ACLU files suit against Missouri school district over blocking access to gay websites

American Libraries reports that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and its eastern Missouri chapter have filed a lawsuit in federal court on  behalf of four gay rights advocacy groups against Camdenton R-III School District (CR-IIISD).  The suit alleges that the websites of the four plaintiff organizations are being blocked by CR-IIISD.  The organizations are: Campus Pride; DignityUSA, a Catholic organization in support of people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender; PFLAG National (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays); and the Matthew Shepard Foundation.

According to the suit, the school district’s custom-built filtering software blocks through its “sexuality” category all LGBT-supportive information, including many websites that are not sexually explicit in any way.  The ACLU contends that the practice persists, even though CR-IIISD removed the four organizations from its blacklist earlier in the year, in response to letter the ACLU sent in May that stated the sites are non-explicit and offer anti-bullying information and other resources for student gay-straight alliances.

The suit seeks an injunction prohibiting CR-IIISD from continuing to use Internet filtering software that blocks access to LGBT-supportive viewpoints while permitting access to anti-LGBT viewpoints. CR-IIISD Superintendent Tim Hadfield contends that the ACLU has misinterpreted the district’s internet policy. “We do not specifically filter sites promoting alternative lifestyles,” he told the newspaper. “We do specifically block sites that are inappropriate and will continue to do so. We disagree with [the ACLU’s] position and turned the issue over to our attorney to address.”

Source: American Libraries, 8/17/11, By Beverly Goldberg

[Editor’s Note: The May letter from the ACLU was part of a larger effort by the organization to get school districts to stop blocking access to gay rights organizations’ websites. In May 2011, Legal Clips summarized an eSchool News article reporting that the ACLU, including local chapters in Michigan, Kansas, and western Missouri, had issued letters to several high schools in those states demanding that the schools stop using web filters to eliminate access to websites that support the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities.

As the American Libraries article notes, the CR-IISD suit is the first one in the ACLU’s two year effort, known as the “Don’t Filter Me” campaign. The legal complaint in PFLAG v. CR-IIISD is available here.  The plaintiffs claim the district’s implementation of its Internet filtering software violates the plaintiffs’ rights under the First Amendment and the Missouri constitution.]

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