Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Lawmakers and Legal Experts Call For Restraint in Wikileaks Hearing

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

The House Judiciary Committee held a surprisingly subdued hearing this morning on the legal and constitutional issues surrounding Wikileaks' publication activities. Committee members repeatedly emphasized the importance of protecting First Amendment rights and cautioned against overreaction to Wikileaks. The seven legal experts called to testify agreed, almost all of them noting that:

  • Excessive government secrecy is a serious problem that needs to be fixed,
  • It's critically important to protect freedom of expression and the press, and
  • The government should be extremely cautious about pursuing any prosecutions under the Espionage Act or any legislation that would expand that law, which is already poorly written and could easily be applied in ways that would be unconstitutional.

EFF agrees, and hopes that this hearing will dissuade the House from adopting rash legislation in the wake of Wikileaks' recent publications.

To learn more, take a look at the full video of the hearing, the witnesses' written testimony, and EFF's tweets throughout the morning.

The Conservative Assault on the Constitution

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

Last week, SCOTUSBlog had a podcast interview with legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky, discussing his new book The Conservative Assault on the Constitution. The blog has asked Chemerinsky some follow-up questions, and his responses are worth reading.

For instance, he discusses the concept of a living Constitution and the hypocrisy behind the Right's claims of a consistent approach to judging cases.

Q. Within the context of the "conservative assault" you discuss in the book, can you please define the terms "living constitution" and "strict constructionist"?

- Everyone is a strict constructionist in that everyone believes that the text of the Constitution should be followed where it is clear. But the phrase "strict constructionist" was coined by Richard Nixon to refer to something more ideological: Justices who followed the conservative approach to interpreting constitutional provisions. Interestingly, conservatives are not strict constructionists in interpreting the Second Amendment. There conservatives read the Second Amendment as if it simply said "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." They ignore the first half of the Amendment which speaks of the right existing for the purpose of having a well-regulated militia.

A belief in a "living Constitution" rejects the ...

New Library Technology Reports issue focuses on intellectual freedom and privacy

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

OIF is excited to have participated in the production of the most recent issue of Library Technology Reports, which focuses on intellectual freedom and privacy issues in today’s technology.  Articles include:

·    Libraries, Technology, and the Culture of Privacy by OIF Director Barbara M. Jones
·    User-Generated Content by Eli Neiburger
·    Internet Filtering by Sarah Houghton-Jan
·    Social Networking and the Library by Jason Griffey
·    RFID in Libraries by OIF Deputy Director Deborah Caldwell-Stone

Read the introduction by OIF Assistant Director Angela Maycock here: http://alatechsource.metapress.com/content/hq30709x25176734/fulltext.html

For more information, visit http://ala.org/ala/newspresscenter/news/pr.cfm?id=5838

Artist Requests that his Work be Pulled from Censored Smithsonian Exhibit

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

The Stranger reports that AA Bronson, an artist whose work is featured in the National Portrait Gallery’s “Hide/Seek” exhibition has asked that his work be removed from the exhibit after the censoring of a video that the Religious Right was unhappy with. Here’s his letter to Portrait Gallery director Martin Sullivan:

Dear Martin Sullivan,

I have sent an email to the National Gallery of Canada requesting that they remove my work “Felix, June 5, 1994″ from the “Hide/Seek” exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. I had resisted taking this step, hoping that some reconciliation could be reached regarding the censorship of the David Wojnarowicz video, but it is clear that this is not coming any time soon. As an artist who saw first hand the tremendous agony and pain that so many of my generation lived through, and died with, I cannot take the decision of the Smithsonian lightly. To edit queer history in this way is hurtful and disrespectful.

yours truly,
AA Bronson
Artistic Director

Bronson is the latest arts luminary to renounce the Smithsonian’s censorship. Earlier this week, the Warhol Foundation, a prominent arts funder, announced that it would refuse to fund any future Smithsonian exhibits if the ...

Judge Blocks Copyright Trolls in Porn-Downloading Lawsuits

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

San Francisco - In a big victory in the fight against copyright trolls, a judge in West Virginia has blocked an attempt to unmask accused file sharers in seven predatory lawsuits involving the alleged illegal downloading of pornography. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), working with Charles J. Kaiser of Phillips, Gardill, Kaiser & Altmeyer, PLLC, filed an amicus brief in the case, arguing that the film companies were abusing the law in an attempt to pressure settlements.

In these cases -- as in many others across the country -- the owners of the adult movies filed mass lawsuits based on single counts of copyright infringement stemming from the downloading of a pornographic film, and improperly lumped hundreds of defendants together regardless of where the IP addresses indicate the defendants live. The motivation behind these cases appears to be to leverage the risk of embarrassment associated with pornography to coerce settlement payments despite serious problems with the underlying claims.

"This is the next nail in the coffin of the copyright trolls," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "Now that judges are starting to reject the shoddy and unfair tactics being used by the attorneys filing these cases and force plaintiffs to ...

FIRE Supporters Making Voices Heard on Injustices at Syracuse

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

As FIRE supporter David Ross has illustrated, Syracuse University College of Law's (SUCOL's) chilling investigation of law student Len Audaer over the publication of an anonymous, satirical website has prompted strong reactions from supporters concerned about the state of free speech at Syracuse. Since we issued our press release, dozens (that we know of) have used our website to write letters to the university, calling for an end to the investigation. Many additional supporters have written to us to convey their shock and outrage. Thank you!

Public interest in the case continues to grow, meanwhile, with publications like The Chronicle of Higher Education and Las Vegas Review-Journal helping bring the case national attention (see also my recently published letter in the Syracuse campus newspaper The Daily Orange). 

