Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Greg Lukianoff Appears on ‘Inside Academia TV’

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011
Greg was the featured guest on 'Inside Academia' this week, an online web show that examines the biggest issues in higher education. In the interview, Greg reflects on FIRE's decade-plus of work on campus and the road ahead for collegiate liberty. You can watch the show here.

House panel wants info on Homeland Security FOIA policy

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

WASHINGTON — A House committee has asked the Homeland Security Department to provide documents about an agency policy that required political appointees to review many Freedom of Information Act requests, according to a letter obtained Jan. 16 by the Associated Press.

The letter to Homeland Security was sent Jan. 14 by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. It represents an early move by House Republicans who have vowed to launch numerous probes of President Barack Obama’s administration, ranging from its implementation of the new health-care law to rules curbing air pollution to spending in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Associated Press reported in July that for at least a year, Homeland Security had sidetracked hundreds of requests for federal records to top political advisers to the department’s secretary, Janet Napolitano. The political appointees wanted information about those requesting the materials, and in some cases the release of documents considered politically sensitive was delayed, according to numerous e-mails that were obtained by the AP.

FOIA is supposed to ensure the quick public release of requested government documents without political consideration. Obama has said his administration would emphasize openness in providing requested federal records.

According to ...

Vt. settles dispute over religious vanity plate

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

MONTPELIER, Vt. — The state of Vermont has ended a years-long legal dispute with a man who has been fighting for the right to display a reference to one of the Bible’s most famous passages on a vanity plate.

The state won’t ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review a federal appeals court decision that said Shawn Byrne must be given the license plate “JN36TN,” a reference to John 3:16.

In a settlement dated Jan. 10, the state also agreed to pay Byrne’s $150,000 legal fees and allow other Vermonters to have religious-themed license plates.

The state decided to settle the case because chances of a successful appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court were slim, said Vermont Assistant Attorney General Bridget Asay. “They receive thousands of requests a year and only grant 1 percent of them.”

Meanwhile, Assistant Attorney General Thomas McCormick, who represents the Department of Motor Vehicles, said the order for Byrne’s license plate was placed last week. He said he didn’t know how long it would take for the order to be filled.

Byrne did not return a call seeking comment in time for this story.

“This really is a great victory for free speech,” said Jeremy ...

TV station appeals judge’s order blocking broadcast of video

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

JACKSON, Miss. — A Hattiesburg television station has asked the Mississippi Supreme Court to allow it to broadcast video it acquired of alleged abuse at the Forrest County Juvenile Detention Center.

Forrest County Youth Court Judge Mike McPhail last week barred WDAM from showing the video. McPhail ruled that WDAM failed to provide evidence of a need in showing the video.

The Supreme Court had not ruled as of Jan. 14 on the petition or set a hearing date.

Leonard Van Slyke, a First Amendment attorney representing WDAM, said on Jan. 14 that a supportive brief was being prepared and numerous national media organizations — including the Associated Press — had agreed to sign on to it.

WDAM has reported that a former employee of the detention center said the video shows alleged abuse of juveniles at the hands of guards. The station has reported that the sheriff's office confirms one guard was fired in 2009 for beating a juvenile, but so far no charges have been filed.

Van Slyke said that WDAM, in its petition filed on Jan. 13, argued that McPhail's order was an "unconstitutional prior restraint" on its ability to "publish truthful information of public significance."

The ...

FIRE Honors Dr. King’s Commitment to Peaceful Protest

Monday, January 17th, 2011

Today we celebrate an American hero, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As the New York Post eloquently detailed this morning, Dr. King championed peaceful protest, and his accomplishments promoting civil rights and social equality were made possible through the very peaceful protest he advocated. During his time, Dr. King's speech was regarded as inflammatory by many, but he argued that his rhetoric was necessary to provoke society to action. FIRE honors Dr. King's profound commitment to the power of freedom of expression and his dedication to justice for all.

We have previously blogged about Dr. King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech and his philosophy of civil disobedience.

Jailed Activist’s Health Failing

Monday, January 17th, 2011
Chinese authorities refuse medical parole for a rights activist and winner of the Sakharov Prize.

