Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Commentary: Bong Hits 4 Jesus – the full & final story

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.

— Ludwig Wittgenstein

It is a wondrous line, that passage from Wittgenstein’s Tractatus (1921). It could readily serve as a First Amendment maxim. For we come to learn our world, in real measure, from the ways by which we speak of it, from how we give expression to what we perceive, and from how we communicate between one another. In all of these ways and others, one of the First Amendment’s high purposes is to keep dialogue alive and vibrant. Or as Justice Louis Brandeis so eloquently put it in his concurrence in Whitney v. California (1927): “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the process of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”

Harvesting the story
Taking his conceptual cue from the two famous messages from those two great men, James C. Foster has written a valuable addition to the literature of free speech in America. I refer to his just-published Bong Hits 4 Jesus: A Perfect Constitutional Storm in Alaska’s Capital. In this well-written, thoroughly researched, evenly balanced and thoughtful book, Foster ...

George Will Talks Comics Censorship

Monday, November 29th, 2010

In a Washington Post op/ed piece that draws heavily upon ground covered by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund’s amicus brief in EMA v. Schwarzenegger, pundit George Will discusses the moral panic facing the video game industry today and its roots in the censorship in comics. Check out his perspective here.

Sen. Lautenberg introduces campus anti-bullying bill

Friday, November 26th, 2010

TRENTON, N.J. — U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., has introduced legislation in Congress to require colleges to adopt a code of conduct that prohibits bullying and harassment.

The Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act is named for the 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman who committed suicide in September after his gay sexual encounter in his dorm room was broadcast online.

The measure, S. 3960, introduced Nov. 18 by Lautenberg would require colleges that receive federal money to adopt policies that prohibit harassment based on a student's sexual orientation, race, gender and other factors.

It also would provide funding for schools to establish or expand programs to prevent harassment of students.

U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, a fellow New Jersey Democrat, introduced identical legislation in the House of Representatives.

Va. officials: Rastafarian inmates no longer isolated because of hair

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

RICHMOND, Va. — Many Rastafarians and other inmates in Virginia who have spent years in isolation for refusing to cut their hair were moved to a prison where they can live together, the state Corrections Department has announced.

The Associated Press reported in June that 48 inmates were being held in segregation for violating the state's grooming policy, which bans beards and calls for hair to be kept above the shirt collar.

Department of Corrections spokesman Larry Traylor told AP that 31 inmates were transferred to Keen Mountain Correctional Center in southwestern Virginia earlier this month. The change was made to "better manage and utilize critical bed space" because the offenders will be held two to a cell instead of just one, Traylor said.

"While there remains a need for consequences when offenders choose not to adhere to VADOC policy, it was determined that offenders whose only offense is failure to comply with the grooming policy should be housed and managed separately from the general population but did not require housing in segregation," Traylor said on Nov. 17.

Inmates will not have all the privileges of the prison's general population, but they will be allowed to move inside their unit, ...

Plano School District Decides Not To Ban Art Textbook

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010
Last week, the Plano Independent School District in Texas decided to pull a humanities textbook that is used by freshmen and sophomores in the district’s gifted and talented program. The book in question, Culture and Values: A Survey of the Humanities: Alternative Volume, is a survey of various pieces of artwork throughout history.  Apparently, a [...]

Announcing the 2010 YFEP film contest semifinalists!

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010
This year we received more than 70 film contest submissions from youth all over the country in response to this year’s theme: “I’m All For Free Speech, BUT…” After viewing all the entries, we chose the top ten films — some personal, some provocative, some profound, some just plain fun! We congratulate the semifinalists and [...]

Censorship News: The Video Game Issue

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010
NCAC devotes the latest issue of Censorship News to video games and the latest in a series of efforts to “protect” minors by restricting their freedom of speech. We discuss the video game case heard in the Supreme Court on November 2,  Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association. The Court will decide whether the state can [...]

‘Tyler Clementi Act’ a Grave Threat to Free Speech on Campus

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

FIRE has watched with growing concern as we have seen the idea of "bullying" expanded to cover more and more protected speech on college campuses. Now we're on full alert. An "anti-bullying" bill, the "Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act of 2010," was introduced in Congress last week, and it gravely threatens free speech on America's college campuses. While we suspect that the bill has the admirable intention of preventing future tragedies, FIRE has determined that it is at odds with the Supreme Court's carefully crafted definition of harassment and would require colleges to violate the First Amendment.

In today's press release, FIRE President Greg Lukianoff made a point that should not be overlooked. The bill's namesake, Rutgerts student Tyler Clementiwho committed suicide after a video of him engaging in sexual activity with a man was streamed on the Internet by two studentswas subjected to an unconscionable violation of privacy. But that conduct was already criminal and prohibited by every college in America. For decades, colleges have used vague, broad harassment codes to silence even the most innocuous speech on campus. The proposed law requires universities to police even more student speech under a hopelessly vague standard ...

Local News: Yet another use for the First Amendment Monument

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010


Normally, the First Amendment is not the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of romance.  Charlottesville’s First Amendment Monument, however, has been the venue of choice for several wedding proposals.  It recently was utilized for yet another step in the wedding planning process.





EFF Calls on European Commission to Protect Internet Users’ Rights by Requiring Court Order Before ISP Takedowns

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

To provide greater protection for Internet users’ freedom of expression and privacy rights, EFF recommended that the European Commission (EC) should preserve limitations on liability for Internet intermediaries and clarify that Internet intermediaries should not be considered to have “actual knowledge” requiring them to takedown content unless they have received a court order or notification in comments filed recently as part of the EC's long-awaited public consultation on the workability of the 2000 EU eCommerce Directive.