FIRE's supporters are an important part of bringing public attention to the many cases we handle during the year, and I encourage Torch readers to take a moment to write Syracuse Chancellor Nancy Cantor and SUCOL Dean Hannah Arterian today. Every voice for liberty counts!

TAKE ACTION: Tell Syracuse University to honor its promises of free speech and due process.

Guizhou Poet ‘Still Missing’

Thursday, December 16th, 2010
One of China's 'most promising' young poets has not returned after being forcibly detained ahead of Human Rights Day.

9th Circuit reinstates Nazi-salute lawsuit

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court yesterday ordered a trial judge to reconsider a lawsuit by a Santa Cruz man who was arrested for raising a Nazi salute during a city council meeting.

Robert Norse claimed his free-speech rights were violated with the 2002 arrest.

Norse said he was protesting the mayor unfairly cutting off a speaker who was criticizing the council. He says he abhors the Nazi's views.

The city argued the salute was part of an organized effort to disrupt the meeting.

A federal trial judge dismissed the lawsuit in 2007, and a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision.

An 11-judge panel of the 9th Circuit agreed to rehear the case, and it decided yesterday in Norse v. City of Santa Cruz to reinstate the lawsuit. The court said U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte in San Jose needed to hear more evidence after he gave Norse's lawyers just two days to prepare for a pivotal court hearing to determine whether to dismiss the lawsuit.

The unanimous court didn't decide whether Norse's free-speech rights had been violated. The court did dismiss the arresting police officer from the lawsuit, ruling he was ...

Ga. city council denies rezoning request to build mosque

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. — The Lilburn City Council has denied a rezoning request that would have allowed a Muslim group to build a 20,000-square-foot mosque on a site at U.S. 29.

The council met in Lawrenceville and deadlocked 2-2 on the request on Dec. 13. An attorney representing the Muslim group said the next step is to take the case to court.

Homeowners have argued that the mosque would create noise, storm water and parking problems. They also say building it would run counter to the city's land-use plan.

For the past 12 years, the Islamic center has held worship services in two 2,000-square foot buildings. Mosque leaders want to buy an additional 6.5 acres and build the mosque, a cemetery and gymnasium to accommodate the city's growing Muslim populace.

House Judiciary Committee to Hold WikiLeaks Hearing Tomorrow

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

The full House Committee on the Judiciary will hold a hearing on the Espionage Act and legal and constitutional issues raised by WikiLeaks tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. EST. You can watch the hearing live here. We'll also be tweeting our impressions throughout the morning.

UPDATE: Technical difficulties interrupted the video stream at 9:45 AM on 12/16. If an alternate link becomes available, we'll post it here.

UPDATE: Alternate link: CSPAN -- featured under "National Security"

Breaking news: House passes DADT repeal, sends bill to Senate

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

On a 250-175 vote, the House just passed repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. People For the American Way and African American Ministers in Action issued the following statements:

 

Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way, issued the following statement:

“The House has once again stood with the American people, the leaders of our military, and our men and women in uniform in voting to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The minority of Republican senators who are fighting to save this discriminatory and failed policy have resorted to far-fetched arguments and procedural excuses in their efforts to stall the process of repeal. Secretary of Defense Gates and Joint Chiefs Chair Admiral Mullen have spoken clearly and eloquently about the need for immediate repeal, and more than 60 senators have said they will listen to their advice. It’s now time for the Senate to put aside excuses, and do what’s right for the military and the country.”

Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of African American Ministers in Action, added:

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell forces men and women serving this country to make compromises with the values of honor, integrity, faithfulness and service. ...

Greg Lukianoff Discusses New Video and the Importance of FIRE

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Today I wrote an e-mail to FIRE's supporters sharing our newest video and explaining why supporting FIRE is so important. Support for our work comes in many more ways than just monetary donations, and many of our loyal Torch readers have helped us achieve our mission over the years by spreading awareness about our cases, writing to unjust administrators, and offering their expertise on a wide variety of issues. I wanted to be sure to share my message to FIRE's donors with all of you as well, for you have each played a role in FIRE's fight for liberty.

To FIRE's dedicated supporters,

I hope you will take a moment to watch this short video about the importance of FIRE's work and the crucial role supporters like you play in our mission. Alisha Glennon, our director of development, and I provide a brief glimpse of the scope and scale of the problems on campus and their dire implications for the health of our democracy,  reviewing just how critical you and all of FIRE's supporters are to the future of our  colleges and our nation.

As you may know from your own experiences, those of your children, or even just from reading ...

‘Daily Caller’ is Latest to Draw Attention to Federal Harassment Bill’s Threat to Free Speech on Campus

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Steven Nelson of The Daily Caller is the latest commentator to bring attention to the serious free speech concerns presented by the recently proposed Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act. We've had plenty to say about the flawed federal bill in recent weeks, as have others, so it's nice to see others join the discussion on this important matter.

The bill, introduced in Congress last month by Senator Frank Lautenberg and Representative Rush Holt, would amend the Higher Education Act and require federally funded colleges and universities to have policies in place to prevent and address peer harassment and bullying, including cyberbullying. If that seems like a strange thing to put into federal law, it isbecause universities are already required under federal law to have harassment policies and procedures in place, making the proposed law highly redundant.

Moreover, as we explained in our press release in response to the bill's introduction, this new law would mandate a flawed definition of peer harassment that would contravene established Supreme Court precedent and place university students' freedom of expression in peril. The bill's vague standard for harassment ignores that, in Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, 526 ...

