PHILADELPHIA – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Pennsylvania demanded that school officials at Downingtown Area School District stop viewpoint-based censorship of web content geared toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities. The ACLU sent similar letters to schools in three other states today as part of the organization’s national “Don’t Filter Me” initiative, which seeks to combat illegal censorship of pro-LGBT information on public school computer systems.
The campaign asks students to check to see if web content geared toward LGBT communities – a frequent target of censorship in schools – is blocked by their schools’ web browsers, and then report instances of censorship to the ACLU LGBT Project.
“We aren’t talking about sex websites – we’re talking about websites that help high school students learn about themselves and about social issues. That’s part of how schools prepare students for life,” said Mary Catherine Roper, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
When used by a public school, 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. This means that gay-straight alliances and LGBT support groups must the same access to national organizational websites that help them to function, just as other groups such as the Key Club and the chess club are able to access their national websites. By blocking access to LGBT websites, schools deny helpful information to gay-straight alliances and other 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.
“There is no legitimate reason why any public school should be using an anti-LGBT filter,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney with the ACLU LGBT Project. “This is not a case where overbroad filters are accidentally filtering out LGBT websites. These filters are designed to discriminate and are programmed specifically to target LGBT-related content that would not otherwise be blocked as sexually explicit or inappropriate. Public schools have a duty to provide students with viewpoint-neutral access to the Internet.”
A video showing students how to test whether or not their school is illegally filtering content, and providing instructions for reporting censorship can be seen here: www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights/dont-filter-me
Students who want to report unconstitutional web filtering at their schools can fill out a form at: action.aclu.org/dontfilterme
More information on the ACLU’s work on LGBT school issues can be found here: www.aclu.org/safeschools