student and faculty rights, this "dirty dozen" slideshow includes the schools that come onto FIRE's radar screen again and again for their repeated and egregious violations of fundamental rights, as well as schools whose policies are so bad that they simply had to be included.

For longtime Torch readers, the presence of most of these schools on our list won't come as a surprise. But we don't want to give it all away here. Is your college or alma mater on the list? Go to The Huffington Post to find out!

‘State Hornet’ on CSU – Sacramento’s Red-Light Speech Codes

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

A recent article in The State Hornet, at California State University - Sacramento (Sac State), notes the university's poor ratingand the generally poor ratings of its California peers--in FIRE's 2011 Spotlight on Speech Codes report.

As The State Hornet points out in its front-page article, "Sac State received the red-light ranking along with Chico State, UC Santa Cruz and UC Davis, while other California universities such as UC Santa Barbara and UC Berkeley received a yellow light." The paper also points out that "64 percent of the 33 California university campuses received a red light," the lowest of the three ratings in FIRE's Spotlight database of college speech codes.

This has some at Sac State surprised:

Kimo Ah Yun, the new department chair of communication studies, was surprised by the study and said he did not see the campus as a place where he has seen substantial limitations on free speech.

Sac State confines demonstrations of free speech to the area in front of the University Library, according to Sac State policies.

Ah Yun said he thinks free speech is vital because it gives people the right to express opinions without concern for retribution, and he believes ...

Mo. measure addresses academic freedom, evolution

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

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Public elementary and secondary school teachers in Missouri would have greater academic freedom to teach about scientific evidence regarding evolution, if a bill recently introduced in the Missouri House becomes law.

Republican state Rep. Andrew Koenig and several other co-sponsors introduced H.B. 195, which would allow educators to teach and guide students in thinking critically about scientific theories and discuss “differences of opinion about controversial issues, including biological and chemical evolution.”

One part of the measure provides that school officials shall not prohibit public school teachers “from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of biological or chemical evolution whatsoever whenever these subjects are taught within the course curriculum schedule.”

Another section states that the bill is not a guise for teaching creationism or religious doctrine. It reads: “This section only protects the teaching of scientific information and this section shall not be construed to promote any religious or nonreligious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or nonbeliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.”

John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, says he supports the measure.

“Any bill ...

Federal judge upholds Ga. ban on guns in places of worship

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

ATLANTA — A federal judge this week upheld Georgia’s law banning guns in churches and other places of worship by dismissing a lawsuit that claims the ban violates the First and Second amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

The lawsuit was filed by a gun-rights organization — — and the Rev. Jonathan Wilkins of the Baptist Tabernacle of Thomaston.

Plaintiffs had argued that they should be allowed to have firearms in places of worship “for the protection of their families and themselves” without fear of arrest on a misdemeanor charge. Wilkins said he wanted to have a gun for protection while working in the church office.

U.S. District Judge Ashley Royal on Jan. 24 wrote that Georgia’s law does not violate First Amendment protections for free exercise of religion or the Second Amendment right to bear arms. The judge noted that members of the church had not claimed that their religious beliefs “require that any member carry a firearm into the Tabernacle, whether during worship services or otherwise.”

Worshippers are free to leave their weapons in their cars or with security or management at the door as they go inside to worship. In the minister’s case, he could have a ...

Calif. city OKs mosque despite protests

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

LOS ANGELES — Opponents of a proposed mosque in the Southern California city of Temecula collected hundreds of signatures, bombarded city planners with angry letters and e-mails, and even staged protests with bullhorns and dogs.

None of it worked.

The City Council approved plans early yesterday for the 25,000-square-foot, two-story mosque after a nine-hour meeting that included rants against Islam as well as technical debates about traffic concerns and flood plains.

The Islamic Center of Temecula Valley is one of several across the U.S. that has seized the nation’s attention in recent months as controversy raged over plans for a $100 million mosque and educational center two blocks from the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. A mosque planned near Nashville, Tenn., has also sparked a dispute.