Syracuse Faculty Prosecutor Melting Down: If You Can’t Stand the Heat …

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

One of FIRE's longtime allies, David Ross, keeps a list of people interested in FIRE issues and of administrators who have been involved in some way in a FIRE case. When he gets a press release from FIRE about a violation of someone's rights, he often copies this list when he writes the university to ask for an explanation. After he wrote Syracuse University Chancellor Nancy Cantor about our outrageous case at Syracuse University College of Law (SUCOL), he received a response from the faculty prosecutor, SUCOL Professor Gregory Germain. I replied to it, and that's when Germain started to lose his composure.

We have learned that Chancellor Cantor is circulating Germain's first responsebut not FIRE's counterpoint or Germain's second responsewhenever someone writes her about the case. It seems that many people are writing her, since we already have received several reports that Chancellor Cantor is using Germain's first response as her reply.

I reproduce all four messages below, omitting duplicated material, contact information, the long recipient list (which included the Chancellor and SUCOL Dean Hannah Arterian), and FIRE's original press release.

=====

From: David Ross
Sent: Tuesday, December 14, 2010 1:56 PM
To: Chancellor; ...

Activist Held After Release From Prison

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010
A formerly jailed democracy advocate says that political change is inevitable in China.

EFF Location Privacy Victory at Third Circuit Stands, With Implications Far Beyond Your Cell Phone

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

In EFF's second major privacy victory in as many days, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals today denied the government's request that it reconsider its September decision regarding government access to cell phone company records that reveal your past locations. That means the court's original opinion — holding that federal magistrates have the discretion to require the government to get a search warrant based on probable cause before obtaining cell phone location records — is now the settled law of the Third Circuit, assuming the government doesn't seek review by the Supreme Court. Importantly, this victory won't just provide greater protection for the privacy of your cell phone records but for all other communications records that the government currently obtains without warrants.

As we summarized when we filed our latest brief opposing the government's petition to the Third Circuit for a rehearing, this appellate case — awkwardly titled In the Matter of the Application of the USA for an Order Directing a Provider of Electronic Communication Service to Disclose Records to the Government — was sparked when the government appealed a lower court judge's denial of a government request for a court order to obtain cell phone location records without ...

Another Poll Finds Wide Support for DADT Repeal

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

A new poll from ABC News and the Washington Post shows that a staggering 77% of Americans believe that Congress should let gay and lesbian Americans serve openly in the military. The poll, conducted from December 9 to 12, reflects previous surveys that show overwhelming support for repealing the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. Even self-described Republicans (74%), conservatives (67%), and white evangelical Christians (70%) believe that gay and lesbian soldiers who publicly disclose their sexual orientation should be allowed to serve.

Just as the vast majority of Americans think that the military should not discriminate against gay and lesbian soldiers, a Pentagon study showed that the majority of military service members do not oppose repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

Today the House of Representatives is set to vote today on a stand-alone bill to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell introduced by Congressmen Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Patrick Murphy (D-PA), an Iraq war veteran. If the bill wins approval in the House, the measure will be taken up in the Senate with the support of a bipartisan group of Senators.

With the military leadership and service members and the American people all in agreement that it is time ...

Rogue Syracuse Prosecutor Reveals Gag Order and His Contempt for Free Speech

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Yesterday, in a message that we will reveal soon, Syracuse University College of Law (SUCOL) Professor Gregory Germain (self-described as "the 'Prosecutor'") revealed to a large group of e-mail recipients nationwide that he had filed a motion for a gag order on Len Audaer and his attorney Mark Blum in Audaer's free speech case. We reported the details of the case in a press release yesterday. In short, Audaer was told he was under investigation for "harassment" because of the content of an anonymous, satirical blog about life in law school, named SUCOLitis. The content of the blog, however, comes nowhere near Syracuse's definition of harassment (much less the state and federal definitions). Germain has held the charges over Audaer's head for two months, and yesterday he served notice of the proposed gag order, which would effectively prevent the media from reporting on the case by putting unreasonable conditions on the sharing and publication of key documents.

We didn't know Germain had filed or served any of these papers until Germain revealed it himself yesterday. When we had posted our press release, we quoted the part of the gag order that had previously been communicated to ...

Woman sues Ga. city over arrest for not removing hijab

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

DOUGLASVILLE, Ga. — A Muslim woman who was arrested after she refused to remove her headscarf in a west Georgia courthouse filed a federal lawsuit yesterday against the city of Douglasville and the officers who arrested her, contending they violated her constitutional rights.

Lisa Valentine said authorities trampled on her First Amendment rights in December 2008 when she was ordered to serve 10 days in jail for contempt of court after she refused to remove her hijab at a courtroom. She was released in less than a day, but her arrest infuriated Muslim rights activists and prompted changes in Georgia’s courtroom policy.

“I hope that no person of faith will ever have to experience the type of egregious treatment I suffered at any Georgia courthouse because of the expression of my beliefs,” said Valentine, whose lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and its Georgia chapter.

After Valentine’s arrest, a Douglasville judge ordered “special provisions” to be made for those wearing religious headwear. More sweeping changes came in July 2009, when the Judicial Council of Georgia voted to allow religious and medical headgear into Georgia courtrooms.

The lawsuit, filed in the Northern District of Georgia, seeks unspecified punitive ...

Air Force blocks news sites that post WikiLeaks

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

WASHINGTON — The Air Force is blocking computer access to The New York Times and other news sites that published sensitive diplomatic documents released by the Internet site WikiLeaks, a spokeswoman said yesterday.

