(CNSNews.com) - The American Civil Liberties Union is trying to force a school district in the Missouri Ozarks to remove blocking software from school computers that restricts student access to homosexual and transgendered Web sites, but the district says it can’t comply, because to do so could expose grade-school and high-school students to pornography--in direct violation of federal law.
The ACLU of Eastern Missouri filed suit on Aug. 15 against the Camdenton R-III school district in Camdenton, Mo., demanding that the K-12 district allow students access on school computers to LGBT (lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgendered) Web sites.
Tim Hadfield, superintendent of the Camdenton district, told CNSNews.com his schools use filtering software called URL Blacklist on school computers that does block out LGBT sites, among a host of others.
The ACLU sent the district a letter in May as part of its “Don’t Filter Me” campaign, warning the school not to use the site-blocker’s sexuality filter.
“The ACLU had stated that they had contacted other districts, and I know that there are others that might have been utilizing URL Blacklist, and I think, according to them, the (other) districts had made a change,” Hadfield said.
But the district decided to hold firm against removing the filter, he added.
“We were very wary of making a change based on some of the content that would get through that filter that could be sexually explicit and then violate other laws that would jeopardize the district, too,” Hadfield said.
“There’s an act called the Children’s Internet Protection Act that we also must follow, too, and by turning one of our filters off, there was a concern from our IT department that we could have possible violations of that act, and so, we erred on the side of caution. And that was the rationale for our decision.”
The Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) requires that, as a condition for receiving federal funding, schools and libraries must use Internet filters and implement other measures to protect children Kindergarten-age through 12th grade from harmful online content. The measure was signed into law in 2000 and the Supreme Court upheld its constitutionality in 2003.
The Camdenton R-III District has a K-12 student population of over 4,200 students with nine school facilities on three campuses. It employs over 300 teachers and over 600 employees, according to Hadfield.
In a statement, the ACLU of Eastern Missouri said it filed suit because the Camdenton district had “ignored warnings that its Internet filtering software had been improperly configured to block access to Web content geared toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities.”
The lawsuit demands that the district must either unblock the sexuality filter or obtain other filtering software that is “content neutral” and does not “discriminate” against what school children can access.
“School districts cannot use filtering software that discriminates against Web sites based on their viewpoint,” said Joshua Block, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT Project.
The ACLU is representing Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbian and Gays (PFLAG), the Matthew Shepard Foundation, Campus Pride and DignityUSA.
According to the civil liberties group, the Supreme Court has ruled that school library computers cannot restrict access based on the viewpoint expressed.
“This filter was designed to block more than just adult content and is not viewpoint-neutral. There are many other filtering systems available that do not arbitrarily group websites like PFLAG in the same category as adult-oriented websites.”
But the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), a conservative religious liberties legal group based in Scottsdale, Ariz., says the ACLU’s legal reasoning is all wet.
“School districts not only have a right, but also an obligation to protect our children from pornography, and they certainly shouldn’t cave in to the ACLU’s demands that they allow this inappropriate access,” ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman told CNSNews.com.
Cortman said ADF had sent a letter to the Camdenton district--and several other school districts that the ACLU is threatening with similar legal action--informing them that there is no legal basis for the ACLU lawsuits.
“It is also our opinion legally that the school district has a right to control the access that students have to the Internet in addition to whatever’s involved in their curriculum,” Cortman said.
“Number one--the Supreme Court has only held that there cannot be content and viewpoint restrictions when it comes to private speech; this is actually the speech of the school and is not governed by that case law,” he added.
“Moreover, all the Court said when it came to library materials is that a school couldn’t have an impermissable political motive for restricting access to books. In this case, there’s an absolutely proper motive for the school not to restrict any content or viewpoint, but it’s to restrict sexually inappropriate materials. And schools are within their legal right to do so.”
Cortman said the fact of the matter is that the ACLU lawsuit is specious because the liberal lawyers group doesn’t have the legal standing to bring a suit.
“It is our opinion that the plaintiffs in the case don’t have any legal injury, or standing to bring the lawsuit in the first place,” Cortman said. “The reason for that is the plaintiffs in the case are local groups and there is absolutely no law that supports or allows a local group to demand that its Web site is given access from the school’s Internet. So there is simply no First Amendment claim at all.”
Superintendent Hadfield, meanwhile, said school district attorneys are currently in the process of “determining what the next course of action will be.”