More Praise for UVA’s New ‘Green-Light’ Rating

Monday, January 17th, 2011

In a column for, Mike Adams praises the University of Virginia (UVA) for going from a red-light to a green-light school by eliminating the last of its unconstitutional speech codes back in October. Adams describes how FIRE staff encouraged Dean Allen Groves to implement the essential policy reforms:

FIRE began working with UVA administrator Dean Allen Groves in April 2010 after Adam Kissel gave a lecture on free speech that was hosted by two UVA student groups - Students for Individual Liberty and Liberty Coalition. Shortly thereafter, Dean Groves received a letter from FIRE, which provided detailed objections to UVA's then-existing speech codes. UVA student Virginia Robinson happened to be interning for FIRE in the summer of 2010. Thus, she was able to help UVA reform its speech codes.

Reforming these speech codes earned UVA a spot in FIRE's elite group of merely 13 schools that have no policies that restrict the freedom of speech on campus. Adams notes that since UVA has joined The College of William and Mary in this group, FIRE is turning its focus to other Virginia public institutions such as George Mason University, James Madison University, and Virginia Tech. Administrators ...

EFF Asks Judges to Quash Subpoenas in Porn-Downloading Lawsuits

Monday, January 17th, 2011

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has asked an Illinois judge to quash subpoenas issued in predatory lawsuits involving alleged illegal downloading of pornography. In an amicus brief filed Friday, EFF argued that the adult film companies were abusing the law in order to coerce settlement payments despite serious problems with the underlying claims.

Friday's brief is the latest of EFF's efforts to stop copyright trolls -- content owners and lawyers who team up to extract settlements from thousands of defendants at a time. Tactics include improperly lumping defendants together in one case and filing it in a court far away from most of the accused people's homes and Internet connections. When adult film companies file these predatory lawsuits, there is the added pressure of embarrassment associated with pornography. All of these factors can convince those ensnared in the suits to quickly pay what's demanded of them instead of arguing the merits of their case in court.

"Copyright owners have a right to protect their works, but they can't use shoddy and unfair tactics to do so," said EFF Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry. "We're asking the court to protect the rights of each and every defendant, instead ...

‘Bakersfield Californian’ Takes Look at CSU Speech Codes

Monday, January 17th, 2011

The Grade, an education blog in the newspaper The Bakersfield Californian, has taken note of FIRE's 2011 Spotlight on Speech Codes report, which rates California State University-Bakersfield (CSUB) as a yellow-light institution.

This rating leaves CSUB in a better position than most of its fellow CSU institutions: 13 of the 18 CSU schools in FIRE's report received FIRE's lowest, red-light rating. None received a green-light rating. The comments of CSUB spokesman Rob Meszaros, however, illuminate (however unintentionally) that CSUB still has work to do, and that misconceptions about the rights of students on campus are annoyingly persistent.

In reading over CSUB's policies, I believe we demonstrate a good balance. [...] Additionally CSUB has a designated Free Speech Area outside of the Student Union where students often hold rallies and demonstrations. 

"Balance," of course, could mean just about anything to a university administrator, given that 67% of the public schools in our report maintain policies that blatantly violate the First Amendment, yet most administrators seem to think their schools are doing just dandy. It's also (sadly) not an unfamiliar sight for administrators to point with pride to the laughably small "free speech areas" they maintain as proof of ...

Obama Meets China Rights Advocates

Saturday, January 15th, 2011
U.S. leader to raise human rights at U.S.-China summit.

Wash. high court sides with newspaper in open-records case

Saturday, January 15th, 2011

YAKIMA, Wash. — The Washington state Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a Yakima newspaper in its quest for access to an estimated $2 million in billing records for court-appointed attorneys in a 2005 murder case.

The Yakima Herald-Republic had argued that the public has a clear interest in knowing how the money was spent. Yakima County countered that it couldn't turn over the documents because they were sealed by a judge.

Court records are exempt from the state Public Records Act, but only when they are exclusively held by the courts, the state high court said Jan. 13 in a unanimous 9-0 ruling in A href=>Yakima County v. Yakima Herald-Republic. Court records held by other agencies, in this case Yakima County, are not exempt.