The Temecula center has owned the land for years but didn’t encounter resistance until planning work on the mosque coincided with debate over the New York site, putting 150 Muslim families at the center of a bitter fight, said Imam Mahmoud Harmoush.

Some residents worried the California mosque would be a center for radical Islam and add to traffic woes in the rapidly developing region. The mosque spent more than $17,000 ...

MasterCard’s Support for COICA Threatens A Free And Open Internet

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

In the last months of 2010, the WikiLeaks wars reminded transparency activists of something copyright and trademark lawyers know all too well – online speech is only as strong as the many service providers on which it depends. All too often web hosts, domain name registrars and other service providers cave at the slightest legal or government pressure, with disastrous consequences for their users.

We had hoped that credit card and other financial services would resist efforts to pressure them to stop processing payments to controversial websites. So we were dismayed to hear that not only does MasterCard support the passage of the Internet Censorship and Copyright Bill ("COICA"), but that it also appears to be signaling a willingness to voluntarily stop processing payments made to sites that allegedly offer “pirated” or other copyrighted content. Keep in mind that courts have ruled that credit card companies do not face liability for potentially infringing activities on site for which they merely process payments.

Of course, if COICA becomes law, the Justice Department would have the power to order MasterCard to stop processing payments to certain sites. That's one reason we are worried about the effects of COICA: it offers ...

New Video: Michele Kerr’s Struggle at Stanford

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011
At the 2010 CFN Conference, Stanford University alumna and teacher Michele Kerr described how the Stanford Teacher Education Program (STEP) tried to oust her for her views. In 2008, Stanford tried to remove Michele twice: first by attempting to revoke her admission, and then by declaring her "unfit for teaching" after she was enrolled. FIRE intervened on her behalf, and Michele was able to complete the program in 2009 and is now pursuing her teaching career. Michele advised the conference audience to carefully document abuses of their rights and to find allies (like FIRE) to help them fight back. For more coverage of the 2010 CFN Conference, including excellent keynote addresses by Jonathan Rauch and Daphne Patai, visit the 2010 conference page or FIRE's video page.

Outrage as Trial Begins

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011
The court hearing of the son of a former police officer spotlights widespread nepotism by Chinese officials.

‘Free Speech Semester’ at Western Carolina

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

On Monday, Western Carolina University (WCU) commenced a semester-long "Celebration of the First Amendment" with a presentation by Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center. The presentation was sponsored by WCU's campus newspaper, The Western Carolinian, and funded by a 2010-11 Louis Ingelhard First Amendment Award Grant from the College Media Association. 

WCU is one of the 27 percent of schools we reviewed in our 2011 speech code report that have yellow-light ratings, which means that it has policies that could too easily be used to ban or excessively regulate protected speech. (More information about WCU's speech codes can be found here.)

Taking a look at these policies and thinking about ways to get WCU's Spotlight rating to green would be a great starting point for WCU students to examine the importance of free speech on campus.

NKU Dean to Students: ‘That’s the problem with free speech, guys’

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

When discussing the possibility of increased restrictions on the rights of uninvited, non-college-affiliated speakers at Northern Kentucky University (NKU), Dean of Students Jeffrey Waple told student government officials, "[t]hat's the problem with free speech, guys." According to the The Northerner, an independent student newspaper at NKU, Waple was responding to concerns some students had expressed about the potentially offensive nature of others' speech. The Northerner reports that Waple "said that, although that speech may be offensive to some listeners, the speaker is probably entitled to say it and the university cannot usually engage in censoring the content of a visitor's speech."

It would be wonderful if more public university administrators would acknowledge such a responsibility to regulate speech in a viewpoint-neutral way. Besides, students must realize that free speech is not a "problem" so much as an opportunity for dialogue, debate, and learning. Read the full article here.

