A consortium of companies that provide more than 100 school districts across the state of Missouri with web filtering software has announced that it will no longer activate a feature on the filtering software that has been blocking non-sexual, age appropriate LGBT content, says the ACLU of Missouri.
The Missouri Research & Education Network (MOREnet), which is associated with the University of Missouri, provides filtering services on software from the company Netsweeper. The software from Netsweeper includes a filtering category called “Alternative Lifestyles.” This blocks websites that support LGBT people and their rights, including the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). However, the software does not block websites that condemn LGBTs or that oppose LGBT rights. In addition to this, the “Alternative Lifestyles” category also blocks websites relating to vegetarianism and veganism but does not block websites that celebrate the eating of meat and poultry.
This, says the ACLU, violates First Amendment rights to free speech as well as the Equal Access Act, which requires equal access to school resources for all extracurricular clubs, so if a school runs a Gay/Straight Alliance or any other such LGBT-affirming club (which schools must allow if they allow other extracurricular clubs) they must also allow students to access relevant support materials.
MOREnet made their announcement following the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Eastern Missouri and the Freedom to Read Foundation (FTRF) contacting them regarding the illegal censorship of LGBT-related content.
The ACLU has praised MOREnet for its quick action on this matter.
“MOREnet should be commended for acting quickly and responsibly once we alerted them to this problem,” said Tony Rothert, legal director at the ACLU of Eastern Missouri. “We hope that other schools and libraries follow MOREnet’s example and make sure that their filtering systems are not accidentally configured to block non-sexual websites that relate to LGBT people.”
The Netsweeper software as operated by MOREnet will of course continue to block all sexually explicit and pornographic content.
The ACLU is now calling on the software company Netsweeper to eliminate its “Alternative Lifestyles” filter entirely.
“Companies that sell their products to public schools have a responsibility to ensure that their products do not engage in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. “Filters that needlessly discriminate against LGBT websites do not serve the interest of public schools or the students they serve.”
The ACLU became aware of this censorship in the district as part of its “Don’t Filter Me” campaign. Through the “Don’t Filter Me” campaign the ACLU is asking school students across America to check if their school is illegally blocking access to LGBT-friendly websites. You can find out more by clicking here, where there is an instructional video from the ACLU on just how to do a check and how to report cases to the ACLU if you find your school is blocking these sites.