Air Force Maj. Toni Tones said more than 25 websites have been blocked and cannot be viewed by any Air Force computer. The ban — aimed at preventing the viewing of classified information — does not apply to personal computers.

She said the action was taken by the 24th Air Force, which is commanded by Maj. Gen. Richard Webber and is responsible for cyberwarfare and computer security for the service. The move was approved by Air Force lawyers, she said.

The Army and Navy say they have not taken similar actions.

"If a site has republished the documents, then we block it," she said, adding that the move to prevent access to the media sites was done recently. She said she was not sure of the date.

Tones said The New York Times was the only major U.S. newspaper included in the ban. Others include Der Spiegel in Germany, the Guardian in Britain and Le Monde in France.

The New York Times Co. issued a statement in ...

Wis. churches use all-night prayer vigils to skirt zoning rules

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

CUDAHY, Wis. — Some churches in the Milwaukee area are getting around roadblocks to setting up a homeless shelter by offering all-night prayer vigils.

St. Mark Lutheran Church in Cudahy is one of the congregations opening its doors at night to the homeless. Pastor Mark Thompson jokes that it wouldn’t be the first time people fell asleep in church.

A coalition of churches has been working on plans to open a homeless shelter, but the City of Cudahy has rejected the project, saying it’s inconsistent with its zoning code.

The Journal Sentinel says the churches plan to continue working on those plans, but in the meantime, they are holding the vigils to keep those without homes out of the dangerously cold weather.

Syracuse University Threatens ‘Harassment’ Charges over Satirical Blog, Seeks Gag Order on Alleged Author

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Today's press release provides a sad update on FIRE's case at Syracuse University College of Law (SUCOL), which has threatened a student with "harassment" charges for the last two months because of the content of a satirical blog about life in law school. Two months later, the university has refused to tell him what expression in particular justified the charges or even who is charging him. Worse still, the faculty prosecutor, Professor Gregory Germain, is now demanding a gag order on law student Len Audaer, his attorney Mark Blum (SUCOL '91), and any media outlets that receive information about the case from Audaer or Blum. 

Audaer potentially faces expulsion for his clearly protected expression, yet SUCOL does not even know whether Audaer has any relationship to SUCOLitis. Audaer has invoked his right against self-incrimination as promised by SUCOL policies, and SUCOLitis attributes its publication  to a "team of scarily talented 2 and 3L students."

Audaer's ordeal began on October 15, 2010, when he was summoned to a meeting with SUCOL Associate Professor of Law Gregory Germain due to "extremely serious" charges. In the meeting, held on October 18, Audaer learned that the charges involved "harassment" for his alleged involvement with SUCOLitis....

Wisconsin Board of Regents Files for Supreme Court Review in Case Requiring Universities to Give Equal Treatment to Religious Organizations

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010
The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents recently filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to review a Seventh Circuit decision that invalidated the University of Wisconsin's policies governing funding for student organizations. The Seventh Circuit held that Wisconsin's policy of denying student activity fee funding to student organizations who wish to use the money for worship, proselytizing, or religious instruction violated the First Amendment. The University of Wisconsin now seeks to undo prior Supreme Court precedent holding that the denial of funding to religious organizations unconstitutionally penalizes groups for their particular viewpoint, and that funding religious groups does not violate the Establishment Clause. Read the Seventh Circuit opinion here.

Breaking News on EFF Victory: Appeals Court Holds that Email Privacy Protected by Fourth Amendment

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

In a landmark decision issued today in the criminal appeal of U.S. v. Warshak, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the government must have a search warrant before it can secretly seize and search emails stored by email service providers. Closely tracking arguments made by EFF in its amicus brief, the court found that email users have the same reasonable expectation of privacy in their stored email as they do in their phone calls and postal mail.

EFF filed a similar amicus brief with the 6th Circuit in 2006 in a civil suit brought by criminal defendant Warshak against the government for its warrantless seizure of his emails. There, the 6th Circuit agreed with EFF that email users have a Fourth Amendment-protected expectation of privacy in the email they store with their email providers, though that decision was later vacated on procedural grounds. Warshak's appeal of his criminal conviction has brought the issue back to the Sixth Circuit, and once again the court has agreed with EFF and held that email users have a Fourth Amendment-protected reasonable expectation of privacy in the contents of their email accounts.

As the Court held today,

Given the fundamental ...

Constructive Direct Action Against Censorship

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

The past few weeks have highlighted the vulnerability of centralized information systems to censorship: online speech is only as strong as the weakest intermediary. Sites hosting legitimate speech were caught up in an anti-counterfeiting raid by the Department of Homeland Security, EveryDNS stopped hosting WikiLeaks.org’s DNS, Amazon refused hosting service to WikiLeaks, and independent protesters conducted denial-of-service attacks on businesses refusing service to WikiLeaks. If the Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act (COICA; the internet censorship bill introduced in the US Senate) or something like it passes, the threat centralization poses to First Amendment-protected speech may be unavoidable. Corrective action — designing, implementing, and deploying robust, fault-tolerant architectures — will improve the security and availability of the internet infrastructure generally, to the benefit of all.

What, then, can digital activists do to protect speech on the internet? Fortunately, there are a bunch of technical projects dedicated to reducing centralization in the internet infrastructure. Some are in the idea stage, some are up and running, and some are in-between. All of them could use help: development, documentation, security review, server infrastructure, testing, and evangelizing. EFF urges technologists of all stripes and skill levels to work on potential solutions to the centralization problem.

In this ...

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal: The fight is not over

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

PFAW was just as disappointed as anyone to see last Thursday’s procedural defeat of the FY11 Defense authorization bill.
 