The case involves legal fees and other expenses that court-appointed lawyers incurred defending Jose Luis Sanchez Jr. and Mario Gil Mendez in a 2005 home-invasion shooting that left two people dead, including a 3-year-old girl. Mendez pleaded guilty; Sanchez is appealing his conviction and life sentence after a 2007 trial.

Taxpayer-funded defense costs in the murder case totaled $560,000 for Mendez and $1.5 million for Sanchez.

The defendants had a legal right to representation ...

Radio stations told to censor 25 year old Dire Straits’ song

Friday, January 14th, 2011

 Canadian radio station have been warned to censor the 1985 Dire Straits hit "Money for Nothing," after a complaint that the lyrics of the Grammy Award-winning song were derogatory to gay men.

Read more.

Brooklyn College Sued by Former Student over Involuntary Psychiatric Commitment

Friday, January 14th, 2011
Chinemerem Eze, a former student of Brooklyn College, has sued the college for involuntarily committing her to a psychiatric hospital after she complained to administrators about her landlord. After being hospitalized for two weeks against her will, according to Eze, she was not allowed to take her finals, causing her to lose her $65,000 scholarship to the college. Her complaint that her landlord had placed a hidden camera in her apartment was later proven to be true. Read more on this story at The Huffington Post, Gothamist, Gawker, and Reason.comand be sure to see FIRE's warnings on overzealous college threat assessment procedures as reported in USA TODAY.

‘L.A. Times’ Article Highlights UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Folly

Friday, January 14th, 2011

An article in the Los Angeles Times today highlighted the critical response to University of California, Berkeley, Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau's campus-wide e-mail from this week, in which he "linked a Tucson shooting rampage with Arizona's crackdown on illegal immigrants and the failure of the DREAM Act."

As FIRE's Adam Kissel detailed in a Torch post that was picked up by The Huffington Post, Birgeneau sent a message to the Berkeley community after Jared Lee Loughner's mass shooting in Arizona killed six people and seriously wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Birgeneau placed part of the blame for this tragedy on a "climate" of hateful speech that demonizes others.

Birgeneau's e-mail, reprinted in full on the Torch, claimed that "it is not a coincidence that this calamity has occurred in a state which has legislated discrimination against undocumented persons." He described "[t]his same mean-spirited xenophobia" as playing a "major role in the defeat of the Dream Act by our legislators in Washington." Birgeneau then exhorted the Berkeley community to "eschew expressions of demonization of others, including virulent attacks on Israel, anti-Muslim graffiti, racism towards African-Americans, Chicano/Latinos and other underrepresented minority groups, and homophobic acts" in order to achieve a "safer ...

Call for Political Reform

Friday, January 14th, 2011
A Chinese magazine slams official corruption and the growing gap between rich and poor.

Be FIRE’s 3,000th Twitter Follower and Win a Free T-Shirt!

Friday, January 14th, 2011

Attention tweeple: We are only 4 followers away from reaching 3,000 Twitter followers!

Follow us now and you might be the lucky number 3,000 who will get a free FIRE T-shirt to wear with pride. Following FIRE is a quick and easy way to stay up to speed on the fight for liberty on campus and get breaking news coverage of college censorship.

Follow FIRE here (and consider suggesting @theFIREorg as a "follow Friday" to your friends). We'll send a direct message to the winner. (If you don't use Twitter, don't worry if you don't understand these termswe think you'll come to love it!)



Freedom Plummets in Cambodia

Friday, January 14th, 2011
Cambodia became increasingly restricted in 2010, while several other Asian nations ranked at the bottom of a global freedom index.

FOIA Hall of Fame nominations invited

Friday, January 14th, 2011

WASHINGTON — Nominations are invited for the fourth class of the National Freedom of Information Act Hall of Fame, which honors those who have made significant contributions to protecting and expanding access to government information.

The new honorees will be announced during the 2011 National FOI Day Conference on March 16 at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

The Hall of Fame was created in 1996 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the federal Freedom of Information Act. In addition to the charter class in 1996, a new class of inductees has been installed every five years (2001 and 2006). See the complete list of current Hall of Fame members and information about their freedom-of-information contributions.

Nominations may be made through Feb. 5, 2011. They may be made by mail or by e-mail. Nominations must include a brief statement of qualifications, as well as contact information of the nominator for possible follow-up. A selection committee will choose up to five people for inclusion in the 2011 FOIA Hall of Fame class.