In State of the Union, Obama Calls for Immigration Reform and DREAM ACT

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

In his State of the Union address last night, President Obama made a common-sense plea for comprehensive immigration reform, including a reference to the DREAM ACT, the popular measure that would provide a path to citizenship for young adults who, through no fault of their own, were brought into the country illegally as children, provided they graduate from high school with a commitment to go to college or join the military. The DREAM Act was blocked by Senate Republicans at the end of last year.

One last point about education. Today, there are hundreds of thousands of students excelling in our schools who are not American citizens. Some are the children of undocumented workers, who had nothing to do with the actions of their parents. They grew up as Americans and pledge allegiance to our flag, and yet they live every day with the threat of deportation. Others come here from abroad to study in our colleges and universities. But as soon as they obtain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us. It makes no sense.

Now, I strongly believe that we should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration. And I ...

House Subcommittee Revives Mandatory Data Retention Debate…With a Surprise Attack on EFF

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

This morning, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security held a hearing on mandatory Internet data retention, once again reviving the debate over whether Congress should pass legislation to force ISPs and telecom providers to log information about how users communicate and use the Internet. The hearing, awash with rhetoric about targeting Internet crime and including an unexpected condemnation of EFF's privacy advocacy, was purportedly an information- and fact-finding hearing to explore the issue of data retention and consider what Congress' role should be. However, it's already clear where the new House Judiciary Chairman, Representative Lamar Smith, stands on the issue: he introduced data retention legislation just last year and likely will do so again this year.

EFF believes that government-mandated data retention would be an overwhelmingly invasive and costly demand, raising serious privacy and free speech concerns — points well-argued at the hearing by John Morris, General Counsel of CDT [written testimony], and Kate Dean, Executive Director of the United States Internet Service Provider Association [written testimony].

Although the Obama Adminstration has not yet put forward a specific data retention proposal, any such proposal would likely have ISPs and perhaps other online service providers ...

Mo. appeals court: Judge wrongly closed case file

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A Missouri appeals court has ruled that a judge wrongly closed records in a criminal case against a former police chief and has ordered that the file be made available to the news media.

An attorney for a newspaper that sued to see the records said yesterday that the decision was a significant victory for the public’s ability to keep tabs on government officials.

“When public files are closed, the public justifiably becomes distrustful of its government,” said Farmington attorney Tom Burcham, who represented the owners of the Daily Journal in Park Hills. “We view this as a blow that’s been struck in favor of the public trust.”

At issue was a felony forgery and misdemeanor stealing charge filed against former Leadington Police Chief Cledith Wakefield, who resigned last February after about 25 years on the job. In an April 8, 2010, plea agreement, prosecutors decided not to pursue the felony charge, and Wakefield entered an Alford plea to the misdemeanor charge, in which the defendant does not admit guilt but acknowledges prosecutors likely could prove the charge.

Then-Circuit Judge Bill Seay suspended the imposition of Wakefield’s one-year probation sentence and ordered the case file to ...

Wall Street Journal sues seeking Medicare data

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

ORLANDO, Fla. — The publisher of The Wall Street Journal went to court yesterday seeking to overturn a 31-year ban on the release of records about how much Medicare money individual doctors receive.

Dow Jones & Company Inc. filed suit in federal court in Orlando in an effort to end a prohibition that was implemented in 1979 following a successful lawsuit in Florida by the American Medical Association.

Dow Jones called the ban outdated and said it had limited the data reporters for The Wall Street Journal were able to obtain last year for a series of stories that examined abuses in the Medicare system.

"There is no legally supportable justification for maintaining a sweeping and obsolete injunction that for over thirty years has prevented the American public from knowing the true extent of Medicare waste, abuse and fraud," Dow Jones said in its filing.

The president of the American Medical Association says that members of the public could draw misleading conclusions from the data if it is released, given its complexity and "significant limitations."