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has been a failed experiment in discrimination—it has kept countless patriotic Americans from serving their country in the military, and sent thousands of brave men and women packing after honorable careers in the armed forces. For too long, an unjust, ineffective, and unpopular policy has been kept in place by the divisive politics of the far-right fringe. As Sec. Gates has acknowledged, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell won’t hold up for long in the court of law. The Senate’s refusal to end the policy at Sec. Gates’ request—and to sink an important Defense bill along with it—is short-sighted and irresponsible, and puts right-wing politics ahead of national security.

But we have called on you to keep fighting, in particular on behalf of S. 4023 – the stand-alone repeal bill introduced by Senator Lieberman, with Senators Collins, Gillibrand, Mark Udall, and 38 other cosponsors (at press time).

Last night, a Department of Defense Authorization bill that contained the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell was successfully blocked, falling three votes short of the 60 needed for the ...

Three Discharged Service Members Sue Over Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Robert Gates implored Congress to lift the widely unpopular Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy before it could be lifted by federal courts. A federal judge has already ordered the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military to be lifted, but her order is on hold while the decision is appealed. Now, the Service Members Legal Defense Network has helped three more former service members discharged under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell to sue the government over their firings.

A repeal of the policy failed in a procedural debacle on the Senate floor last week, but Sens. Susan Collins and Joe Lieberman have introduced a stand-alone repeal bill in hopes that the Senate will pass it before it leaves for the holidays. Michael Almy, one of the plaintiffs in the new lawsuit, told the Guardian he hoped senators would take a good look at their priorities:

Almy, a decorated officer who was in the Senate chambers last week when Republicans refused to let the repeal measure advance, said he still hopes lawmakers can be persuaded to take up the standalone bill, even if it means postponing their holidays.

Almy is the son of an ...

New Attacks on Public Schools

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

When Republicans take over the House next month, we can expect a flurry of bills seeking to impose school vouchers. But around the country, state and local officials are already escalating their assault against public education.

In Florida, voucher supports had already gotten their foot in the door with voucher programs for low-income students and those with disabilities. Last week, they took the predictable next step:

Florida Gov.-elect Rick Scott on Thursday blew the door wide open to the idea of a voucherlike program for all students, saying he's working with lawmakers to allow state education dollars to follow a student to the school his or her parents choose.

He did not use the term vouchers. Others called it an "education savings account."

But whatever it's called, the incoming governor, key lawmakers and a foundation tied to former Gov. Jeb Bush are setting the stage for Florida to consider one of the most radical education ideas that it - or arguably any state - has ever considered.

In Indiana:

Gov. Mitch Daniels said Wednesday he will ask lawmakers to approve an education voucher system that would let low-income students use state money to help pay for private school ...

U.S. sues district for denying teacher time off for Mecca pilgrimage

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

WASHINGTON — The federal government sued a suburban Chicago school district yesterday for denying a Muslim middle school teacher unpaid leave to make a pilgrimage to Mecca that is a central part of her religion.

In a civil rights case, the department said the school district in Berkeley, Ill., denied the request of Safoorah Khan on grounds that her requested leave was unrelated to her professional duties and was not set forth in the contract between the school district and the teachers union. In doing so the school district violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by failing to reasonably accommodate her religious practices, the government said.

Khan wanted to perform the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia which every adult Muslim is supposed to make at least once in a lifetime if they are physically and financially able to. Millions go each year.

Khan started as a middle school teacher for Berkeley School District 87 — about 15 miles west of Chicago — in 2007. In 2008, she asked for almost three weeks of unpaid leave to perform the Hajj. After the district twice denied her request, Khan wrote the board that “based on her religious beliefs, ...

Assigned schoolbook calls Jesus ‘wine-guzzling vagrant’

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

BEDFORD, N.H. — A New Hampshire couple told a school board Monday that their son's civil rights were violated when he was assigned a book that refers to Jesus Christ as a "wine-guzzling vagrant and precocious socialist."

The 2001 book, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, documents author Barbara Ehrenreich's attempts to live on minimum wage as she critiques the nation's economic system.

Aimee and Dennis Taylor complained about the book's foul language, descriptions of drug use and characterization of Christianity when it was assigned to their son's personal-finance class at Bedford High School in the fall. They later pulled him out of school at his request.

Yesterday, they asked the school board to remove the book from the curriculum and create a committee of parents to review and rate all other books used in the school. The board held off on making a decision until it hears from its curriculum committee next month.

Dennis Taylor said school officials were either utterly careless in choosing the book or were "intentionally agreeing with Ehrenreich and taking the position that Jesus was a drunken bum."

"The administration and the people with the master's degrees taking care of our children ...

ACLU sues military seeking sexual assault, harassment records

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Sexual assault pervades the military, but the Pentagon refuses to release records that fully document the problem and how it is handled, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups said in a federal lawsuit that seeks access to the records.

Tens of thousands of service members have reported some form of sexual assault, harassment or trauma in the past decade, according to the lawsuit filed yesterday in New Haven against the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. The plaintiffs include the Service Women's Action Network, the ACLU of Connecticut and Yale Law School students.

The groups that filed suit are seeking information on the number of acquittals, convictions and sentences, the number of disability claims related to sexual trauma that were accepted and rejected, and the number of sexual-harassment complaints. The records are needed to determine the extent of the problem and what has been done to address it, the groups say.

"The government's refusal to even take the first step of providing comprehensive and accurate information about the sexual trauma inflicted upon our women and men in uniform ... is all too telling," said Anuradha Bhagwati, a former Marine captain and executive director of ...

