ACLU campaign, lawsuit pushes schools to give students access to gay websites

Published: Friday, Sept. 2 2011 2:23 p.m. MDT

The American Civil Liberties Union sent letters out to several schools across the country a few months ago, cautioning them to remove filters blocking content geared toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities as part of the national "Don't Filter Me" campaign.

The campaign encouraged students to report if their school blocked LGBT websites.

While many schools responded to the letters by reconfiguring their filters to allow for educational LGBT-related information that is not sexually explicit to be viewed, including districts in Kansas, Texas and New Jersey, according to a press release by the ACLU of Texas, one district in Missouri refused to comply with all of ACLU's requests, and this month the ACLU and four gay advocacy organizations filed suit against it.

"We have made every effort to inform the school district that its filtering software illegally denies students access to important educational information and resources on discriminatory grounds," said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, in a released statement. "Unfortunately, it will now be up to the courts to compel the district to grant its students viewpoint-neutral access to the Internet."

Earlier this week, The Washington Times reported that another group, the Alliance Defense Fund, is combating the ACLU's claims that the filters used by the schools are illegal and has sent out letters to at least eight districts, asking them to refuse the ACLU's demands.

According to the lawsuit, the Missouri school district uses a "sexuality" filter that blocks all LGBT-supportive information, even those that are not sexually explicit. It goes on to say that the district did unblock certain sites with anti-bullying information "but refused to reconfigure its software to remove the broader problem."

The groups are now asking the courts that the "sexuality" filter be removed or a new filtering software be used.

The Alliance Defense Fund in turn says that getting rid of filters like "sexuality" would not be a good idea.

"School districts shouldn't be bullied into exposing students to sexually explicit materials," ADF attorney David Cortman, told OneNewsNow. He went on to say that "the ACLU is pushing its radical sexual agenda for children by intimidating school districts with a long string of scare tactics," adding that if demands are met, certain pornographic and pro-homosexual websites would be available to students.

Yet ACLU director of Eastern Missouri, Tony Rothert, told Fox News earlier this month that the suit "has nothing to do with sexually explicit material."

"Many LGBT students either don't have access to the Internet at home or, if they do, they don't feel safe accessing this information on their home computers," wrote Jody M. Huckaby, executive director of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, one of the groups suing. "In order to ensure the physical and mental well-being of LGBT youth – especially given the wide access to negative information on LGBT issues – these resources must be accessible."

In a poll of more than 4,300 people, OneNewsNow found that 86 percent felt that parents should have the final say over whether school computers have filters. About 12 percent said school officials should, 1 percent said the courts and less than 1 percent said the students.

As for the Missouri district, the district's counsel told The Washington Times that when presented with the complaint from the ACLU, they used the same process they do when a textbook or library book is challenged.

"No offense to the Easterners," counsel Tom Mickes told the media outlet, "but we want to run our school district based on what our citizens and the kids in Missouri need, not what somebody in New York wants."

EMAIL: slenz@desnews.com

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