"Physicians who provide care to Medicare patients are already subject to widespread governmental oversight," Dr. Cecil Wilson of Winter Park, Fla., said in a statement. ...

Calif. fights bearded man’s bid to become prison guard

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California’s attorney general says religious beliefs aren’t enough to trump a corrections department ban on prison guards wearing beards — a stance that drew protests yesterday from civil rights organizations.

Attorney General Kamala Harris argued in a Sacramento County Superior Court filing Jan. 6 that Trilochan Oberoi can’t be properly fitted for a gas mask if he keeps the facial hair required by his Sikh religion.

No exceptions have been granted since the policy took effect in 2004, Harris said, citing the testimony of a corrections department official. She is asking that Oberoi’s lawsuit be dismissed at an April 19 hearing.

Civil rights organizations sent a letter to Harris yesterday asking her to reconsider her opposition and met with her top aide to discuss their concerns.

They said the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s own regulations allow guards to wear beards for certain medical conditions and should make similar allowances for Sikhs, Muslims, Orthodox Jews and others whose religion requires facial hair.

“Why should those who cannot shave for religious reasons be treated differently from those who cannot shave for medical reasons?” reads the letter from several groups, including the Asian Law Caucus, American Civil Liberties Union ...

Writers Face Hard Labor

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011
Three essayists in Tibet refuse to appeal a judgment which, according to sources, came from 'higher authorities.'

House GOP Plans Attack on Fair Elections

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

After taking power in the House, the new Republican majority is preparing to eliminate one of the most significant efforts to ensure fair elections: the public finance system in presidential races. Instead of making the public finance system stronger, the GOP wants to do away with it altogether with little if any debate. Already, many House Republicans are pushing legislation that would allow corporations to make direct donations to candidates for public office even though “85% of voters say that corporations have too much influence over the political system today.” By eliminating the ability of campaigns to opt to receive public finances, candidates will become more, not less, dependent on the shadowy corporate dollars flowing into our elections.

Andy Kroll of Mother Jones reports on the GOP’s plan to scrap public financing of presidential campaigns:

On Wednesday, House Republicans plan to rush to the floor a bill that would eliminate the federal government's presidential financing system—in the process, violating recent pledges by the GOP's leadership of increased transparency and debate in Congress. Not one hearing has been held on the legislation, nor has a single committee debated its merits. If it passes, it will roll back more than 30 years ...

Justice Scalia Teaches at Michele Bachmann’s Constitution School

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

People For's president, Michael Keegan, has a piece it the Huffington Post today on Justice Antonin Scalia's visit to Rep. Michele Bachmann's Constitution class:

Yesterday, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia traveled to the Capitol to teach a class about the Constitution to members of Congress, led by controversial Tea Party caucus chairwoman Michele Bachmann. Justice Scalia's participation in Bachmann's Constitution school has prompted a heated debate about the proper relationship between Supreme Court justices and political leaders. But the real debate that should be raging is not about judicial ethics, but about the dubious vision of the Constitution that Scalia and leaders of the Tea Party will be discussing.

As Jonathan Turley pointed out in the Washington Post this weekend, while Supreme Court Justices across the ideological spectrum have taken on increasingly prominent public roles, Scalia has become a true "celebrity justice." But Scalia's pugnacious celebrity is in service of a distorted and bizarre reinterpretation of the Constitution championed by the Tea Party movement.

Although the Tea Party seeks to wrap the Constitutional founding in religious doctrine and intention, this view conveniently ignores the Establishment Clause, the clause forbidding religious tests for public office, and the fact that neither the ...

Uyghurs Held in Tajikistan

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011
Three Uyghur businessmen may face extradition to China.

Peter on University Principles and ROTC

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

FIRE's own Peter Bonilla has a new writing gig at PolicyMic, where his first piece examines the question of bringing the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) back to campus in light of a university's dedication to principles of freedom of association, nondiscrimination, diversity, academic freedom, and freedom of choice.