Please send nominations to:

Gene Policinski
Senior vice president/executive director
First Amendment Center
1207 18th Ave. S.
Nashville, TN 37212


2nd Circuit: Filmmaker gave up journalistic privilege

Friday, January 14th, 2011

NEW YORK — Journalists can lose their privilege to shield notes and film from others' scrutiny if they fail to maintain their independence, a federal appeals court said yesterday as it upheld a judge's decision to force a filmmaker to release outtakes from his documentary about a legal dispute between Chevron and Ecuadoreans.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said because filmmaker Joe Berlinger allowed lawyers for the Ecuadorean plaintiffs to influence the film's production, he gave up his protections before the energy company asked for the 600 hours of raw footage used to make his 2009 documentary, "Crude."

Berlinger has since turned over large amounts of film.

A unanimous three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit said it could not conclude that U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan erred when he reasoned that Berlinger gave up his journalistic privilege by agreeing to make changes to the documentary at the insistence of the plaintiffs' lawyers, who had asked the filmmaker in 2005 to create the film.

"Berlinger failed to carry his burden of showing that he collected information for the purpose of independent reporting and commentary," the appeals court said.

Still, the 2nd Circuit said in Chevron Corp. ...

Old pics of sister-in-law lead to child-porn conviction

Friday, January 14th, 2011

Editor's note: The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the appeal on Jan. 18.

WASHINGTON — In retrospect, Gary Peel’s first mistake on the road to his conviction on child pornography charges was the affair he began in 1974 with his sister-in-law. She was 16 at the time.

It probably also was not a good idea to take nude pictures of her. Or keep them for three decades. And it certainly was not advisable to try to use the pictures to blackmail his ex-wife, the woman’s sister, into redoing their divorce settlement. Especially because his ex-wife had gone to federal authorities, who recorded the blackmail attempt on tape.

The photos led to Peel’s conviction for possession of child pornography, a conviction that Peel, once a successful lawyer, now is asking the Supreme Court to overturn. The justices are meeting today to consider accepting new appeals, including Peel’s.

“This is a child pornography case that does not involve a child,” Peel’s lawyers told the Court in their brief. They are claiming violations of the First Amendment and of the Constitution’s bar against ex post facto convictions for violating laws that were not in place when an alleged crime occurred.

In the first place, ...

Neb. bill would increase distance between funerals, protests

Friday, January 14th, 2011

A bill introduced in the Nebraska House of Representatives would amend the state’s funeral-picketing law to increase the distance imposed upon would-be protesters — such as the Westboro Baptist Church.

Nebraska state senator Bob Krist introduced Legislative Bill 284 on Jan. 12. It would require protesters to stay 500 feet away from a funeral instead of the current 300 feet.

If thus amended, the law would read: “Picketing of a funeral means protest activities engaged in by a person or persons located within five hundred (500) feet of a cemetery, mortuary, church, or other place of worship during a funeral.”

State funeral-protest laws vary in distance requirements they impose. Delaware (300 feet from buildings but 1,000 feet from processions), Kentucky, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Wyoming are examples of states with 300-foot rules. But several other states have 500-foot minimum distances, including Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.

Federal courts are divided on the constitutionality of funeral-protest laws. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated a Missouri law, but the 6th Circuit upheld an Ohio law. The U.S. Supreme Court has before it a different type of funeral-protest case — Snyder v. Phelps, which doesn’t involve a ...

R.I. governor won’t do talk radio, calling it profit-driven

Friday, January 14th, 2011

NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee is freezing out talk-radio shows from his new administration, saying he and state workers who report to him will no longer appear on them because they're profit-driven enterprises that are more entertainment than news and are a diversion from state business.

News of Chafee's policy began spreading last week, but it wasn't until this week, after the assassination attempt on Democratic Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and public criticism about a divisive atmosphere that some say is fostered on radio talk shows, that his office publicized his stance.

Chafee, a former Republican-turned-independent, told the Associated Press on Jan. 11 that his decision had nothing to do with Giffords' shooting. When asked about the shooting on Jan. 10, however, Chafee criticized what he called "ratings-driven media outlets" that encourage a vitriolic atmosphere.

