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Free Speech Victory in Missouri

A federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction requiring the Camdenton School District in Missouri to stop filtering out pro-LGBT websites on the school’s computer network. The ACLU said in a press release:

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Eastern Missouri filed a lawsuit against the district in August 2011 after repeated warnings that its custom-built filtering software discriminates against LGBT content. The filter has a category that blocks LGBT-supportive information, including hundreds of websites that are not sexually explicit in any way. The filter does, however, allow students to view anti-LGBT sites that condemn homosexuality or oppose legal protections for LGBT people…

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri said that the district’s filtering system “systematically allows access to websites expressing a negative viewpoint toward LGBT individuals by categorizing them as ‘religion,’ but filters out positive viewpoints toward LGBT issues by categorizing them as ‘sexuality.’” Although the district argued that it would unblock individual websites upon request, the court held that “students may be deterred from accessing websites expressing a positive view toward LGBT individuals either by the inconvenience of having to wait twenty-four hours for access or by the stigma of knowing that viewpoint has been singled out as less worthy by the school district and the community.”

The court also concluded that other filtering systems are available that “are much more effective” at filtering out pornography “and do so without burdening websites that express a positive viewpoint toward LGBT individuals.”
“The filtering system that had been installed at Camdenton R-III was arbitrary, ineffective and discriminatory,” said Anthony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri. “Today’s ruling affirms that students will be free to search for resources for their gay-straight alliance, seek support against bullying and research history as it pertains to LGBT people, just as they would for any other subject.”

Bravo.

Comments

  1. Chiroptera says

    I guess I don’t even understand why filters are even necessary to begin with.

    I mean, yeah, I know that you can’t watch every kid on every computer every minute. But I would think that an adult walking by every so often would cut down the offenses to a manageable level.

  2. eric says

    Chiroptera – the presence of adults won’t do it. These are HS teenagers. Some of them will keep talking while the teacher stands 10 feet away saying “Bob, stop talking. Bob, I told you to stop talking. Bob, I mean it – stop talking. Bob, stop talking….” ad nauseum.

    Without the filters, the librarians would have no time to do anything but run around closing web sites. Which would then be reopened as fast as the teens could click.

    Now, the school could forego filters and instead punish such behavior. That might work as well or better than the filters. But personally I think filters are the lesser evil, at least as a first step. If they don’t work, then consider disciplinary action.

  3. doktorzoom says

    But if we don’t stop high school from reading stuff we don’t like, that’s destroying our FREEDOM!

  4. matty1 says

    Without filters but with monitoring you are still going to get some students risking it and then it only takes one disgruntled librarian with access to the browser history to put “Porn Scandal at School” on the local news.

  5. dave says

    I guess I don’t even understand why filters are even necessary to begin with.

    Federal Law. The Children’s Internet Protection Act (*1) requires that libraries that receive Federal monies or discounts under certain Federal programs, to filter access to the Internet to block obscenity, child pornography and other material “harmful to minors”.

    (*1) One wonders if we should be protecting Children from the Internet or protecting the Internet from Children.

  6. dave says

    Following up a bit further, the Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint alleges that the Camdenton R-III School District uses URLBlacklist.com as their source for URL categorization. Although the Amended Complaint suggests that the District could use a different filtering system, it is interesting to note that URLBlacklist has an entry on their homepage dated Feb 13, stating that they have been informed of an error causing LGBT sites to be listed under “Sexuality” and they are working to correct that, followed by an entry on the 14th stating that it is corrected but a full download is necessary, rather than a diff. As a result, it seems that the District can comply with the Preliminary Injuction without having to change a thing.

  7. Chiroptera says

    Sorry for my earlier misunderstanding.

    As a college instructor, I forget that public school teachers don’t have the same freedom to just throw people out.

  8. lordshipmayhem says

    I recall back in the early days of filtering, the filter that stopped access to websites that dealt with chicken recipes and cancer because of that magic word, “breasts”.

    They’ve improved since then, but I still really don’t trust a filter to recognize a non-sexual use of a word for a body part.

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