If the question is whether a university must bring back ROTC after having denied it a place on campus for whatever reasonmost recently and most commonly because of the repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policythen the answer is no, Peter argues. A university has some prerogative to determine its own educational programs and to determine how to spend its money.

Yet, Peter writes, if a university had excluded ROTC over DADT out of concern about nondiscrimination and diversity, those same principles seem to operate now in favor of welcoming ROTC to campus as one among many diverse educational and social opportunities:

As Harvey Silverglate, co-founder of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE, where I work) wrote in The Wall Street Journal, "Our universities are, by their own claim (indeed, boast), bound by notions of academic freedom and free choice. It ill behooves ...

US Government, Sponsor of Book Censorship

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011
NCAC occasionally publishes guest blogs on topics related to free speech. The views in these articles do not necessarily reflect the official position of NCAC, however they raise important issues for discussion. By Vel Nirtist How do you keep the unwashed masses known as the “public” from highly prestigious and quite remunerative pursuit known as [...]

CFN Members Featured in’s ‘Profiles in Activism’

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011 has launched a new video series entitled "Profiles in Activism" to highlight the work of student activists. The two inaugural entries feature interviews with CFN members Casey Given, a 2010 FIRE Intern and University of California, Berkeley student, and Michelle Fields, whose Free Speech Wall at Pepperdine University was featured on The Torch last fall. Congratulations to Casey and Michelle! For more information on how students are fighting for free speech on campus, visit

UNLV Adopts New Civility Statement, But Keeps It Strictly Aspirational

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

As reported by the Rebel Yell student newspaper last week, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) Faculty Senate has approved a new civility policy statement that expresses the university's intent to foster civil expression on campus. The statement will appear online as a supplement to the university's existing policy on hate crimes.

The adoption of a civility statement at any university is understandably a matter of concern, given the tendency of many universities to censor and punish campus expression for being "uncivil." Johns Hopkins University, to use one prominent example, finds itself still on our Red Alert list years after it passed a repressive civility policy following the punishment of a student for posting an "offensive" party invitation on Facebook. San Francisco State University settled a First Amendment lawsuit in which the federal magistrate judge rendering the decision tore apart the university's defense of its speech codes, including a civility policy.

However, comments made to the Rebel Yell by several university figures involved in the adoption of the civility statement make clear that UNLV holds the new statement out as strictly aspirational, and not a mandatory policy that will subject students or faculty to punishment for speech deemed to ...

Ex-Border Patrol agent says opinions cost him his job

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit for a former Border Patrol agent who claims he was fired — just weeks before his probationary period ended — because he expressed opinions about illegal immigration and drug legalization.

The lawsuit was filed Jan. 20 in federal court in El Paso, Texas, on behalf of Bryan Gonzalez, who was fired in September 2009.

Ramiro Cordero, the Border Patrol's special operations supervisor in El Paso, declined comment. Cordero said the agency doesn't discuss pending litigation.

Gonzalez said that while patrolling near Deming, N.M., in April 2009, he told a fellow agent during a casual conversation that he believed legalizing drugs would reduce violence in Mexico.

Gonzalez, who held dual citizenship in Mexico and the U.S. until he turned 18, also told his colleague he understood the economic factors driving immigrants to cross the border illegally.

The lawsuit claims that word of Gonzalez's comments spread to his supervisor, who notified agency officials in Washington, D.C. An internal affairs investigation followed, leading to the firing.

According to the lawsuit, the termination letter stated that Gonzalez held "personal views that were contrary to the core characteristics of Border Patrol agents, which ...

GOP lawmakers target federal funding for public broadcasting

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

WASHINGTON — Can the tea party kill off what Newt Gingrich couldn’t?

Federal subsidies for Amtrak, mohair farming, public broadcasting, small airlines serving rural airports and many others were targeted in the heady days of the 1995 GOP takeover of Congress. But like cut bamboo, they grew back healthier than ever.

