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Court Orders Missouri School to Stop Censoring LGBT Websites

Court Orders Missouri School to Stop Censoring LGBT Websites

 

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri has ruled that a Camdenton High School must cease its practice of using web filtering software that bars students from accessing LGBT affirming websites.

The lawsuit, brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Western Missouri, was filed in August 2011 following the ACLU’s repeated warnings that the school’s custom-built filtering software was illegally censoring LGBT affirming websites while at the same time allowing students to access sites that condemn LGBT identity and oppose LGBT equality.

Websites that were blocked include PFLAG National (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), the Matthew Shepard Foundation, Campus Pride and DignityUSA, a Catholic LGBT organization.

The school argued that students were free to ask to have individual websites unblocked at any time and thus contended that the software was fair and a necessary step in preventing access to adult content.

However, the court ruled this to be false, saying that the schools 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 held that the school’s defense that students could request websites be unblocked was not satisfactory, saying: “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 concluded that for the purposes of filtering adult content there are systems available that are “much more effective” than the one the school employed, and that other systems “do so without burdening websites that express a positive viewpoint toward LGBT individuals.”

Statements from the ACLU via their press release:

“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.”

“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. “It is absolutely possible to protect children from sexually explicit content while also protecting their First Amendment rights. Like thousands of other school districts across the country, Camdenton R-III will now begin using a filtering system that blocks pornography without discriminating against LGBT-related content.”

Campus Pride also released the following statement regarding the ruling:

“Campus Pride is pleased to learn of the District Court’s ruling in our favor today. Finding an LGBT-friendly college and learning about valuable LGBT services on campuses should not be blocked for any reason. Every young person should have access in their schools to such online information provided by Campus Pride, especially those seeking safer, more welcoming places to learn, live and grow. Our online resources are essential in delivering a message of hope and support — and in changing the lives of LGBT and ally young people. We are encouraged knowing that the rights of students in the Camdenton R-III School District have been protected.”

The lawsuit came about as part of the ACLU’s ‘Don’t Filter Me’ campaign which aims to empower students to report instances of schools using computer software to prevent access to LGBT-affirming websites.

The ACLU warned the school in May of last year†that if it continued to block access to literally hundreds of age-appropriate LGBT websites, many of which contained anti-bullying resources and gay-straight alliance information, the school would be “subject to legal liability and the expense of litigation.” The school unblocked certain anti-bullying websites but ignored the warning about its so-called “sexuality” filter.

It is unclear at this time whether the school is considering a legal appeal.

Related Reading:

Web Filtering Company Will No Longer Block LGBT Content

Georgia Public Schools Blocking LGBT Websites?

Donít Filter Me!: ACLU Campaigns to Get Positive LGBT Websites Unblocked in Schools

 

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Photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution License with thanks to NotionsCapital.com

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41 comments

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1:16PM PST on Feb 21, 2012

Missouri what can you say.

9:37AM PST on Feb 21, 2012

Censorship is wrong and should not be allowed. The websites weren't even objectionable. It's just good old fashioned ignorance at work again.

5:19PM PST on Feb 20, 2012

And this is education in the U.S.? Shame on your system promoting hatred, unacceptance and intollerance. Censoring this is wrong and I could understand it if it were pornography. It is not.

9:04PM PST on Feb 19, 2012

Censorship is just wrong!!

8:44PM PST on Feb 19, 2012

I made a video about why Homosexuals should have equal rights.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdK5ETOJusw

Watch it, share it, and join the fight against the evil Homophobes.

1:04PM PST on Feb 19, 2012

By thinking they can get away with this, the school district just "outed " themselves in showing what they really are.

9:40AM PST on Feb 19, 2012

What I still fail to understand is why people who don't believe in equality would go and seek out a news article about equality just so they can go and post how much they disagree with the article. In order for me to get to this article I had to click on LGBT news. That means so did everyone else. So did you purposely click on it just so you could go and spread your hate towards a certain group of people? Apparently. Spread love not hate :)

7:27AM PST on Feb 19, 2012

Idiots shouldn't have bothered trying to censor it in the first place. It's only resulted in this court case, which frankly seems like a waste of money considering they were onto a loser.....

7:01AM PST on Feb 19, 2012

James C. - Apparently James C. is a follower of Pat Buchanan who thank God was finally removed from his mind numbing, hate spewing TV show.

6:57AM PST on Feb 19, 2012

Rose L. - Poor Rose L., If you do not get out of your "stenchy" environment you are hampered in your judgment. Those that live in a cesspool just can not smell themselves after awhile.

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