NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union, in partnership with Yale Law School, has launched a campaign called “Don’t Filter Me” to assess censorship of web content in public high schools. The campaign asks students to check to see if web content geared toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities – a frequent target of censorship in schools – is blocked by their schools’ web browsers. Students can report instances of censorship to the ACLU LGBT Project.
“Students may not realize that it actually is illegal for their schools to block educational and political content geared toward the LGBT community,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney with the ACLU LGBT Project. “With this initiative, we hope to inform students of their rights, and let them know there is something they can do if their school is engaging in censorship.”
Programs that block all LGBT content violate First Amendment rights to free speech, as well as the Equal Access Act, which requires equal access to school resources for all extracurricular clubs, including gay-straight alliances and LGBT support groups. Some schools have improperly configured their web filters to block access to websites for LGBT rights organizations such as the GSA Network and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, but allow access to sites that condemn homosexuality or urge LGBT people to try to change their sexual orientation, such as People Can Change. Some schools have also improperly configured their web filters to block news items pertaining to issues like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and deny access to support groups that could be vital for troubled LGBT youth who either don’t have access to the Internet at home, or do not feel safe accessing such information on their home computers.
“Schools harm students by denying them vital information,” said Block. “Schools not only have a legal duty to allow students access to these sites, it is also imperative that LGBT youth who are experiencing discrimination and bullying be able to access this information for their own safety.”
The ACLU has released a video showing students how to test whether or not their school is illegally filtering content, and provides instructions for reporting censorship.