With budget deficits over $1 trillion, conservative Republicans are trying again, determined to weed out dozens of programs ranging from regional development commissions to replenishing sand lost to beach erosion that they see choking a free-enterprise economy. The ardor of tea party-backed GOP freshmen to make the government smaller shouldn’t be underestimated, but most of the programs they want to eliminate have emerged victorious after losing early skirmishes.

Amtrak, for example, now gets $1.6 billion in capital grants and subsidies for its money-losing long-distance routes. Republicans succeeded in cutting the subsidies by 27% in 1995. But President George W. Bush encountered a bipartisan buzz saw when he tried to eliminate Amtrak’s operating subsidy a decade later. Amtrak runs trains through almost every state, which gives it great support among lawmakers.

“Look, Amtrak provides a valuable service. If you think that passenger rail is going to exist in this country ...

S.D. newspaper settles libel lawsuit

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The Argus Leader says a libel lawsuit against the Sioux Falls newspaper and a former editor has been settled out of court.

Former Sioux Falls Development Foundation Director Dan Scott sued in the summer of 2007, saying a satirical column written by then-Executive Editor Randell Beck had damaged his reputation. Beck said the column was clearly parody and protected free speech.

Scott sought damages of at least $1 million. The state Supreme Court in 2008 refused to dismiss the case.

Lawyers for both sides have signed a settlement and Circuit Judge Bradley Zell has dismissed the case.

Steven Sanford, the attorney for Beck and the Argus Leader, declined to comment on the details. Scott's lawyer, Bill Janklow, did not return a telephone call to the Associated Press in time for this story.

Activist Beaten on Release

Monday, January 24th, 2011
A member of the banned China Democracy Party says he was attacked by police following his release from jail.

Paul Pope Launches New CBLDF Benefit Print

Monday, January 24th, 2011
Paul Pope has created an all new fine art print with master art printers Axelle Fine Arts to benefit the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund! See Pope at work on the print, and learn about his passion for CBLDF in this exclusive video by Shahriar Shadab. Then go behind the scenes courtesy of our friends at io9! This print, The Liberty Tree, was personally overseen by Pope, is archivally printed, and strictly limited to 50 copies, all signed and numbered by artist. Get a print of your very own by joining the CBLDF at the $500 level or $1,000 level, which will also include a separate sketch by the artist! All proceeds benefit the CBLDF’s 2011 program work.

Mozilla Leads the Way on Do Not Track

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Earlier today, Mozilla announced plans to incorporate a Do Not Track feature into their next browser release, Firefox 4.1. Google also announced a new privacy extension today, but we believe that Mozilla is now taking a clear lead and building a practical way forward for people who want privacy when they browse the web.

Why We Need Do Not Track

Privacy advocates have been calling attention to issues of pervasive online tracking for some time. Often intertwined with the issue of behavioral targeting, online tracking refers to the difficult-to-elude mechanisms by which most or all of our reading and other activities on the Web are recorded by third parties, without our knowledge or permission.

The technical details of online tracking are multifarious. They include traditional HTTP cookies as well as flash cookies and many other kinds of supercookies, web bugs, JavaScript trackers, HTTP Referrers, and fingerprinting. And new ways to track browsers will continue to be invented. Even consumers who take steps to delete their cookies or use private browsing mode remain unable to prevent third parties from observing their clickstreams.

Currently, a subset of advertisers offer a mechanism for opting out of behavioral advertising through ...

Forced Labor Prevalent for Chin

Monday, January 24th, 2011
Ethnic officials in western Burma say the government must work to end rights abuses.