77% of Business Leaders Want Disclosure Laws

Monday, December 13th, 2010

Last week, we wrote about the negative reaction some local chambers of commerce have had to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s $75 million spending spree on campaign ads. It turns out small businesses aren’t the only ones upset by the Chamber’s political spending and wary of getting involved in national politics. Eliza Newlin Carney of the National Journal reports that many business leaders are questioning the wisdom of contributing to political campaigns, and especially of keeping those contributions secret:

In a Zogby International poll of more than 300 business leaders commissioned by the CED, fully 77 percent said that they “strongly” or “somewhat” support disclosure of the political money corporations spend, both directly and indirectly through third-party groups that run campaign ads. Two-thirds supported the statement that “the lack of transparency and oversight in corporate political activity encourages behavior that puts corporations at legal risk and endangers corporate reputations.”

Caught in the crossfire is the U.S. Chamber, whose pro-GOP spending and advertising blitz was underwritten in part by seven-figure corporate contributions. A trio of Massachusetts investors last month filed shareholder resolutions at some half-dozen corporations that sit on the chamber’s board, urging them to take a more active role on ...

Supreme Court stays out of N.Y. lawyer-ad fight

Monday, December 13th, 2010

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court will not get involved in a New York dispute over whether officials can curb some law firms' television commercials.

The high court refused today to hear an appeal from New York officials who passed rules that would restrict some TV ads by local law firms.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down much of the state's proposed regulations, which included bans on client testimonials and paid endorsements, and nicknames, mottos or trade names that suggest a law office's ability to obtain results.

Personal-injury firm Alexander & Catalano and advocacy group Public Citizen Inc. challenged the rules.

The firm wanted to be known as "The Heavy Hitters" but abandoned the motto for fear of running afoul of the new rules.

The case is Cahill v Alexander, 10-203.

Astronomer claims he lost U. of Kentucky job because of faith

Monday, December 13th, 2010

LEXINGTON, Ky. — An astronomer is suing the University of Kentucky, claiming he was denied a job running its observatory because of his Christian faith.

Martin Gaskell was once considered the leading candidate to be the founding director of the observatory, opened in 2008.

The Courier-Journal reports that a trial has been set for Feb. 8 after a federal judge ruled Gaskell that has the right to a jury trial.

Gaskell, who is currently a research fellow at the University of Texas' McDonald Observatory, argues that the school discriminated against him because he had given lectures in the past discussing astronomy and the Bible and his questions about the theory of evolution, even though he says he accepts it.

The university has acknowledged there were questions about Gaskell’s beliefs, but there was valid scientific concern. It also claims there were other factors in denying him the job, including a poor performance review in a previous job.

Fla. pardons Doors’ Jim Morrison

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A hot, frenzied night in Miami changed life for Jim Morrison and The Doors. That’s something the late singer’s pardon on indecent exposure and profanity charges can’t correct.

“It made him realize he was no longer in the graces of the gods, that things could go wrong,” said Ray Manzarek, the band’s keyboard player. “Jim had a great line — in that year we had a great visitation of energy. We had the mandate of heaven. And I think at that moment, he lost the mandate of heaven.”

An arrest warrant was issued for Morrison four days after a March 1, 1969, concert at the Dinner Key Auditorium. He turned himself in, was tried the next year and convicted on two charges. Gov. Charlie Crist and Florida’s Cabinet members pardoned Morrison of those convictions Dec. 9.

But forgiveness can’t change history. Morrison, worried about prison time, was distracted. Other cities, worried about The Doors, canceled concerts. Morrison ended up dead in a Paris bathtub in 1971 while appealing the convictions. Would he have died if the Miami incident never happened?

“It was one of the many things that contributed to his death. I don’t give it any ...

Imam behind NYC mosque plan sees hope after fury

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

NEW YORK — Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf saw his plans for an Islamic center near ground zero derided as a victory mosque for terrorists, exploited as campaign fodder and used as a bargaining chip by a Florida pastor who vowed to burn the Quran.

After that summer of mistrust and raw feelings, he's looking on the bright side.

Rauf says he hopes to use the platform he gained through the tempestuous debate to turn his small nonprofit group into a global movement celebrating pluralism.

In an interview earlier this week with the Associated Press, Rauf said he hoped to see interfaith centers like the one he plans to include inside the downtown Manhattan Islamic center built all over the world. Each would be dedicated to fighting extremism and promoting better relations between people of different faiths and cultures.

Already, he says, he is exploring opening facilities in other American cities, as well as in Indonesia and Kosovo.

"We went to the brink, in a certain way," he said of last summer's tumult. But he added, "This crisis showed us what was possible. ... It showed us that there is actually hope. Hope for a better relationship between America and the ...

Ruling: Music website violated Beatles copyrights

Friday, December 10th, 2010

LOS ANGELES — A website that sold songs by the Beatles for 25 cents — more than a year before legal digital copies were available — is liable for copyright infringement, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Josephine Staton Tucker ruled Dec. 8 that BlueBeat.com violated the copyrights and presented unfair competition to music company EMI Group and others. The site streamed and sold music by the Fab Four and other top-name acts, including Coldplay and Lily Allen, for several days before music companies sued to shut it down in November 2009.

The ruling did not address how much BlueBeat may be liable for in damages, although EMI's attorneys have noted that it began streaming and selling Beatles music shortly after the release of a re-mastered box set of all the group's albums last year.

In court filings, the site acknowledged it had distributed more than 67,000 Beatles songs before another federal judge issued a preliminary injunction that temporarily shut down the site.