The eCommerce Directive, which regulates a broad swath of Internet activity in the EU, includes "safe harbour" framework principles that limit legal liability for the content of data transmitted or stored by Internet intermediaries who act as mere conduits, caches, or hosts. In our filing, EFF asked the Commission to confirm the application of the safe harbour principles to search engines, user-generated content platforms, auction websites, content aggregators, cloud computing, and other Web 2.0 intermediaries, to provide greater certainty for both intermediaries and Internet users.

We also asked the Commission to uphold an important principle enshrined in the eCommerce Directive -- the prohibition against imposing a general obligation on Internet intermediaries to monitor their networks and platforms. Article 15 of the eCommerce Directive ...

Republican Judges Against Republican Obstruction

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

Add another set of voices to the growing chorus of Americans fed up with Republican leaders' unprecedented obstruction of judicial nominations: Federal judges nominated by Republican presidents. According to ThinkProgress:

[Last] week, seven Republican-appointed federal judges co-signed a letter warning of the consequences of the GOP's systematic obstruction of President Obama's judges. The letter [is] from the Judicial Council of the Ninth Circuit, which includes Republican appointees Alex Kozinski, Ralph Beistline, Vaughn Walker, Irma Gonzales, Frances Marie Tydingco-Gatewood, Richard Frank Cebull, [and] Lonny Ray Suko[.]

The letter states:

In order to do our work, and serve the public as Congress expects us to serve it, we need the resources to carry out our mission. While there are many areas of serious need, we write today to emphasize our desperate need for judges. Our need in that regard has been amply documented ... Courts cannot do their work if authorized judicial positions remain vacant.

While we could certainly use more judges, and hope that Congress will soon approve the additional judgeships requested by the Judicial Conference, we would be greatly assisted if our judicial vacancies - some of which have been open for several years and declared "judicial emergencies" - ...

EFF Urges Supreme Court to Block Government Overreach in State Secret Contract Dispute

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

EFF and the plaintiffs in an ongoing lawsuit over a notorious case of illegal government spying urged the U.S. Supreme Court last week to reject a government attempt to have the Court address constitutional questions about the state secrets privilege in a contract dispute case involving the privilege.

The state secrets privilege is a doctrine that allows the Executive to block evidence from being presented in a court on the grounds that national security requires the information to remain secret, and it's been employed in both of EFF's ongoing lawsuits over illegal domestic surveillance. Another lawsuit that's had long-running battles over state secrets questions is Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation v. Obama, and we joined together with the Al Haramain plaintiffs in an amicus brief filed in this case: General Dynamics Corporation v. United States.

In General Dynamics, the government sued a federal contractor but then attempted to use the state secrets privilege to prevent the contractor from fully defending itself. In its initial briefing to the Supreme Court, the government invited the Court to address whether the state secrets privilege has its basis in the Constitution. EFF is concerned because such a ruling, while not relevant to the General ...

Groundswell of Support for Overturning ‘Citizens United’ Continues

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

The latest polling on the Citizens United decision reflects the growing public support for overturning the Roberts Court’s ruling. According to a new Public Policy Polling analysis, 46% of Americans agreed that “Congress should consider drastic measures such as a constitutional amendment overturning the recent Supreme Court decision allowing unlimited corporate spending in elections,” while 36% disagreed and one-in-five had not formed an opinion.

A large majority of Americans across party lines disagree with the Citizens United decision, according to poll after poll after poll after poll. Members of both the House and Senate have already introduced constitutional amendments to overturn the ruling and reaffirm Congress’s right to limit corporate spending in elections. As Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), the chief sponsor of one amendment in the House, told the Huffington Post:

A lot of progressives are not accustomed to using the mechanisms of the Constitution. The right has used-- has tried to do that an awful lot of times on a whole range of different things in state legislatures and across the board. And as progressives, we're not accustomed to doing that, and this is one instance, though, where the populist demand is there, and our energy and ...

Tibetan Writer’s Blog Hacked

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010
A blogger who has called for protection of the Tibetan language says Chinese authorities are responsible.

‘Claremore Daily Progress’ Highlights Advances for Student Rights at Rogers State, But Free Speech Still in Danger in Oklahoma

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

This month, Zack Stoycoff from the Claremore Daily Progress (Oklahoma) has devoted three articles to coverage of FIRE and our recent case at local Rogers State University (RSU). Torch readers might remember RSU stduent Renee Morse-Heenan's struggle to earn recognition for her group, the Organization for Advancing the Rights of Students (OARS), at RSU this fall. These articles are a welcome update on Renee's success and the considerable gains for student rights at RSU, but Stoycoff's reports make clear that Oklahoma schools still need FIRE.

First, the good news: OARS is now operating successfully at RSU, and administrators say that they are updating school policies to address FIRE's constitutional concerns. In the first article, Stoycoff interviews Renee about her group's successful efforts since they gained recognition:

Now, [Morse-Heenan's] group - the Organization for Advocating the Rights of Students - is teaching students how to stand up for themselves legally. Beyond that, it's helping students communicate concerns to administrators.


And her organization plans a sort of organized heist, where members take books or notepads from students - temporarily, if consented - and hand them a paper explaining their rights. The goal is to teach students what to say when ...

EFF Tool Offers New Protection Against ‘Firesheep’

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has launched a new version of HTTPS Everywhere, a security tool that offers enhanced protection for Firefox browser users against "Firesheep" and other exploits of webpage security flaws.