On Jan. 11, Chafee said that divisiveness did contribute to a minor extent to his decision, but politics had nothing to do with it.

In contrast to his predecessor, Republican Don Carcieri, who made talk radio his media venue of choice, Chafee has had an unhappy relationship with talk radio shows. Several hosts have harshly criticized him for various stances, such ...

New Round of Forced Evictions

Thursday, January 13th, 2011
Evictees in Beijing accuse local officials of taking over land for speculative purposes.

Assange Blasts Great Firewall

Thursday, January 13th, 2011
WikiLeaks boss finds China's Internet controls 'biggest impediment.'

A Constitutional Lesson for Rick Perry

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Texas Governor Rick Perry, who has notoriously floated the idea of secession, was reminded yesterday by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals that states cannot simply ignore a federal law they disagree with.

Last fall, Texas flat-out told the EPA that it has no intention of implementing a key part of a federally required permitting program to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA informed the state that since Texas refused to implement this part of the permitting program, the EPA would step in and do it itself.

Yesterday, the DC Circuit refused Texas's request for a stay of the EPA's efforts to implement the law. As the National Resources Defense Council blog notes:

Texas is the only state in the nation that refused to let anyone - the state or the feds - issue permits for carbon dioxide, the main cause of global warming. Ironically, that left Texas the only state where companies could not legally start construction on new power plants or other big projects.

The court's ruling now assures that EPA will be able to fill that void for as long as Texas' leaders continue their grandstanding, so that companies can continue building their projects, but ...

Wear a Trust Women Silver Ribbon, Spread the Word, Take Action

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

January 22, 2011 will mark the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. This landmark ruling, along with the earlier Griswold v. Connecticut, recognized a constitutional right to privacy and protected a woman's right to make reproductive decisions based on her own life, health, and conscience. Ensuring that women are trusted to make those decisions is a cause that stills needs our support all these years later.

People For the American Way has joined the Silver Ribbon Campaign to Trust Women. Along with our Silver Ribbon partners, we’re asking you to wear a silver ribbon during Trust Women Month – January 22 through February 22. And when you do, don’t forget to spread the word and take action.

From our friends at Silver Ribbon:

Since the recent election, the opponents of reproductive health care and women’s rights have claimed they speak for America. They do not.

It’s time to express the true voices of America.

It’s time to come together and show our strength.

We need to stand by each other and claim our rights to the legal health care to which we’re entitled.

Join the Silver Ribbon campaign to Trust Women, for Reproductive Rights and ...

FCC Contest Seeks More Data for a Better Net Neutrality

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Last week, the FCC announced the "FCC Open Internet Apps Challenge," a contest to attract software that helps ordinary users measure whether their Internet services — both mobile broadband and traditional "fixed" broadband — are consistent with open Internet principles. The FCC is also asking for submissions of "research papers that analyze relevant Internet openness measurement techniques, approaches, and data." This is a welcome effort from the FCC, and we hope to see software developers and researchers help the public better discover how our networks and service providers are treating our Internet communications.

While we have many points of concern about the FCC's net neutrality rules, EFF has always highlighted data, evidence, and provider transparency as unequivocally vital pieces of the complex net neutrality puzzle. Remember that in October of 2007, the Associated Press and EFF confirmed that Comcast was interfering with subscribers' BitTorrent activity. But the story didn't actually begin there — for several weeks beforehand, EFF had been receiving scattered, anecdotal reports of unusual BitTorrent behavior. However, until we had developed testing methods and tools to obtain some reliable data, there were countless technical questions yielding deeply complicated policy questions. Like, is Comcast actually responsible for ...

Steve McNiven Captain America Print!

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Gorgeous full color print, signed by Steve McNiven!

New Museum Opens – Museum of Censored Art

Thursday, January 13th, 2011
On Thursday, January 13th, a new museum opens in Washington, DC: The Museum of Censored Art, founded by art and free speech activists Mike Blasenstein and Michael Dax Iacovone. Mike and Mike are the iPad protesters, who were expelled from the National Portrait Gallery when they attempted to show David Wojnarowicz’s video Fire In My [...]

