Mo. School District Ordered to Replace Web Filter That Blocks Pro-Gay Sites
A judge has ruled that a Missouri school district must get rid of its web filter, which blocks pro-gay websites but allows students to access anti-gay sites, the New York Times reported.
Students in the Camdenton, Mo., school district can check out sites like Exodus International’s page (a group of "ex-gays" that claim homosexuality can be "cured") but are blocked from viewing pro-gay sites, such as GLAAD’s homepage.
Camdenton is about 58 miles south of the state’s capital, Jefferson City.
"Camdenton is blocking websites that support LGBT individuals and rights, ’while allowing access to comparable websites that take anti-LGBT positions,’" said a lawsuit, filed by Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays; Dignity Inc.; the Matthew Shepard Foundation; and Campus Pride," according to a story in the Washington TImes.
The American Civil Liberties Union sent letters to several schools, including schools in the Camdenton district, to remove their filters that blocked pro-gay sites. Most of the schools did replace the software but, according to the lawsuit, the Camdenton district refused to take down its filter and said that students would be endangered if they were allowed to view sites that provide a non-sexual, fact-based, view of the LGBT community.
"These filters are a new version of book-banning or pulling books off the shelf," said Pat Scales of the American Library Association. "The difference is, this is much more subtle and harder to identify." The ACLU said that 41 pro-gay websites were blocked by Camdenton district’s web filter. The organization tested the 41 sites on five different Internet filters. None of them were blocked.
The ACLU, which sued the school district last summer, claimed that school officials refused to respond to people’s complaints about the filter. An investigator for the ACLU figured out how the software works but not who developed it. They do know, however, that the person (given the name "Dr. Guardian") lives in England.
"Some person, nameless and faceless, working out of his house in the United Kingdom, winds up determining what information students in Camdenton will have access to," said David Hinkle, an ACLU expert on software filters.
During a hearing in federal court last October, the school district’s lawyer, Thomas Mickes, said "Just because the A.C.L.U. or some other liberal group says, ’Hey, you know, I don’t like what you’re doing, you’ve got to change that,’ and if we don’t change it, then somehow we’re showing discrimination, that’s not the law. That would be crazy."
But Superintendent Tim Hadfield told the New York Times, "We do not discriminate against gay people or anyone else. Even so, a Jefferson City judge agreed with the ACLU. The ruling mandated the school district to remove its Internet filter system "as currently configured" and that "any new system selected must not discriminate against Web sites expressing a positive viewpoint toward LGBT individuals."
The judge also pointed out that the district’s filter was failing at its legal job, which is to block porn. The program was given 500 adult orientated websites and it managed to block just 30 percent of them. The judge noted that the filter was "ineffective" and is falling below professional standards."