HTTPS secures web browsing by encrypting both requests from your browser to websites and the resulting pages that are displayed. Without HTTPS, your online reading habits and activities are vulnerable to eavesdropping, and your accounts are vulnerable to hijacking.

Unfortunately, while many sites on the web offer some limited support for HTTPS, it is often difficult to use. Websites may default to using the unencrypted, and therefore vulnerable, HTTP protocol or may fill HTTPS pages with insecure HTTP references. EFF's HTTPS Everywhere tool uses carefully crafted rules to switch sites from HTTP to HTTPS.

This new version of HTTPS Everywhere responds to growing concerns about website vulnerability in the wake of Firesheep, an attack tool that could enable an eavesdropper on a network to take over another user's web accounts -- on social networking sites or webmail systems, for example -- if the browser's connection to the web application either does not use cryptography or does not use it thoroughly enough. Firesheep, which was ...

Russian TV news crew arrested while covering Ga. protest

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

COLUMBUS, Ga. — A reporter for a Russian TV news network said she and her cameraman were wrongfully arrested and jailed by Columbus police as the journalists were covering the arrests of demonstrators outside Fort Benning in western Georgia.

Reporter Kaelyn Forde and cameraman Jon Conway, Washington-based journalists for Russia Today, were arrested on Nov. 20 — along with at least 20 others — on charges that they violated state and local laws governing public protests.

Forde called their arrests "very unacceptable" in an interview broadcast yesterday by Russia Today, an English-language news network funded by the Russian government. Both journalists are U.S. citizens.

"There was a very distinct impression that the police were going after people who were filming and documenting what happened there," Forde said. "Of course, we weren't protesting. We were covering it."

Columbus police officials did not return a phone call seeking comment in time for this story.

The arrests came during the annual protest of the U.S. military training school, formerly known as the School of the Americas, which trains Latin American military officers. Opponents say the school’s graduates have used their training to commit human rights abuses.

Arrests are common during the yearly demonstrations, ...

N.J. lawmakers send new anti-bullying measure to governor

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

TRENTON, N.J. — Legislation aimed at combating bullying in schools, which advocates call the nation's toughest because it requires schools to develop anti-harassment programs, was approved yesterday in the New Jersey Legislature.

The state General Assembly and Senate both passed the bill overwhelmingly and sent it to the desk of Republican Gov. Chris Christie. He said last night that he hadn't read the bill but that the state's lawyers had raised concerns over whether its provisions might infringe on constitutional rights. He did not say whether he would sign it.

The "Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights" would require anti-bullying programs in public schools and language in college codes of conduct to address bullying. Schools would have to form teams to shape policies and review how bullying is handled.

The bill, A3466, had been in the works for 10 months but gained attention after the high-profile suicide of Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi in September. He killed himself after his roommate allegedly used a webcam to spy on Clementi’s liaison with a man. Clementi's family said in a statement that it welcomed the bill.

Many of the same measures are suggested, but not required, under a state anti-bullying law that has been ...

12 Nev. students suspended for posting pro-marijuana signs

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

RENO, Nev. — A northern Nevada school principal is defending the suspensions of 12 students for posting pro-marijuana signs on campus, saying it caused a disruption for classmates and staff.

Carson Valley Middle School Principal Robert Been said the signs, including ones reading “Legalize Weed” and “Free the Weed,” violated a policy requiring all signs to be approved by staff before being displayed.

The group hung nearly 30 signs at the Gardnerville school, about 50 miles south of Reno, after three classmates were taken into custody on suspicion of smoking marijuana next to campus on Nov. 9. Most signs urged authorities to “free” the trio.

The suspensions, first reported by The Record-Courier of Gardnerville, were handed down to the 12 ninth-graders and ranged from one day to five days.

“What they did is not a cool thing to do. It just stirs up the campus,” Been told The Associated Press. “It’s not conducive to our education environment. This is a school for crying out loud.”

Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, said he thought the students’ pro-marijuana message was what spurred the suspensions and that the case raised “some serious” First Amendment concerns.

He ...

Just as Shepard’s legacy lives on, our work continues

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

On October 7, 1998, Aaron Kreifels found Matthew Shepard clinging to life in a field outside Laramie, Wyoming. Unfortunately, Shepard lost that battle five days later. What resulted was a rallying cry for the LGBT equality movement.

One of the most enduring voices in the years since has been The Laramie Project, a play produced by Moisés Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project based on interviews conducted in the aftermath of Shepard’s death. I’ll never forget my own experience with The Laramie Project, and the emotion that overcame one of my friends in the audience. He was struck by the fact that Laramie wasn’t so different from his hometown. What happened there could have happened in his backyard. It could happen just about anywhere without people and a government willing to stand up to fear and hate.

Now comes The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later. There’s a point at which the story turns to current students at the University of Wyoming. They don’t know who Shepard was. Or they choose to believe rumors. Or it simply doesn’t affect them. And we’re told several times throughout that the fence on which Shepard clung to life no longer exists, ...

ACLU, EPIC Seek Travelers’ Stories about TSA Screenings

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

There has been much discussion among ALA members about the new enhanced pat-down procedures and full-body scanning implemented by the TSA, and the possibility that these procedures violate individual civil liberties. ALA members who are traveling by air in the near future who believe that their rights have been violated by a TSA screening, or believe that their TSA screening was conducted in violation of agency rules, should know that both the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) are collecting travelers’ stories.

EPIC: EPIC Body Scanner Incident Report

ACLU: Think Your Rights Have Been Violated While Traveling? Tell Us Your Story

The Office for Intellectual Freedom and the Washington Office are monitoring this issue, including developments in the courts and in Congress. Reports and updates will be sent to the membership as events happen.