Video: Sen. Leahy on First Amendment freedom

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Sen. Patrick Leahy spoke at a press conference at the Newseum on Jan. 11 on a range of topics, including the importance of the First Amendment. The Vermont Democrat also discussed the shooting of Ariz. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, as well as censorship, civility in public discourse and the Freedom Forum's commitment to the First Amendment and freedom of information.

See a video clip of excerpts from Sen. Leahy's remarks.

Federal board orders government to reinstate Park Police chief

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

WASHINGTON — A federal board has ordered the reinstatement of a U.S. Park Police chief who was fired in 2004 after complaining publicly that her department was understaffed and underfunded.

The Merit Systems Protection Board, in a Jan. 11 decision, also ordered the U.S. Department of the Interior to pay Teresa Chambers back pay, interest and other benefits.

Chambers had contended that she was dismissed in retaliation for exposing staffing and security problems and claimed protection under the federal Whistleblower Protection Act. The Department of Interior said Chambers was fired for insubordination and failing to follow the chain of command.

Dave Barna, spokesman for National Park Service, said the agency was reviewing the decision.

Miss. TV station barred from airing abuse video

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

HATTIESBURG, Miss. — A Youth Court judge has ruled that Hattiesburg television station WDAM cannot broadcast video it acquired of alleged abuse at the Forrest County Juvenile Detention Center.

Youth Court Judge Mike McPhail on Jan. 11 upheld an earlier injunction he issued that barred WDAM from showing the video.

Jackson attorney Leonard Van Slyke, a First Amendment lawyer who represents the station, told the Associated Press that WDAM was “considering its options” for further appeal.

WDAM had challenged the judge’s previous injunction. McPhail ruled Jan. 11 that WDAM had failed to provide evidence of a need in showing the video.

Van Slyke said the tapes are a matter of public interest and that the station has a First Amendment right to air them.

McPhail had said the video would jeopardize juvenile privacy, while Van Slyke said privacy would be protected.

WDAM has reported that a former employee of the detention center said the video shows alleged abuse of juveniles at the hands of guards. The station has reported that the sheriff’s office confirms one guard was fired in 2009 for beating a juvenile, but so far no charges have been filed.

Register now for National FOI Day conference

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

WASHINGTON — The 13th annual National Freedom of Information Day Conference will be held Wednesday, March 16, at the Knight Conference Center at the Newseum, 555 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.

Hosted each year by the First Amendment Center, the conference brings together open records advocates, government officials, judges, lawyers, librarians, journalists, educators and others to discuss timely issues related to transparency in government and public access to official records.

The program is conducted in partnership with the American Library Association, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, OMB Watch,, and the National Security Archive at George Washington University; and in cooperation with the annual Sunshine Week initiative sponsored by the American Society of News Editors.

The conference includes the announcement by the American Library Association of recipients of its annual James Madison Award. The ALA presents the Madison award to individuals or groups that have championed, protected and promoted public access to government information and the public’s right to know.

This year’s conference also will feature the induction of one or more nominees into the National Freedom of Information Act Hall of Fame, honoring those who have made significant contributions to protecting and expanding access to government information. The ...

China Raises Stakes in Laos

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011
Casino operations are bolstered in an area reserved for Chinese investments.

Site Denies Overseas Access

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011
A website for citizen journalists in China is under attack from unknown assailants.

Mike Adams Highlights FIRE’s Use of ‘Carrots’ and ‘Sticks’

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

Alisha recently wrote about how FIRE uses proverbial "carrots" and "sticks" to help make America's universities safer places for free speech. FIRE prefers to use carrots, or friendly means, to encourage universities to uphold free speech rights on campus. These methods include correspondence with administrators and public praise for institutions that reform repressive policies.

Unfortunately, our carrots don't always sway universities, forcing FIRE to use sticksin our case, usually public shamingto embarass them into changing their ways. These sticks include exposing the worst violators of student liberty in U.S. News & World Report, defeating unconstitutional speech codes in court, and arguing that administrators should be held personally liable for violating students' rights.

Mike Adams recently wrote about the personal liability "stick" in a column for After expressing his delight at how FIRE has helped to reduce the percentage of institutions with unconstitutional speech codes in the past nine years, Adams explained how he hopes that FIRE's December national mailing to the presidents and general counsels of 296 public universities will finally put speech codes where they belong: the trash bin.

