Federal Judge: Missouri School Can No Longer Block Gay Websites

Expect the number of students using computers in the Camdenton, Mo. school district to dwindle over the next few weeks. Thanks to a ruling by a federal judge Wednesday, Feb. 15, the school district has 30 days to eliminate an Internet filtering system that allowed students access to explicit sexual sites but effectively blocked nearly every website that offered a positive viewpoint of gays and lesbians. The order noted that the websites that were positive about gays were blocked for "sexuality," but religious sites that were critical of homosexuality were allowed and were categorized as "religious." This did not apply, however, to religious sites that did not condemn gays. Those sites were blocked because of "sexuality." In her order granting the temporary injunction, Judge Nanette Laughrey wrote, "The board has used its power to perform an act clearly indicating that the ideas contained in the files are unacceptable and should not be discussed or considered. This message is not lost on students and teachers and its chilling effect is obvious."

The lawsuit was filed last August by the American Civil Liberties Union representing a student referred to as "Jane Doe" in court files, plus four organizations whose websites were blocked by URL Blocklist, the filtering service used by the school district: Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians & Gays (PFLAG), Dignity USA, the Matthew Shepard Foundation, and Campus Pride, Inc. As hard as it is to believe these days, when much attention is being paid to the high rate of suicides among gay teens, Judge Laughrey's order indicates that the system set up by the school served, intentionally or not, to stigmatize gay students.

The school has a system in place for students and teachers to "anonymously" request that a site be unblocked. However, Judge Laughrey said it was obvious from the system that school officials would have access to the names of those who made the requests. Even if they were not able to know who it was, students' fears that they might would serve as enough of a deterrent. Judge Laughrey noted that "Jane Doe" had testified she was "afraid" to request to have a site unblocked because "it would draw attention to her and make her the subject of further taunting."

The judge also noted comments from board member John Beckett, who indicated he did not want students to have access to such sites because it would "be saying it is okay to be gay." The board noted that the system used by the school district did little to stop a random sampling of 500 sexually explicit websites.

Judge Laughrey's decision is not likely to sit well with readers of the local newspaper, GateHouse Media's Lake Sun Leader. They made their opinions loud and clear after the lawsuit was initially filed last summer, with several saying they would not allow their children to use the school computers. One reader, writing under the pseudonym Pig Gunner, said:

The community dictates the moral standards of the community. If the community decides that there will be no adult book stores in the community...so be it. We are talking about the 10th Amendment. There is nothing in the Constitution that gives the government or any other entity to dictate to the states what they will or will not teach in the schools. We are, as citizens, not bound to accept the agenda of some organization that has no claim or interest in our community. First Amendment...give me a break.

Or this one:

Until you start paying taxes and old enough to vote, you don't have rights. ACLU is nothing but a bunch of nimrods who like to start crap. If a child needs to access Gay websites and don't have computers at home, then get a flipping library card and use the free ones there. School is for Scholastics. We already have major budget cuts and lost teacher salaries so instead of monitoring kids playing on gay websites, let's give them an education. Heterosexual kids don't get to have special treatment and neither should gay kids.

And finally, Leslie C notes:

Thank you ACLU for having our schools spend money on attorneys rather than our children's education. Please let the parents of the school district handle this one. You really think unblocking filtering is going to help our kids??? GET OUT!!!! Go bother someone else. Your lawsuit is ridiculous. Please leave our children alone. I work in an IT department and you need to staff that school system if you are proposing what this article says. Citizens of this county....we need to march these people out the door. They want to leave our children exposed to bad things in order to 'protect their rights'. Since when is the internet a right???????? Stupid things like this cause the good people to have to go backwards in progress and technology. If I were in charge, I would say 'no more internet'.if this was pursued further. I would not want to take the responsibility to what the kids could inadvertently be exposed to without the filters in place. They do not have the staff to stand behind each student at all times. This is craziness...that's all I can say.

As for the craziness, the judge's decision does not require that the school district shut down Internet blocking, just that the district unblock informational sites for gays and lesbians or switch to a better blocking system. That would work for the school system, too, Judge Laughrey says. "Any small increase in price [URL Blocker is free] should be justified if Camdenton is concerned about filtering out pornographic material." If that's what Camdenton is really concerned about.