Syracuse Police Threaten Students with Disciplinary Action for ‘Offensive’ Halloween Costumes

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

Boo! FIRE intervened at Syracuse University last week after it threatened disciplinary action against students who might wear "offensive" Halloween costumes. Tony Callisto, chief of the university's Department of Public Safety, told The Daily Orange:

"If we detect that there's a person with an offensive costume, we'd likely require them to remove it, and we would file a judicial complaint," Callisto said. "There are costumes that could be very offensive to members of protected class communities."

Students can also report bias to DPS. It will investigate the incident to see if there was actually bias, which would be a violation of the Code of Student Conduct, and would then file a judicial complaint.

On November 18, FIRE wrote Syracuse University Chancellor Nancy Cantor about this violation of Syracuse's own promises of freedom of expression.

Why is the university cracking down now?

An investigation about a report of a racially insensitive Halloween costume occurred five or six years ago, said DPS Chief Tony Callisto. And though there have been reports of biased costumes since then, none ha[s] been serious enough to prompt an investigation, he said.

If DPS patrol officers see a biased costume during Halloween weekend, they ...

IFRT Monthly Video Series: IFLA Senior Policy Advisor Stuart Hamilton

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

The Intellectual Freedom Round Table (IFRT) presents the fifth in its monthly video series of interviews. This month’s video features Stuart Hamilton, Senior Policy Advisor for the International Federation of Library Association (IFLA). Among Stuart’s responsibilities is providing staff support for FAIFE, the Committee on Free Access to Information and Freedom of Expression.

If you have any topics you would like to see featured in upcoming videos, please contact IFRT chair Loida Garcia-Febo directly at

Standing together for schools that are safe and free of discrimination

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

Last Thursday I attended a press conference convened on Capitol Hill in support of the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Nondiscrimination Act. It was a diverse mix of speakers. Representatives Linda Sánchez and Jared Polis and Senators Robert Casey and Al Franken showed their support as our legislative champions. Clay Aiken (American Idol) and Louis Van Amstel (Dancing with the Stars) talked about using their star power to advance the cause. Dr. Eliza Byard, Executive Director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, and Dr. Cathy Minke, President of the National Association of School Psychologists, shared the work they do everyday as advocates and practitioners. Then there were the people for whom this issue hits closest to home: Sirdeaner Walker, mother of Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover; Tammy Aaberg, mother of Justin Aaberg; and Joey Kemmerling, a 16-year-old gay student from Bucks County, PA.

Something Dr. Byard said really stuck with me.

This is an issue of behavior, not belief.

Ensuring that schools are safe, as does the Safe Schools Improvement Act, and free of discrimination, as does the Student Nondiscrimination Act, isn’t about sexual orientation and gender identity, or how you might feel ...

Collegiate Viewpoint Discrimination in Canada

Monday, November 22nd, 2010
Carleton University in Canada derecognizes pro-life group because of its viewpoint. This is unconstitutional in the United States, but it's not so clear in Canada.

Federal judge orders Gawker to pull Palin book pages

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

NEW YORK — A federal judge on Nov. 20 ordered Gawker Media to pull leaked pages of Sarah Palin's forthcoming book America by Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith and Flag from its blog.

The injunction prohibits Gawker from "continuing to distribute, publish or otherwise transmit pages from the book" pending a hearing on Nov. 30.

HarperCollins Publishers had sued Gawker after it published images on Nov. 17 from Palin's book before its scheduled release tomorrow.

In response, Palin tweeted, "Isn't that illegal?"

Gawker defended its action in a Nov. 18 post titled “Sarah Palin is Mad at Us for Leaking Pages From Her Book” and addressed a message to "Sarah" telling her to read pages about fair use under copyright law. "Or skip the totally boring reading and call one of your lawyers," the post said. "They'll walk you through it."

HarperCollins filed a legal complaint Nov. 19 in federal court asking that the site be barred from what it called "further copyright infringement."

Gawker Media LLC couldn't be reached for comment in time for this story, but as of Nov. 20, Gawker had removed the pages from its site.

The blog was not the first site to publish excerpts ...

Scalia loves his gadgets, but not cameras in court

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

WASHINGTON — Justice Antonin Scalia seems solidly old-fashioned. He’s devoted to the Constitution’s original meaning, prefers the Roman Catholic Mass in Latin and opposes TV cameras in the Supreme Court.

But the 74-year-old Scalia wants it known that he owns an iPod and an iPad and does so much work on his computer that he “can hardly write in longhand anymore.”

Scalia revealed his embrace of modern technology at a Nov. 18 dinner of the conservative Federalist Society, which he helped launch nearly 30 years ago to combat perceived liberal bias on the nation’s law school faculties.

The Supreme Court justice was not so much the after-dinner speaker as the entertainment, joining CBS News correspondent Jan Crawford for an hourlong conversation in front of 1,400 adoring conservatives.

Scalia’s iPod is filled with classical and operatic tunes, music he put there himself.

The iPad has been useful for storing the voluminous legal briefs that are the guts of every high court case. Scalia said he no longer has to — and here he employed the precise legal term — “schlep the briefs around.”

Said the longest-serving justice: “It’s a brave new world.”

Yet that great invention of the 20th century, television, ...

Ruling: Valedictorian wrongly barred from speaking at graduation

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

HELENA, Mont. — A Butte High School valedictorian was unconstitutionally banned from speaking at her graduation because she refused to remove the words “God” and “Christ” from her speech, the Montana Supreme Court ruled late last week.

