For Immediate Release
Tennessee Schools and Students Reach Settlement in Internet Censorship Case
Schools End Censorship of Gay Educational Web Sites After ACLU Lawsuit
American Civil Liberties Union, two Tennessee school districts agreed
to stop blocking access to online information about lesbian, gay,
bisexual and transgender issues. A federal court dismissed the lawsuit
against the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools and Knox County
Schools after the settlement was reached.
The ACLU filed the case on May 19 in
the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee against
Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools and Knox County Schools on behalf
of three high school students in Nashville, one student in Knoxville
and a high school librarian in Knoxville who is also the advisor of the
school's Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA).
"We are pleased that a favorable
agreement has been reached with the school departments without the need
for further litigation. The schools rightly realized that students
should be able to access the important information available on the
educational Web sites that were being blocked," said Catherine Crump,
staff attorney with the ACLU First Amendment Working Group and lead
attorney on the case. "This is an important step towards eliminating
unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination."
As part of the agreement, the school
departments have agreed to stop using "filtering software that blocks
or otherwise places a barrier to student or faculty access to the LGBT
sites." If they break this agreement, the case will return to the court.
About 80 percent of Tennessee public
schools use filtering software provided by Education Networks of
America. The ACLU sued the Nashville and Knox school districts after a
high school student discovered that the software's default setting
blocked sites categorized as LGBT, including the sites of many
well-known LGBT organizations. However, the filter did not block access
to Web sites that urge LGBT persons to change their sexual orientation
or gender identity through so-called "reparative therapy" or "ex-gay"
ministries - a practice denounced as dangerous and harmful to young
people by such groups as the American Psychological Association and the
American Medical Association.
Internet filtering software is
mandated in public schools by Tennessee law, which requires schools to
implement software to restrict information that is obscene or harmful
to minors. However, the "LGBT" filter category does not include
material which is sexually gratuitous and already included in the
"pornography" filtering category.
"We're pleased that these schools
are finally living up to their legal obligation to allow the free and
open exchange of ideas and information. Schools that censor educational
information out of some misguided assumption that anything about LGBT
people is automatically sexual or inappropriate are doing a disservice
to their students," said Tricia Herzfeld, staff attorney with the ACLU
of Tennessee. "We are pleased that both school boards in this case have
agreed to respect students' rights and refrain from this sort of
censorship in the future."
In addition to Crump and Herzfeld,
attorneys that worked on the case were Chris Hansen of the ACLU First
Amendment Working Group and Christine Sun of the ACLU LGBT Project.
More information about the case,
including the ACLU's complaint and a video featuring one of the student
plaintiffs, is available online at: www.aclu.org/lgbt/youth/
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.