With great fanfare, Beatles music became available on Apple's iTunes on Nov. 16, and in the first week more than 2 million of their songs and 450,000 albums were purchased. The popular music service sells ...

Mass. man in threatening rap video gets year in jail

Friday, December 10th, 2010

TAUNTON, Mass. — A Fairhaven man convicted of threatening law enforcement officials in a rap video posted on the Internet has been sentenced to a year in jail.

Jason Foley was also sentenced yesterday in Taunton District Court to two years of probation and banned from accessing the Internet or using a computer.

Foley was convicted last week of witness intimidation and threatening to commit a crime.

The 29-year-old Foley was one of five men who appeared in the YouTube video, in which prosecutors say a Massachusetts state trooper and a probation officer were threatened by name. The video has since been removed.

Another man, 25-year-old Matthew Rufino of New Bedford, pleaded guilty earlier this year to threatening to commit a crime and served 90 days in jail.

Lawyers for the men defended the video on First Amendment grounds.

Kan. school drops ‘boobies’ bracelet ban

Friday, December 10th, 2010

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A Kansas high school agreed yesterday to lift restrictions on the popular "I (heart) boobies!" breast-cancer charity bracelets and T-shirts after the American Civil Liberties Union complained about a student's suspension.

An attorney for the Geary County School District, Mark Edwards, notified the ACLU that Junction City High School would take no further action against students wearing the wristbands, T-shirts or any other apparel that supports the Keep A Breast Foundation.

The California-based nonprofit believes a bracelet with a catchy, envelope-pushing slogan is a better way to teach children and teenagers about breast cancer than more traditional methods, such as pink ribbons. But schools across the country have responded with bans.

Edwards said in an e-mail that senior Stephen Wall would not suffer any academic problems from his suspension. The ACLU said Wall received a two-day suspension and was ordered to perform community service for failing to remove or flip over a wristband bearing the slogan.

The ACLU said the teen was wearing the wristband as a show of support and had previously worn a pink breast-cancer awareness wristband for more than a year.

ACLU attorney Doug Bonney said in a phone interview that his clients ...

Ron Paul stands up for Julian Assange

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

 

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) is taking a stand as one of Julian Assange’s few defenders in Washington, arguing that the WikiLeaks founder should get the same protections as the media.

Attorney General Eric Holder said this week that the Justice Department is examining whether Assange can be charged with a crime for posting hundreds of thousands of leaked government intelligence documents and diplomatic cables

Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1210/45930.html#ixzz17dAtDvwy

Many Republicans have gone even further in their attacks on Assange, especially former Arkansas GOP Gov. Mike Huckabee, who said this week that the source who leaked to the WikiLeaks founder should be tried for treason and executed if found guilty.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1210/45930.html#ixzz17dAmzSjJ

Information is the Antidote to Fear: Wikileaks, the Law, and You

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

When it comes to Wikileaks, there's a lot of fear out there on the Internet right now.

Between the federal criminal investigation into Wikileaks, Senator Joe Lieberman's calls for companies to stop providing support for Wikileaks and his suggestion that the New York Times itself should be criminally investigated, Senator Dianne Feinstein's recent Wall Street Journal op-ed calling for prosecution of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, and even the suggestion by some that he should be assassinated, a lot of people are scared and confused.

Will I break the law if I host or mirror the US diplomatic cables that have been published by Wikileaks? If I view or download them? If I write a news story based on them? These are just a few of the questions we've been getting here at EFF, particularly in light of many US companies' apparent fear to do any business with Wikileaks (with a few notable exceptions).

We unfortunately don't have the capacity to offer individualized legal advice to everyone who contacts us. What we can do, however, is talk about EFF's own policy position: we agree with other legal commentators who have warned that a prosecution of Assange, much less of ...

Many non-secrets deemed classified by Feds

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

WASHINGTON — Wanna hear a secret? The U.S. and Canada are probably going to remain friends. And the conservative and liberal party leaders in England? They don’t like each other.

But keep that under wraps. The U.S. doesn’t want that sort of sensitive information getting out for a decade or so.

While the recent leak of government documents onto the website WikiLeaks has revealed government secrets on such topics as Iran, North Korea and Yemen, the disclosure also unmasked another closely guarded fact: Much of what the government says is classified isn’t much of a secret at all.

Sometimes, classified documents contained little more than summaries of press reports. Political banter was treated as confidential government intelligence. Information that’s available to anyone with an Internet connection was ordered held under wraps for years.

Days after President Barack Obama’s inauguration, the White House received a classified message from the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa. It was a primer for the president’s upcoming trip to Canada and it included this sensitive bit of information, marked confidential:

“No matter which political party forms the Canadian government during your Administration, Canada will remain one of our staunchest and most like-minded of allies, our largest trading ...

Prosecutor: Stolen Valor Act doesn’t target legitimate speech

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

DENVER — A federal law that makes it illegal to lie about being a military hero with medals should be upheld because it doesn't target legitimate free speech, prosecutors told an appeals court this week.

The U.S. attorney for Colorado asked the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver earlier this week to overturn a lower court ruling that the Stolen Valor Act violates the First Amendment.

The law, passed by Congress in 2006, makes it a crime punishable by up to a year in jail to falsely claim to have received a medal from the U.S. military.

It is also being challenged in a separate case in California. Some legal scholars have said they expect the law to eventually land before the Supreme Court.

In the Colorado case, Rick Glen Strandlof, who founded a veterans group in Colorado Springs, was charged in 2009 with violating the law by claiming to be an ex-Marine who was wounded in Iraq and received the Purple Heart and Silver Star. The military said it had no record that he ever served.

