February 17, 2012

Court rules against web censorship for high school students


Jefferson City Courthouse

Good news out of the Jefferson City, MO, Federal District Court yesterday, according to this report from the American Civil Liberties Union:

A federal district court ruled today that the Camdenton R-III School District must stop censoring web content geared toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities through discriminatory filtering software. The ruling orders the district to not block content based on the viewpoints expressed by the website.

The school district was deploying a filtering software that blocked LGBT-supportive information, including hundreds of non-sexually explicit websites. The filter did allow students to view anti-LGBT sites that condemn homosexuality or opposed legal protections for LGBT people.  The court ruled 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.'”

“The court correctly recognized the constitutional rights of all students to viewpoint-neutral access to information,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney with the ACLU LGBT Project.  The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Western Missouri filed the lawsuit on behalf of a Camdenton High School student and LGBT organizations whose websites are blocked by the filter: PFLAG National (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), the Matthew Shepard Foundation, Campus Pride and DignityUSA, a Catholic LGBT organization.

Anthony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri said, “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.”


Valerie Merians is the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.