The court on Nov. 19 ruled 6-1 in Griffith v. Butte School Dist. No. 1 that school officials violated Renee Griffith’s rights to free speech and to freedom of religion under the U.S. and Montana constitutions.

Griffith was one of 10 valedictorians graduating from Butte High School in May 2008. She planned to give a speech with religious references at the graduation ceremony, including the sentence, “I didn’t let fear keep me from sharing Christ and His joy with those around me.”

But in the days leading up to the ceremony, school district Superintendent Charles Uggetti told Griffith she had to remove the references to “God” and “Christ” because religious references were not allowed in graduation speeches.

Griffith and her father met with Uggetti, who cited a policy that says the school district has ultimate control over the content of the ceremony and that “the district may not prefer the beliefs of some students over the beliefs of others, coerce dissenters or nonbelievers ...

Court strikes down city council’s public-comment rule

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The Philadelphia City Council must allow direct public comment on matters under its consideration and may not simply divert those comments to committee meetings, a divided Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled.

The council's current practice of not allowing comment at its full-body meetings violates the state's Sunshine Act, the justices ruled 4-3 on Nov. 17.

"Contrary to council's position, there simply is no authorization in the act, actual or fairly implied, for delegation of the obligation to entertain public comment to some body other than a board or council," Justice Thomas Saylor wrote for the majority.

Chief Justice Ronald Castille, a former Philadelphia district attorney, warned in the dissent that the ruling would likely cause disruption by changing a policy that dates back nearly 60 years.

"I do not view the act as intending to preclude the governing bodies of political subdivisions, such as council, from delegating certain aspects of its business to committees which may be tasked with receiving public comment in an efficient manner," Castille wrote.

The court ruled in favor of Stan Alekseev and the Homeowner's Association of Philadelphia, which challenged the council's practice. Their attorney, Darrell M. Zaslow, said people have the right to ...

FIRE in the News in Oklahoma, California, and New York

Friday, November 19th, 2010

FIRE has received a good deal of positive press this week.

From New York, the investigation of Len Audaer, the Syracuse University College of Law (SUCOL) student accused of harassment for the contents of the anonymous satirical blog SUCOLitis, continues to make the news. WRVO, a regional National Public Radio affiliate, released a recording and an article last Friday about Audaer's long-running investigation. Adam, who was interviewed by WRVO, expressed his disappointment over the lack of due process afforded to Audaer and emphasized FIRE's commitment to make sure he receives justice.

The recent student group controversy at Rogers State University (RSU) also garnered local media attention. Zack Stoycoff, a staff writer for the Claremore, Oklahoma, publication Claremore Daily Progress, mentioned FIRE in three articles on November 13. For the first article, he interviewed student activist Renee Morse-Heenan from RSU, who stressed the importance of FIRE's involvement in helping her student organization gain official recognition at RSU. In the second one, RSU administrators explained how FIRE's letter to RSU President Larry Rice encouraged RSU to record "unwritten policies about the student government association and its level of control over student organizations" and to improve the state of student ...

Catholic Bishops Stood With FIRE in ‘CLS v. Martinez’; Where Will they Stand on Freedom of Association at DePaul?

Friday, November 19th, 2010

The annual fall general assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) concluded its four-day sessions in Baltimore yesterday. Of interest to FIRE and interested Torch readers is that just prior to the assembly's beginning on Monday, USCCB's Committee on Catholic Education accepted the recommendations from a working group of bishops and college presidents on how to evaluate the success of Ex corde Ecclesiae, the Vatican's blueprint for Catholic colleges. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported Monday:

Ex corde, the Vatican's document to guide Roman Catholic colleges, was released by Pope John Paul II in 1990. The U.S. bishops approved an application document detailing how Ex corde was to be carried out, which went into effect in 2001. The 10-year review, called for in the application document, is supposed to be completed in 2011.

The committee voted to use the recommendations of a working group of bishops and Catholic-college presidents, which suggested five questions for bishops to use in private conversations with the presidents of colleges in their dioceses. The questions were based on a similar set created for the five-year review of Ex corde. The working group added a new question and changed ...

Editorial Boards From Across the Country Call on Senate to Pass DISCLOSE Act

Friday, November 19th, 2010

Even though Republican obstructionism has upheld passage of the DISCLOSE Act in the US Senate twice before, the need to pass the bill has grown more urgent following the midterm election which experienced an onslaught of campaign ads funded by secret money from shadowy groups. The DISCLOSE Act will ensure that organizations who run ads to influence elections reveal to the public their donors, as under current law organizations can hide the identities of all of their donors, damaging transparency and the public’s right to know. In the last vote, 59 US Senators supported bringing the DISCLOSE Act to the Floor for an up-or-down vote, but the Republican minority blocked the vote from taking place.

Newspaper editorial boards from around the US are speaking out, calling for the Senate to act on the DISCLOSE Act:

Miami Herald:

Regardless of which candidates win, voters lose when they are left in the dark about who is signing the checks to pay for the commercials -- mostly, attack ads -- that dominate political campaigns. Disclosure enables voters to make informed decisions about the message and the candidate. Secrecy leaves them clueless.

The remedy lies in the Disclose Act, which the House ...

Pa. Middle Schoolers Assert “ I ♥ Boobies!” Bracelets Protected by First Amendment

Friday, November 19th, 2010

Represented by the ACLU of Pennsylvania, a group of parents and students have filed suit challenging their Easton middle school’s decision to discipline the students for wearing bracelets bearing the message, “ I ♥ Boobies! (Keep A Breast)." The bracelets, which the seventh and eighth grade girls wore as part of an effort to promote breast cancer prevention and research efforts, were deemed demeaning and distracting by school officials. In addition to being required to remove the bracelets and being suspended briefly, the girls were also forbidden from participating in extracurricular activities.