U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn threw out the case in July, ruling the federal government had not shown any compelling reason ...

Commentary: Net Neutrality: Solving Nonexistent Problems the Old-Fashioned Way

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

For all the reaction it elicited, Chairman Genachowski’s plan for codification of the so-called net neutrality rules, as suggested in a speech he gave Dec. 1, amounts to too little revealed, much less resolved, to allow for fully confident assessment.

This said, it’s not too early to observe that any public policy that is roundly condemned by Free Press, the Media Access Project, and the Nation magazine can’t be all bad.  And condemn it they have.  Under headlines like “Is FCC Peddling Fake Net Neutrality?” and “FCC Chair Genachowski’s ‘Fake Net Neutrality’ Scheme Threatens Internet Freedom, Digital Democracy,” the left’s unhappiness is as loud as it is music to the ears.

On the other hand, the chairman’s proposal has also attracted heavy fire from members of Congress, many but not all of them Republicans, and from the two Republican commissioners at the FCC.  In Congress, the general animus centers on the feeling that the FCC should at least consult with, if not defer to, the members about such things, while Republicans are especially angry that the chairman’s plan anticipates action before the newly elected members of the House and Senate are even seated.

Read Patrick Maines’ commentary in full.

Greek Orthodox church files claim against WTC owner

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

NEW YORK — A Greek Orthodox church in New York City that was destroyed on 9/11 is taking legal action against the agency that owns ground zero, saying it has reneged on a promise to rebuild the church.

The Wall Street Journal reports that St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church filed a notice of claim against the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey on Dec. 6. The church seeks to compel the agency to live up to what it says is a “binding preliminary agreement” from 2008.

The two sides spent years negotiating a deal that would let the church rebuild on land south of its original site in exchange for financial help. Negotiations broke down in March.

The agency says it hasn’t seen the papers and declined to comment.

Helen Thomas blasts university for pulling award

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

DETROIT — Longtime journalist Helen Thomas blasted her Detroit alma mater for pulling an award named for her because of comments she made that the university called anti-Semitic.

The Wayne State University alumna told the Detroit Free Press for a story Dec. 6 that the school "made a mockery of the First Amendment" by ending the Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity Award.

The university cited comments Thomas made while speaking last week in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn. She said major American institutions were owned by "Zionists."

"Congress, the White House, and Hollywood, Wall Street, are owned by the Zionists," Thomas said Dec. 2. "No question, in my opinion. They put their money where there mouth is."

Thomas resigned in June as a Hearst Newspaper columnist after she said Jews should "get the hell out of Palestine" and "go home" to "Poland, Germany."

Thomas was born to Lebanese immigrants in Kentucky and raised in Detroit. She worked much of her career as a United Press International reporter.

"The leaders of Wayne State University have made a mockery of the First Amendment and disgraced their understanding of its inherent freedom of speech and the press," she told the Free Press. "The university ...

Federal judge: N.C. man can use home to protest town’s actions

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

CARY, N.C. — A federal judge says a local sign ordinance can't limit the sign that a North Carolina man painted on his home out of anger at town leaders.

U.S. District Judge Louise W. Flanagan said yesterday that David Bowden can keep the crude message painted on the front of his Cary home in large, orange letters. Flanagan ruled in Bowden v. Town of Cary that enforcing Cary's sign ordinance would violate Bowden's free-speech rights.

Flanagan said the sign ordinance “is a content based restriction on speech that is invalid under the First Amendment as applied” and granted Bowden a permanent injunction.

Bowden had the sign painted on the front of his home last year after it was damaged by runoff that he blames on town road construction.

The town's attorney argued that the sign expressing Bowden's view of being "Screwed by the town of Cary" violated parts of the ordinance concerning aesthetics and traffic safety.

First Amendment Rodeo, Nov. 15-30

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

A biweekly round-up of intellectual freedom news around the nation

School Censorship

“To Kill a Mockingbird” play controversy: School Provokes Concern Over Its Fall Play

Florida High School Cancels Production of To Kill a Mockingbird

Students Learn About Censorship

Mockingbird Appeals Committee’s Challenge: Loyalty to “Protocol” vs. Free Expression

Banned Books
Salem, Mass., Students Pull an All-Nighter with Banned Books

Parent: Homework Assignment Crosses the Line

Plano ISD Scraps Plans to Ban Humanities Textbook Containing Ancient Nude Statues

In Jordan, a Bookstore Devoted to Forbidden Titles

Brave New World challenge in Seattle

Free Speech

The Future of Free Speech – The Chronicle Review

National Portrait Gallery removes video after pressure

Privacy

Choose Privacy Week 2011 dates announced: May 1-7

ACLU, EPIC seek travelers’ stories about TSA screenings

Commentary: Cave-in at Smithsonian, freedom crushed

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

 

It was too good to last.

For one brief, shining moment, the National Portrait Gallery was an institution with courage, mounting the risk-taking, powerful exhibit “Hide/Seek” featuring gay artists and images of same-sex love.

Then the culture warriors struck — and the museum, part of the government-supported Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., retreated by censoring one of the artworks they had proudly displayed for less than two months.

Read Charles Haynes’ commentary in full.

NCAC Seeks Communications Coordinator

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

National Coalition Against Censorship seeks a Communications Coordinator for online and print communications and public relations.  Two years relevant experience are required.

To apply, please send your resume, cover letter, and a writing sample to jobsearch@ncac.org. No calls please. Position open until filled.

For more information about the position, skills required, and salary, please go to: Communications Coordinator job position.