... And now, FIRE has crafted an ingenious plan that promises to build ...

A Real Blood Libel

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

Today, Sarah Palin used the term 'blood libel' to describe criticism she's received in the wake of the Tucson shooting. There are plenty of people debating what that term implies in her statement, but for me it has a very personal meaning.

While much of my family was able to settle peacefully in America a century ago, their relatives overseas were not so lucky. In 1926, in the little Lithuanian town of Ariogala, a cousin named Hinde was accused of blood libel, her house was ransacked, her husband was murdered, and the town's Jewish community lived in terror for days. It was an old and sadly familiar story.

It would never have occurred to me to equate what happened to Hinde and so many other people with peaceful public discussion calling attention to the consequences of inflammatory political rhetoric.

Yiddish Newspaper Describing Blood Libel Aftermath

Jewish Lithuanian Newspaper Covering the Return of Calm to Ariogala After the Blood Libel

Column: Better Ways to Deal with College Bullying

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

Writing for the Asbury Park Press (NJ), Columnist Bob Ingle looks with a critical eye toward the recently proposed "Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act," about which we have written plenty on The Torch. We have laid out our concerns that the proposed federal legislation, introduced in Congress by Senator Frank Lautenberg and Representative Rush Holt, will lead to even more abuses of First Amendment and free speech rights on university campuses under the given objective of preventing peer harassment and "cyberbullying."

Ingle's column discusses these and other problems regarding the bill in an insightful fashion. He agrees with us and many other critics of the proposed legislation that it carries major free speech concerns, and quotes FIRE President Greg Lukianoff on this point:

"For decades, colleges have used vague, broad harassment codes to silence even the most innocuous speech on campus," Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights for Education in Philadelphia, wrote on his organization's web site.

Ingle also decries the massive amount of spending and use of other resources that the bill would require:

It would require colleges and universities that get federal funds to explicitly ban harassment based on sexual orientation and to ...

No Let-Up For Activists

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011
Chinese authorities maintain pressure on Nobel laureate's family and friends.

Shanghai Razes Artist’s Studio

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011
Chinese authorities demolish the studio of an outspoken artist and activist under the cover of night.

Instapundit Highlights FIRE’s Response to Berkeley Chancellor

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011
Blogger and law professor Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit highlighted Adam's blog post lamenting UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau's response to the recent shooting in Arizona.

Petition Labels Reforms Illegal

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011
Tibetan educators and former officials say proposed education changes flout China’s Language Law.

FIRE Happy Hour in San Francisco on Thursday

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

A reminder to all of FIRE's West Coast friends: FIRE will be co-hosting a happy hour tomorrow evening in San Francisco with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the First Amendment Project. You can find the event details here and on our Facebook page. If you plan to attend, please e-mail We hope to see you there!



‘Inclusiveness’ Key to Reforms

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011
In a Dec. 31 program, Aung San Suu Kyi discusses Burma’s 1990 elections, says she does not want to see her country’s military rulers put on trial, and points to surprising sources of support.

Federal judge upholds Wash. ‘top 2′ primary system

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

SEATTLE — A federal judge upheld Washington’s primary system against a challenge from the state’s Republican and Democratic parties yesterday, but he struck down the way Washington runs elections for the parties’ grassroots organizers.

Washington’s voters adopted a new primary system in 2004, after the old blanket-primary system was deemed unconstitutional. Under the new system, the top two vote-getters advance to the general election regardless of party affiliation, and their party preferences are listed on the ballot.

The political parties don’t like the new system because it means they won’t necessarily have a candidate in the general election — the top two primary finishers could both be Republican, for example — and because candidates they don’t like can write “prefers Democratic Party” or “prefers Republican Party” on the ballot.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the new system in 2008, but said it could create confusion depending on how the ballots were designed. The case came back to U.S. District Court in Seattle, and Judge John C. Coughenour ruled yesterday that the ballots make clear that the candidates listed are not necessarily endorsed by the political party they prefer — and thus, the ballots don’t violate the parties’ First Amendment right ...

