Earlier this year, the American Civil Liberties Union launched a campaign called “Don’t Filter Me” to assess censorship of web content in public high schools. The campaign asked students to check to see if web content geared toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities was blocked by their schools’ web browsers. Students were then asked to report instances of censorship to the ACLU LGBT Project.
Of course, more than a few social conservatives lost their minds over this, but to be honest, I didn’t see any problem with it, given the five websites the students were asked if they had access to:
Leaving aside the thoroughly unhinged Dan Savage’s role in “It Gets Better,” none of these sites should be remotely offensive to reasonable people, and should not have been blocked. High schoolers are hormone-enraged people, and regardless of how one feels about who they’re attracted to, I’d rather they not feel marginalized for it. Period. Also, while it is indeed disingenuous for the ACLU to claim that schools are somehow purposely allowing access to so-called “Pray the Gay Away” sites (given that those sites aren’t likely to get caught in a sexuality filter of some sort), I really don’t see the problem with allowing high school students access to either the five pro-LGBT sites the survey asked about, nor the “anti-LGBT” sites they vaguely accuse the schools of supporting.
None of this received any significant attention, until the ACLU decided it needed to up the ante…
As part of our “Don’t Filter Me” campaign, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Eastern Missouri filed a federal lawsuit against a school district in Camdenton, Missouri, whose Internet filtering software blocks access to web content geared toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities. The ACLU is joined in the lawsuit by LGBT organizations whose websites are blocked by the filter: Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbian and Gays (PFLAG), the Matthew Shepard Foundation, Campus Pride, and DignityUSA, a Catholic LGBT organization.
Nothing incendiary about that, right? Correct. One may not agree with it, but the ACLU’s interpretation of the law is absolutely accurate:
Programs that block all LGBT content violate First Amendment rights to free speech, as well as the Equal Access Act, which requires equal access to school resources for all extracurricular clubs, including gay-straight alliances and LGBT support groups.
However, leave it to the ACLU to eschew a perfectly valid legal argument in favor of throwing gasoline on a fire:
The Camdenton R-III School District’s custom-built filtering software relies on a database of websites that has a viewpoint-discriminatory category called “sexuality,” which blocks all LGBT-supportive information, including many websites that are not sexually explicit in any way. The filter does, however, allow students to view anti-LGBT sites. After the ACLU contacted the district to inform the district that the sexuality filter was unconstitutionally blocking access to four websites with anti-bullying information and other resources for student gay-straight alliances, the district unblocked those four specific websites but refused to reconfigure its software to remove the broader problem . As a result, hundreds of other LGBT websites remain blocked, including those of our plaintiffs. [emphasis added]
To begin with, the district’s filtering software is not “custom-built.” Rather, it contracts with a company called urlblacklist.com, which provides web filtering services to thousands of companies, municipalities and private organizations across the country. Secondly, the notion that the school district or URL Blacklist is “viewpoint-discriminatory” for blocking sites that categorize themselves under sexuality is laughable and absurd. Youporn.com is categorized under “sexuality,” I should mention.
Further, the ACLU seems to actually recognize this by not limiting their complaint to non-sexually explicit sites. Hence, the fact that they found the school district’s willingness to unblock the sites mentioned in their student survey unacceptable would seem to indicate that “the broader problem” the plaintiff is referring to is the blocking of any site categorized as sexual in nature, explicit or not. I’ve read the complaint and the motion for preliminary injunction, and cannot find any reference to “the broader problem” they claim is in need of legal redress, short of their unstated wish that the web filter be removed in it’s entirety.
Let me just state here that as something of a free speech absolutist, I am grateful for the ACLU. Yes, I’m aware of their origins, and no, I do not agree with every position they’ve taken during the course of their history (quite the opposite, actually). However, if I am to have the courage of my convictions, I am compelled to defend the voices of even those whose opinions I find abhorrent. I don’t always succeed, but if I’m willing to admit when I fail, then I can claim progress, rather than perfection.
HOWEVER, until and unless the law dictates otherwise, I cannot support any effort that would allow minors access to sexually explicit material, regardless of how vociferously a lawyer argues that doing so would save their lives, or some such progressive nonsense.