ACLU Appears in Court to Stop Missouri School District from Illegally Censoring LGBT Websites
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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Eastern Missouri will argue today for a preliminary injunction to stop the Camdenton R-III School District from censoring web content geared toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities through discriminatory filtering software.
The ACLU and other groups have sued the district for repeatedly ignoring warnings that its custom-built filtering software relied on a database of websites compiled by URL Blacklist, which has a category called “sexuality” that blocks all LGBT-supportive information, including hundreds of materials that are not sexually explicit. The filter does, however, allow students to view anti-LGBT sites.
The lawsuit asks the court to order the district to filter websites in a viewpoint-neutral manner and argues that if the district’s custom-built software is incapable of viewpoint-neutral filtering, it should purchase commercial software from a reputable filtering company. It was filed 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.
“School districts across the country have purchased filtering software that allows them to block sexually explicit websites without discriminating against LGBT-supportive content,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney with the ACLU LGBT Project. “We all agree that it is appropriate to block students from accessing pornography or sexually explicit content. But Camdenton R-III insists on using its ‘do it yourself’ software even though other systems provide viewpoint-neutral filtering and are more effective at blocking actual pornography.”
“Students who want to start a gay-straight alliance, seek help in the face of bullying or read about LGBT history should be able to find all of that information on their school computers without asking permission to unblock a website,” said Anthony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri. “Limiting students’ access to information based on a particular viewpoint doesn’t protect them from anything, but it does harm them by inserting discrimination into their education.”
More about this case can be found at: www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights/pflag-v-camdenton-r-iii-school-district