Ahead of Ariz. services, lawmakers ban picketing near funerals

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

PHOENIX — Arizona legislators quickly approved emergency legislation yesterday to head off picketing by members of a Kansas church near the funeral service for a 9-year-old girl who was killed in the Tucson shootings.

Unanimous votes by the House and Senate sent the bill to Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed it last evening. It took effect immediately.

The new law "will assure that the victims of Saturday's tragic shooting in Tucson will be laid to rest in peace with the full dignity and respect that they deserve," Brewer said in a statement, praising lawmakers for "a remarkable spirit of unity and togetherness."

Without specifically mentioning the Tucson shooting, the new law prohibits protests at or near funeral sites.

Dozens of lawmakers co-sponsored the bill, and legislative action was completed within 90 minutes. The Senate's committee hearing took just three minutes.

Westboro Baptist Church said on Jan. 10 that it planned to picket tomorrow's funeral for Christina Taylor Green because "God sent the shooter to deal with idolatrous America." The Topeka, Kan., church has picketed many military funerals to draw attention to its view that the deaths are God's punishment for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality.

Lawmakers denounced the church's plan ...

Court denies press access to gruesome prison video

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

DENVER — A federal appellate court in Denver has denied the news media access to video and autopsy photographs showing the mutilation of a prison inmate killed by his cellmates even though the images were used by prosecutors in two criminal trials.

A three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that the release of the video and photographs of Joey Jesus Estrella's body at the federal penitentiary in Florence would be an unwarranted violation of the Estrella family's privacy. Prison Legal News, a prisoner-rights legal journal based in West Brattleboro, Vt., had argued that the video and photographs should be available because they were used during the trials of William and Rudy Sablan and could answer questions about conditions at the prison.

Both Sablans, who are cousins, were convicted of first-degree murder in separate trials in 2007 and 2008 and were sentenced to life in prison for the 1999 slaying of Estrella. Numerous news outlets filed court documents in support of Prison Legal News' request under the Freedom of Information Act, including the Associated Press.

In its opinion, the appellate court cited several cases including the withholding of audio of the last words of ...

Thomas and Scalia, the Commerce Clause, and the Healthcare Law

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

Justices Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Antonin Scalia, issued an interesting dissent yesterday to the Supreme Court's decision not to hear a challenge to a federal law making it a federal crime for a convicted felon to buy, own, or possess body armor (such as a bullet-proof vest) that had ever been sold in interstate or international commerce, even if the felon himself did not obtain it through interstate or international commerce. Congress passed the law as an exercise of the power granted it by the Constitution's Commerce Clause.

The rejected challenge in Alderman v. U.S. asserted that Congress had gone beyond the power granted to it by the Commerce Clause - the same argument that opponents of the landmark healthcare reform legislation have made. Since the constitutionality of the healthcare law under the Commerce Clause will likely be decided by the Supreme Court, Thomas and Scalia's dissent in this case may be a window into how they will rule in that case.

The Los Angeles Times gives one interpretation of the Court's decision:

The Supreme Court may not be so anxious to rein in Congress' broad power to pass regulatory laws under the Constitution's commerce clause, the key point ...

China Fails in Rights Targets

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011
Rights abuses increased in China while Beijing followed an ‘action plan’ to curtail them.

2010: The Year According to FIRE Staffers

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011
2010 brought with it a vast array of developments for free speech on campus, some good, others bad. At the end of each year, FIRE staffers tackle the outstanding issues from that year in a series of blog entries. For those new to FIRE, or just too busy to read the huge amount of content that FIRE produces, these blog entries (in no particular order) are a great way to get caught up with what happened on campus in the past yearand find out what's on FIRE's plate for 2011.
  • FIRE Co-Founder and Chairman Harvey Silverglate thanks FIRE's staff and supporters for their invaluable work on behalf of liberty.
  • Greg Lukianoff, FIRE's President, details FIRE's video efforts in 2010 in a comprehensive, video-laden six-part blog series, inadvertently making a persuasive case that FIRE should have its own cable news channel.
  • Director of Legal and Public Advocacy Will Creeley discusses legal victories against "free speech zones" in Texas and speech codes in the Virgin Islands, and how they will help protect the rights of students (even in colder climates).
  • Program Officer Peter Bonilla, of both FIRE and Jeopardy! fame, can't figure out why colleges ...