Syracuse Prosecutor: ‘There are a lot of people who have a sense of entitlement to free speech’

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Last Tuesday, Syracuse University College of Law (SUCOL) faculty prosecutor Gregory Germain appeared before the SUCOL Law Student Bar Association to explain the latest developments in his absurd prosecution of a student for "harassment" based on the expression on a satirical law school blog called SUCOLitis. His comments reveal an unfortunately unsurprising lack of understanding of, and even disdain for, the principles of free speech on SUCOL's campus.

The most revealing lines of all in the meeting minutes come from Professor Germain, who reportedly said:

I think there are a lot of people who have a sense of entitlement to free speech. We have rules that are not designed with the internet in mind and we have very general rules which prohibit bad conduct ... [Emphasis added.]

Yes, Professor Germain, people do have a "sense of entitlement to free speech," as they are indeed entitled to free speechnot just in the United States under the First Amendment, but even (if one can still believe it) at Syracuse, a private university that promises free speech to its students.

In addition, Professor Germain appears to believe that Syracuse's student handbooks and policies don't really matter, since after all, ...

FIRE’s Free Speech Billboard Ad about Michigan State Rejected

Monday, January 24th, 2011

An advertising company has refused to run a billboard ad from FIRE promoting free speech at Michigan State University (MSU). The ad, which would have appeared very close to MSU's campus this month, addresses MSU's draconian e-mail policy. Unlike virtually all colleges and universities, MSU claims in its policy that "The University's e-mail services are not intended as a forum for the expression of personal opinions."

Here is a copy of the ad that was rejected:

In an e-mail from Crosstown Communications President Steve Pickering to FIRE, Pickering wrote that "after review of the proposed advertisement, Pick Outdoor declines to display it on the digital billboard at 111 N. Harrison." Pickering appears to be the owner of Pick Outdoor.

As a private company, Pick Outdoor has a right to reject FIRE's advertisement. However, for the benefit of the MSU community, rejecting the ad is the wrong thing to do. MSU used its unconstitutional e-mail policy to threaten to suspend an MSU student government member for sending e-mails to a selected group of faculty members about a time-sensitive, campus-wide issue. Under pressure from FIRE, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and 11 other civil liberties organizations, MSU withdrew all charges against the ...

Public Executions over Leaflets

Monday, January 24th, 2011
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il's regime takes action in bid to tighten ideological control.

Syracuse Law School Blasted by ‘Daily Orange’ for Prosecution of Innocent Student

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Over the weekend, Syracuse University student newspaper The Daily Orange blasted Syracuse University College of Law (SUCOL) for prosecuting innocent expression posted on a satirical blog called SUCOLitis, which made fun of life in law schoollike SUCOL's version of The Onion. For more than three months, law student Len Audaer has been under investigation with the threat of expulsion for "harassment" because of the expression on the blog, even though:

  1. he has never acknowledged writing any of the blog posts on SUCOLitis;
  2. he has never been told which expression on the blog he is being investigated for;
  3. he has never been told the identities of his accusers.

The Daily Orange's staff editorial, titled "Law school wastes resources, time on harassment case," does an excellent job of expressing the embarrassing way in which SUCOL faculty prosecutor Gregory Germain has handled the case over the past 100 days:

Members of the College of Law look forward to the end of a 100-day investigation of a law student for allegedly creating the satirical blog SUCOLitis. Faculty prosecutors claimed the blog constituted harassment, and the case will be settled later this week.

The law school has drawn this ...

Hundreds Protest Smithsonian Censorship

Monday, January 24th, 2011
This Sunday, Dec 19th, hundreds of artists, curators, queer and free speech activists, as well as other supporters of free speech gathered in front of Metropolitan Museum to take part in a rally demanding that the Smithsonian return the censored video by artist David Wojnarowicz, “A Fire In My Belly,” to the National Portrait Gallery’s [...]

Alternative National Portrait Gallery Site

Monday, January 24th, 2011
ARTINFO reports: After outraging the art world, several of its funders, and a giant chunk of its constituency with its fatal decision to remove David Wojnarowicz’s “Fire in My Belly” from the National Portrait Gallery’s “Hide/Seek” show, the Smithsonian has chosen to respond to its critics in a dramatic, and rather odd, fashion: instead of [...]