Read more.

Stand Up Against TSA’s Invasive Security Procedures

Friday, November 19th, 2010

The Transportation Security Administration has adopted "enhanced" security procedures — presenting people with the horrible choice of either submitting to body scanners that show passengers unclothed or submit to what are called "groping" pat-down techniques which include touching both breasts and genitalia. As some have noted these processes appear to have little likelihood of increasing the safety of fliers.

Individuals appalled by these procedures have a right to submit formal complaints to the TSA. It is important the passengers and crew submit complaints to showcase the widespread resistance to these procedures. TSA maintains that they have seen no increase in complaints about the new security procedures. EFF will be filing FOIA requests to test this claim, but in the meantime we wanted to make sure that people who wished to complain knew how to make their thoughts and feelings heard.

How to Complain About TSA’s Invasive Screening Procedures

Online Forms and iPhone Apps

You can submit a formal complaint against the TSA about the new body scanners and frisking techniques by filling out the form on their website. Select "Inappropriate Screening/Pat Down Screening" from the drop down list.

Survey on the Spot is a third party survey company that conducts ...

Resolutions to Protect Academic Freedom of Faculty at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Delaware

Friday, November 19th, 2010

Faculty bodies around the country have been enacting new academic freedom protections in the wake of the Supreme Court's 2006 decision in Garcetti v. Ceballos, about which we have written plenty here on The Torch. In a footnote in Garcetti, the Court reserved the question of whether professors at public universities have academic freedom to criticize university policies or even enjoy academic freedom in their own research and teaching, but some lower court decisions in academic freedom cases since Garcetti have nevertheless further endangered faculty members' traditional academic freedom. Joining the University of Minnesota, the University of Michigan, and the University of Wisconsin, the Faculty Senate at the University of Delaware has enacted new, strong protections of faculty academic freedomand the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) is on the way to promising similarly strong protections to its own faculty.

These new protections are wise in light of the special importance of academic freedom to faculty members in a free society and in the face of the threats posed by Garcetti and its progeny.

At UNC-CH, the Faculty Executive Committee reaffirmed its support on Monday for a proposed "Resolution on ...

Join the Freedom to Read Foundation

Friday, November 19th, 2010

Click here to join the Freedom to Read Foundation today!!

Every day, the First Amendment and your right to read are under attack.  Individuals in communities all across the country are being restricted from accessing information because someone else thought the materials were offensive or they didn’t agree with their ideas.  Every day, the Freedom to Read Foundation stands up for the First Amendment and for your right to read.  Stand with us! Become a member of the Freedom to Read Foundation, and join your fellow free speech advocates in opposing censorship and protecting the most basic rights of our democratic society.

FTRF is the First Amendment legal defense organization affiliated with the American Library Association.  FTRF engages directly in much of the most important First Amendment and privacy litigation in the country, including many of the biggest Supreme Court cases of the past 40 years. Thanks to the Freedom to Read Foundation, our right to access information in public and school libraries, the privacy of library records, and free speech on the Internet are significantly stronger. FTRF will continue to vigorously defend these rights – but we need your help to do so.

Membership starts at just $35.00 ...

Interview with FIRE’s Lukianoff Featured in UK’s ‘spiked’ Magazine

Friday, November 19th, 2010

The London-based online publication spiked features editor Brendan O'Neill's lengthy interview with FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. Entitled "Students are supposed to read books, not burn them," the wide-ranging interview discusses how so many college students today overreact to being offendeda disproportionate response spurred on by administrators and policies telling them that nobody should have to bear any negative emotion about someone else's speech. As Greg notes, it's hard to think of a concept that could leave students more unprepared for life outside the walls of academe.

The article kicks off by examining a bizarre and depressing instance of vigilante censorship: the ceremonial burning of a college newspaper, The Dartmouth, because it contained a cartoon that made a joke based on Nietzschean philosophy. Here it is:

Since one would have to be denser than lead to believe that this comic was endorsing date rape, the burning of the newspaper is inexplicable without understanding the nature of the phenomenon Greg calls "unlearning liberty." Students at Dartmouth College, as well as many other universities, are being taught that when it comes to certain topics, any treatment other than deadly serious earnestness in favor of the approved viewpoint is not ...

Congress passes bill to stop ‘crush videos’

Friday, November 19th, 2010

WASHINGTON — Videos appealing to a sexual fetish by showing women killing small animals will be banned under legislation that cleared the Senate today and is heading to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The voice vote in the Senate followed a vote in the House on Nov. 15 to ban so-called crush videos that depict the abuse and killing of animals.

Congress banned such videos in 1999, but the Supreme Court struck down the law in April in United States v. Stevens, saying it was too broadly written and violated First Amendment free speech protections.

The more narrowly crafted bill going to the White House makes it a crime to sell or distribute videos that violate bans on animal cruelty by showing animals being burned, drowned, suffocated or impaled.

"Animal torture videos are barbaric and have no place in a civilized society," said Rep. Gary Peters, D-Mich., one of the House sponsors. "By promising to lock up the people who produce and distribute these videos we can work to put a halt to this horrendous practice."

Crush videos typically show women, often barefoot or wearing high heels, stomping small animals to death.

Every state bans animal cruelty, but it ...

6th Circuit backs school’s ban on Confederate flag garb

Friday, November 19th, 2010

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A federal appeals court has upheld a district court's ruling that a school's ban on Confederate flag clothing was a reasonable attempt to prevent disruptions.

