Monday, April 2, 2012

School District Told to Replace Web Filter Blocking Pro-Gay Sites

Christiana Torere
April 2, 2012

According to a t NY time’s article, students using the computers at Camdenton High School in central Missouri have internet access to the web sites for Exodus International, as well as People Can Change, antigay organizations that counsel men and women on how to become heterosexual. Students are upset with the fact that they are able to access discrimination websites against gays but have been denied access to the Web sites of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation, or the Gay-Straight Alliance Network.
The students at Camdenton High School have been able to read Bowers v. Hardwick, the 1986 Supreme Court ruling that upheld a Georgia statute criminalizing sodomy. But they have been blocked from reading Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 Supreme Court ruling that held that laws criminalizing sodomy were unconstitutional.
The decisions to block websites protecting gay rights are not left up to the school superintendent, board members, or the district Web master, instead the district's Web filter determine which sites would be open to students and which would be blocked. Since the passage of the Children's Internet Protection Act in 2000, public schools have been required to use Internet filters that protect students from pornography and obscenity. However, the actual person who created the filter that blocks these pro-gay websites remains unknown. The identity of the person is protected behind URLBlacklist, a company that sells filter software to schools.
Pat Scales of the American Library Association said "These filters are a new version of book-banning or pulling books off the shelf, the difference is this is much more subtle and harder to identify."
Anthony Rothert, a Civil Liberties lawyer based in St. Louis said, “Over the last year, the American Civil Liberties Union has asked officials from hundreds of school districts around the country to make changes in their Internet screening systems to eliminate bias” All agreed to the procedure except for Camdenton High School, which the A.C.L.U. sued last summer.
The lawsuit happens to be the first of its kind. It does not claim that the rural district of 4,200 students purchased the software with the intent of discriminating. Rather, it says, once there were complaints about the filter last year, school officials refused to replace it. An investigator for the A.C.L.U. has been able to figure out how the filter works, but not who developed it.
Camdenton High School has arranged for students wishing to access any pro-gay websites that is blocked by the URLBlacklist filter can file an appeal to the district's Web master.
In a hearing in federal court in October, Thomas Mickes, the lawyer for the Camdenton school district told the judge, "Just because the A.C.L.U. or some other liberal group says, 'Hey, you know, I don't like what you're doing, you've got to change that,' and if we don't change it, then somehow we're showing discrimination, that's not the law. That would be crazy."
After reading this article, I thought about the court cases we read in class over the past weeks, and if the intent was not to promote discrimination then there isn’t a case, but by them allowing websites to be accessed that were against gay rights puts them at risk for discrimination, which is why I believe there is proper cause for a case. The intent was to save students from being gay not just to shelter them from pornography. This is similar to how schools would find a way to go around the laws in the cases we discussed last week. If the intent was to only practice the Internet Protection Act in 2000 as stated, then why was antigay organizations websites provided?


Olivea M said...

I think that if the school is going to allow antigay websites, they should allow pro-gay websites as well. I do think that they do have a good case, because there is clear discrimination. If they have such a problem with students surfing gay related websites, they should ban all of them or none of them at all. I think this kind of discrimination can cause young adults to adopt the discriminatory viewpoint that is being projected by the school systems. The Children’s Internet Protection Act is being used as an excuse for them to do what they want. I agree with Christiana, I think their intent was to ban students from pro-gay websites in accordance to their own beliefs and not for the true benefit of the students. This is apparent because of the blatant discrimination aspect of this decision.

Blake_S said...

I believe that this is an interesting issue to examine in regards to Religion and Law. Through the examination of the sites available to the students, there is a clear view that there is a bias of the person creating these filters. For example, to have access to Exodus International is a risk to many LGBTQQAI adolescents due to it being a leading source of queer suicide due to its ex-gay practices. Is this right to allow this risky site to remain up and accessable to such a "vulnerable" population? Yet students cannot access sites that further messages of acceptance such as the GSA database. This is problematic to me. We cannot fully say whether religion plays an explicit role in the creation of this filter and its choices for denial but we can say it is suspicious. Furthermore, we should reexamine the full protection of the persons making these filter in that they have to provide accountable reflections on their reasoning for choosing to block certain sites.

Tiffany S. said...

I agree with the ACLU. Maybe the school may not have intended to discriminate at first, but their refusal to change the filters shows discrimination. When it was said that the filter even blocked court cases not against the homosexual community, I think that shows blatant discrimination. This is an issue of the line between church and state being blurred. Obviously the principal of this school and the creators of the filter have let their own beliefs get in the way of what is right and non discriminatory.

Calli W. said...

. What is to stop a filter company from subtly shaping the minds of children by blocking sites that explain something like evolution? Simply because someone calls it inappropriate, does not mean that there is no educational or legitimate purpose for access. The Internet is a great resource for research and what schools need are effective filters that can be fine-tuned when situations like this arise. We would be doing our kids a big disservice by ignoring it and taking our schools backwards instead of forwards.

jacobr said...

I agree with many aspects of this article and the issues that are being brought up are indeed disturbing however I will leave my comments to a minimum. I enjoyed this article and learned a lot.

Kyle I. said...

I wonder whether this case is an issue of religious intolerance or of stifling of speech? It would be quite hard to determine if the Web filter developer chose which sites to block based on religious convictions or other ideological concerns. Furthermore, its been well established that public school systems have the legal authority to filter internet content, and students right to free speech are somewhat legally restricted in public schools. This article does an excellent job of highlighting these tensions. I believe the ACLU might have a hard time proving a discriminatory intent, and this case might hinge upon the legal framing of the Children's Internet Protection Act of 2000.

Angela S. said...

They may have trouble proving initial intent, but after the discrimination was pointed out the solution they offered was not a real solution. Students that feel alienated and are most likely to benefit from some of those sights seem like they would be the ones least likely to give up their anonymity about the matter.