Wilson Play Will Go On!

Monday, January 24th, 2011
Overruling a decision by the schools’ superintendent, the Waterbury, Conn Board of Education allowed a high-school production of August Wilson’s play,  Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, to go on. Superintendent David L. Snead had opposed the production, saying that the school and educators should not be staging a play that might encourage use of the [...]

Federal judge upholds national forest’s limits on motorized travel

Monday, January 24th, 2011

GREAT FALLS, Mont. — A federal judge has rejected a lawsuit by groups wanting to reverse a U.S. Forest Service ban on motorized travel in a section of the Lewis and Clark National Forest.

The Badger-Two Medicine Travel Plan went into effect in October along the Rocky Mountain Front, limiting access by wheeled motor vehicles to 8 miles of roads and banning snowmobiles. The 2008 plan involves 186 miles of trails in the 130,000-acre area, which is sacred to the Blackfeet Tribe.

The Forest Service said one of the reasons for the ban was that motorized recreation interfered with traditional Blackfeet Tribe religious practices, such as vision quests.

U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon on Jan. 20 ruled that the plan was not flawed as the groups had contended. The groups claimed the Forest Service’s reasoning for the plan violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment, which states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

Haddon rejected the argument, saying the plan didn’t result in “a cathedral for the Blackfeet religion.”

He added that “any individual, regardless of religion, may access Badger-Two Medicine … . The decision is devoid of any informed and reasonable perception that it ...

Kan. woman aims to outlaw mean posts on memorial websites

Monday, January 24th, 2011

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Karla O'Malley was upset when she heard that an Arkansas teenager she had stopped to comfort after a Christmas Eve car accident in Overland Park had died. But she was outraged when she went to post condolences on a memorial website for the teenager and found that it included hurtful and offensive comments about the boy's death.

In response, O'Malley, of Overland Park, has collected 200 supporters for an online petition seeking a federal law that would ban the posting of such comments and photos on website memorial pages. She also is seeking help from U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan. whose office is reviewing the matter.

While acknowledging that such a measure would limit free-speech rights, O'Malley said she believes those rights should not supersede common decency.

"I am not a legal expert by any means," O’Malley told The Kansas City Star. "I just have a strong burning inside to make this stop. Protesters can voice their opinions elsewhere, but there is a time and place for mourners to be left alone."

O'Malley, a human resources officer for a nonprofit social services agency, comforted 17-year-old Travis Storm McAfee of Fort Smith, Ark., after coming upon the ...

News-media groups urge Miss. court to lift order against TV station

Monday, January 24th, 2011

JACKSON, Miss. — The Mississippi Supreme Court has allowed about three dozen news organizations and media trade associations to file legal papers in support of a Hattiesburg television station.

WDAM-TV contends it should be allowed to broadcast video that it says shows abuse at a local juvenile-detention center. WDAM asked the Supreme Court on Jan. 13 to lift the ban on its broadcast ordered by Youth Court Judge Mike McPhail.

McPhail barred the station from broadcasting the video because he said it would jeopardize juvenile privacy.

WDAM, which said privacy would be protected, argued in court papers that McPhail's order prevented it from broadcasting "truthful information of public significance."

The other organizations filed a request on Jan. 20 asking to file legal arguments supporting WDAM. The Supreme Court granted that request Jan. 21 in a one-page order signed by Justice George C. Carlson Jr.

The news organizations seeking to support WDAM include the Associated Press, The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Mississippi Association of Broadcasters.

Those organizations said in court papers that McPhail's ruling, if permitted to stand, would impose unfair limits on journalists in the state and could be used to stifle news organizations across the ...

Graft Warning to Officials

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011
The Lunar New Year season is typically one for gift-giving, eating, and travel.