Tommy Defoe sued Anderson County school officials after he was sent home and then suspended for insubordination in 2006 for wearing a T-shirt and a belt buckle bearing the image of the Confederate battle flag. He said he wanted to display his pride in his Southern heritage. In court filings, he claimed school officials violated his First Amendment rights.

U.S. District Judge Tom Varlan in August 2009 threw out Defoe's suit. Yesterday, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati affirmed that decision in Defoe v. Spiva.

The 6th Circuit panel found that racial tensions and incidents at the school were such that banning displays of the Confederate flag was a reasonable way to prevent disruption and violence.

“We hold that the dress code’s provision banning displays of racially divisive symbols, and its application to the Confederate flag, is narrowly tailored to the state and school district’s substantial interest in educating students in the public school system,” Judge Eric Clay wrote for the 6th Circuit.

“A plainly reasonable interpretation of a ...

Philly, Boy Scouts end gay-rights battle over HQ

Friday, November 19th, 2010

PHILADELPHIA — A Boy Scouts chapter that won the right to ban gays from its city-owned headquarters at a federal trial in Philadelphia said it had negotiated a deal to end the decade-long dispute with city officials.

The city had threatened to evict the scouts for violating its anti-discrimination laws, and urged the group to reject national Boy Scouts of America policies that ban gays. But a jury this year found the eviction would infringe on the private group's right to free association.

Rather than appeal, the city will instead offer to sell the building to the Cradle of Liberty Council, the regional chapter of the Boy Scouts of America, for $500,000 — less than half its $1.1 million value, council lawyer Jason Gosselin said Nov. 17. In exchange, the scouts will forgive the nearly $1 million in legal fees the city was ordered to pay them after it lost the case.

"At the end of the day, the Boy Scouts will be writing a check to the city, rather than the other way around," Gosselin told the Associated Press. "This is a better solution than having to go through an appeals process."

City solicitor Shelley Smith and council attorney ...

Bipartisan Agreement Breaks Out at Hearing on Faith Based Initiatives

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

At today’s hearing before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, there was one item on which witnesses and Members of Congress from across partisan and ideological divides agreed: the Obama administration is ducking an important and controversial decision on whether religious organizations that take federal money to provide social services can discriminate on the basis of religion when hiring people to provide those services.  The administration further dodged the issue and rankled committee members by declining an invitation to testify.

There is some progress to report: the hearing came one day after the White House issued a long-awaited Executive Order (Subcommittee Chair Jerold Nadler called the pace of reform “glacial”) on the topic of federal funding for faith-based groups.  The Executive Order implements a number of recommendations made by an advisory council the administration had created to review what was called the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives by the Bush Administration and what is now called the Office of Faith-Based and Community Partnerships. Melissa Rogers, Director of the Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest Divinity School and a co-chair of the president’s commission, was among those who testified.
Among the ...

People For and Progressive Groups Urge Senate to Break Confirmation Gridlock

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

This week, People For and 46 other progressive groups sent a letter to the leaders of the U.S. Senate urging them to end the backlog of judicial nominees before the end of this session of Congress. Republican obstruction has prevented dozens of nominees from even receiving a vote on the Senate floor, leaving the federal court system with over 100 vacancies and the slowing down the process of bringing more diversity to the federal bench. Read the full letter:

Dear Majority Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell:

The undersigned organizations strongly urge you to end the troubling backlog of judicial nominees that exists to date in the 111th Congress. The obstruction of many of President Obama’s nominees through filibuster threats and anonymous “holds” is hindering the important work of our judicial branch, particularly in the many areas of our nation that now face judicial emergencies due to unfilled vacancies on the bench.

Throughout the 111th Congress, President Obama has worked with the Senate on a bipartisan basis to select extraordinarily well-qualified judicial nominees who could easily be confirmed by wide margins and begin serving the public, if brought to a vote before the full Senate. Yet a troubling number ...

Violent video games, justice by justice

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

By Tony Mauro

To an unusual degree, the Supreme Court oral arguments last week in Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association turned out to be something of a Rorschach test that showed which way the justices were leaning.

As the justices looked at California’s law banning the sale and rental of violent video games to minors, did they see a bite being taken out of the First Amendment, complete with censorship boards rejecting video games now and Romeo and Juliet next? Or did they see a common-sense effort to shield minors from a segment of a new medium whose redeeming value is dubious and whose harm is plausible?

Here is a brief look at how each justice appears to be appraising the law.

Read more.


UPDATE: The Case Against COICA

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

UPDATE: EFF is deeply disappointed to report that the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the COICA Internet censorship bill this morning, despite bipartisan opposition, and countless experts pointing out how it would be ineffective, unconstitutional, bad for innovation and the tech economy, and would break the Internet.

Notably, Senator Feinstein and Senator Coburn commented on the need for more work on elements of the bill — an important consideration as negotiations shift to the Senate at large. The bill is unlikely to come up again until next session, and in the meantime, we look forward to educating Congress about the dangers in COICA, and joining others to oppose this or any other infringement "solution" that threatens lawful speech online.

In September, digital rights advocates and Internet engineers helped to delay the Combatting Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA), a terrible bill that would have allowed the Attorney General to censor the Internet in the name of copyright enforcement. Now that the November elections are over, COICA is back on the Senate Judiciary Committee schedule for markup this Thursday and could pass out of committee during the "lame duck" session of Congress.

To recap, COICA gives the ...

Link: Analysis of Steve Kutzner Protect Act Case

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

The Hooded Utilitarian’s Sean Michael Robinson delivers a well constructed analysis of the case of Steve Kutzner, an Idaho man who plead guilty to possession of “obscene visual representations of child sexual abuse” last month.

