KANSAS CITY, Mo. (CN) – A federal judge ordered a central Missouri school district to stop using Internet filtering software that blocks access to gay, lesbian and transgender issue-related websites.
U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey issued a preliminary injunction against the Camdenton R-III School District.
The American Civil Liberties Union sued the district in August 2011 on behalf of several gay rights organizations, including the Matthew Shepard Foundation; Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and Dignity Inc.
The ACLU claimed the school district’s Internet filter violated students’ right to free speech. The lawsuit is part of a national campaign by the ACLU to get schools to stop blocking such websites.
Judge Laughrey found that the school’s Internet filter, URL Blacklist, systematically discriminates against gay-friendly websites.
“Sexuality filters are normally used to filter out pornographic material, but the URL Blacklist filter has the affect of filtering out positive material about LGBT issues as well as pornographic material,” Laughrey wrote. “PFLAG has identified forty-one websites blocked by URL Blacklist’s ‘sexuality’ filter that express a positive viewpoint toward LGBT individuals. PFLAG tested these forty-one websites on five different Internet filter systems designed to help schools comply with CIPA [Children’s Internet Protection Act]. None of these five filter systems blocked any of these forty-one websites as prohibited by CIPA. On the other hand, URL Blacklist generally categorizes websites expressing a negative view toward LGBT individuals in its ‘religion’ category, and does not block them with its ‘sexuality’ filter. Thus, URL Blacklist systematically allows access to websites expressing a negative viewpoint toward LGBT individuals by categorizing them as ‘religion’, but filters out positive viewpoints toward LGBT issues by categorizing them as ‘sexuality’.
“The court’s finding of viewpoint discrimination is not undermined by
Camdenton’s small list of websites expressing a positive view toward LGBT individuals that are currently ‘open,’ or not blocked by any of URL Blacklist’s filters. First, Camdenton has not presented any evidence of the informational quality of the sites left open by URL Blacklist. In contrast, PFLAG has demonstrated that URL Blacklist, through its manipulation of DMOZ categories, systematically targets the highest-quality informational sites that express a positive viewpoint toward LGBT individuals. Second, Camdenton’s list of open websites does not refute PFLAG’s evidence that when URL Blacklist assigns a category to websites, it assigns websites expressing a positive view toward LGBT individuals to its ‘sexuality’ category, which Camdenton blocks, while assigning websites expressing a negative view toward LGBT individuals to its ‘religion’ category, which Camdenton does not block. In fact, the record reflects that when a website identified as religious – such as Evangelicals Concerned – expresses a positive viewpoint toward LGBT individuals, URL Blacklist categorizes that website in its ‘sexuality’ filter, rather than its ‘religion’ filter.” (Citations omitted.)
DMOZ is a volunteer-compiled directory of the highest quality informational websites, organized by subject matter, according to the ruling.
Laughrey gave the district 30 days to disable its Internet filter, “as currently configured, and any new system selected must not discriminate against websites expressing a positive viewpoint toward LGBT individuals.”