The most widely reported element of Kutzner’s conviction is that he plead guilty to possessing pornographic art depicting characters from the Simpsons, but Robinson digs into the plea agreement and talks to the prosecuting attorney to find that the case wasn’t so clear-cut. Kutzner was flagged by German authorities who believed he was participating in file-sharing of actual child pornography, and when United States authorities investigated they found there was evidence enough to argue that he had, although that evidence was triable.

Robinson’s reporting paints a vivid picture of the legal issues at stake. He speculates on the probable defensive posture that would have been taken if this case had gone to trial, emphasizing that the government would have had the burden of proving the material Kutzner plead guilty to possessing was obscene.

More intriguingly, he illustrates how the threat of mandatory minimum sentences is being used by prosecutors to scare up plea agreements from people like Kutzner and Handley.

The conclusion Robinson arrives at ...

Patent Office to Reissue Narrowed Version of Patent on Internet Music Files

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Another partial victory for EFF's Patent Busting Project: the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has announced that it will reissue a narrowed version of a patent on Internet music files after we asked the PTO to take a second look. So far nine of the original Top Ten Patents named in our campaign have been busted, invalidated, narrowed, or had a reexamination granted by the PTO.

The Seer System patent threatened to stifle new innovations in online music distribution, claiming a system and method for joining different musical data types together in a file, distributing them over the Internet, and then playing that file. EFF and Day Casebeer Madrid & Batchelder (the attorneys are now at Howrey) filed a request for reexamination in October of 2008, noting that descriptions of this technology were published a number of times before Seer Systems made its claim -- including one in a book written by Seer's own founder and the named inventor of the patent, Stanley Jungleib. The PTO granted our request in January of 2009 and initially rejected all of the claims. You may recall that Seer and Mr. Jungleib were extremely upset about this and threatened EFF with a ...

EFF Brief: "Privacy" Protections for Corporations Undermine Government Transparency

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

EFF and a coalition of public interest groups urged the U.S. Supreme Court in an amicus brief Tuesday to reject so-called "privacy" protections for corporate entities under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The case, Federal Communications Commission v. AT&T, started when the company tried to block disclosure of records about its participation in the federal government's E-Rate program. AT&T, invoking FOIA exemptions that were created to protect an individual's private data like physical address or email address, argued that it was a "corporate citizen" entitled to "personal privacy."

Surprisingly, a federal appeals court agreed with AT&T, setting up this Supreme Court battle with unusually high stakes for transparency and accountability. In the amicus brief filed Tuesday, EFF and co-amici argue that the intent of FOIA's privacy provisions are unmistakably to protect individuals, not corporations, and that is how the law has always been interpreted. If AT&T is allowed to expand the law’s privacy protections to "corporate citizens" then broad new swaths of previously public records will be hidden from view. It's not hard to imagine how documents on the BP oil spill, or coal mine explosions, or the misdeeds of Bernie Madoff's investment firm might be significantly harder ...

Christian group’s latest effort for campus recognition rebuffed

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court has shot down another attempt by a Christian student group, which refuses to allow gay members, to force a California law school to formally recognize it.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the University of California Hastings College of the Law could legally deny funding and other benefits to the Christian Legal Society.

The high court found in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez that the society's First Amendment rights were not violated.

The group later raised a more specific claim, arguing that the law school singled it out for discrimination rather than accusing the school of general free-speech violations.

Yesterday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out that claim, saying the new argument was raised only after the group lost in the Supreme Court.

Judge refuses to stop Tenn. mosque construction

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — A judge denied a request yesterday for a temporary restraining order to stop construction at the site of a proposed mosque in Murfreesboro.

Rutherford County Chancellor Robert Corlew said after closing arguments that he didn’t find that the “county acted illegally, arbitrarily or capriciously” when county planners approved the site plan for an Islamic center.

The lawsuit claimed that the planners violated the Tennessee open-meetings law by failing to file adequate public notice of the meeting.

But much of the questioning from plaintiffs attorney Joe Brandon Jr. during seven days of testimony since late September focused on whether Islam qualified as a religion and his theory that American Muslims want to replace the Constitution with extremist Islamic law.

Corlew said the court did not find that members of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro adhered to extremist religious ideas.

Mosque leaders want to expand their facilities to accommodate a growing congregation and currently the proposed site is being prepared but no construction has started. Federal investigators are looking into arson at the construction site that burned a dump truck, and vandals have twice defaced a sign announcing the Islamic center is being built there.

Brandon had his hands ...

Photographer: New Orleans cop ordered no photos of body

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

NEW ORLEANS — A news photographer who witnessed some of the aftermath of a deadly shooting in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina testified yesterday that he was ordered by a police officer not to photograph the victim's body.

Alex Brandon was working for the Times-Picayune newspaper when he said he walked up to a makeshift police headquarters at a school and saw the body of 31-year-old Henry Glover, who had been shot.

Glover's charred remains were later found in the back seat of a burned car, and five former and current police officers are being tried in Glover's death and an alleged cover-up. The shooting happened on Sept. 2, 2005, four days after Hurricane Katrina passed and flooding from failed levees plunged the city into chaos.

Brandon, who now works for the Associated Press in Washington, said he was ordered by one of the current defendants, Officer Greg McRae, not to take any photographs of the body or of a confrontation between police and the three men who brought Glover to the site for medical care.

"It was, for lack of a better term, an order," Brandon said.

Former Officer David Warren is charged with shooting Glover outside a strip ...