Friday, August 15, 2008

Friday First Amendment Roundup: August 15, 2008

I'm pressed for time this week, so this is going to be both late and half-assed. I didn't want to miss a week. Sorry for phoning it in.

We've talked a bit about concerns for
a free press at the Beijing Olympics; amid the several scandals that have come from the Olympics thus far, we have this terrific YouTube video of ITV correspondent John Ray being arrested for covering a "Free Tibet" protest. My favorite part is when he opens the window and continues his report from inside the police van that's arresting him.

There have also been indications that the Chinese government is suppressing investigations of the stabbing that killed one family member of the US Men's Volleyball coach and injured another. Reporters in China have had their notebooks and tape recorders confiscated.


In Massachusetts, the state is fighting hard to make permanent a temporary restraining order against
three MIT students who announced a security flaw they had discovered in state transit subway cards; the students, and many around the internet, are claiming that the restraining order violates the students' speech rights, and that the case raises questions about free speech rights for hackers and security firms. According to CNet (see link above) and several other sources, prior Supreme Court rulings would seem to side with the students - however some say the current court's ruling in Morse v. Frederick ("Bong Hits 4 Jesus") may indicate otherwise.


Henrico County, Virginia
has declared it illegal for anyone to ask for money, pass out fliers, or sell anything on any public roadway. It just wouldn't be a week in America if legislators in some podunk county didn't just up and declare themselves exempt from the Constitution.

The highlight of the Richmond Times-Dispatch article, for me, is this:

"[Richmond Times-Dispatch publisher Thomas] Silvestri asked county leaders to modify the ordinance so it wouldn't restrict the sale of newspapers "or other activities similarly protected by the First Amendment."

The supervisors, however, agreed with the county attorney's recommendation not to make an exception for any group. The new ordinance takes effect immediately."

By the way, please visit that Times-Dispatch article, if only to see the comments left by readers, who are almost unanimously in favor of this law. Incredible.


A former high school English teacher at Tippecanoe High School in Tipp City, Ohio was dealt a setback in a lawsuit challenging the non-renewal of her contract in 2001. Shelley Evans-Marshall was in her second year of teaching when she assigned several controversial books as part of a classroom unit on censorship. Marshall was summarily censored.

This week US District Judge Walter Herbert Rice ruled that the school board's right to control a school's curriculum outweighs the academic freedom of the teacher assigning reading materials.

One of the challenged books Marshall assigned, Siddhartha, was actually on the school's approved reading list. The other hot-button book, "Heather Has Two Mommies," was not assigned directly by Marshall - rather, Marshall told her students to choose books from the American Library Association's "100 Most Challenged Books" list. The school board elected not to renew her year-to-year contract based not solely on her assigning the books in question, but because she "refused to communicate with the administration and refused to be a team player."

So who's really to blame here? Librarians. Steven Colbert was right. Librarians are hiding something™.

Hey, at least the students got a really solid lesson on censorship.


A former police chief from the Pittsburgh suburb of Harmar is suing the township for reinstatement, saying that he was fired in retaliation for an ethics complaint he fired against a township supervisor - who happens to be the wife of the previous Harmar police chief, who was also fired and sued for reinstatement.


A U.S. District Judge ruled that it is unconstitutional for a library in Upper Arlington, Ohio to bar groups with a "quintissentially religious" purpose from using library meeting rooms. The library's standing policy allowed groups to discuss religion on the premises, but barred them from engaging in prayer, singing, or other "inherent elements of religious service."

Judge George C. Smith ruled that such policies constitute viewpoint discrimination and issued a permanent injunction preventing the library from using those policies to exclude groups from using its meeting rooms. He did not issue any ruling regarding the library's policy of precluding religious services.


Lastly, let's do a little feature I call Op-Ed Spotlight [has anyone noticed yet that I'm just making up features?]

  • Here's a Washington Times Editorial discussing the ramifications of last week's Third Circuit ruling against Temple University's former harassment policy.
  • Walter Brasch opines on the hypocricy inherent in George W. Bush's demand of greater freedom in China
  • Andrea Wittchen or Lower Saucon Township (PA) writes to The Morning Call to defend the rights of voter registration volunteers at the Lehigh Valley's annual Musikfest event. Her letter is in response to this August 7 article, about Obama campaign volunteers who dared to step outside the designated boundaries of "Free Expression Plaza."
Chris in Philly

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Concerning the ban on soliciting money or handing out flyers on public streets, I'm not surprised most people are in favor of it. We live in a country of selfish idiots who only look at the inconvenience having to ignore a corner solicitor causes them. Since it doesn't affect these people in a way they see as negative (THEY don't go begging on corners!), they have no problem taking away constitutional rights.

As a country, we seem more than willing to give away anything we're asked to any more if it makes our life "safer" or "easier." What's a little thing like the Constitution got to do with that?

"In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up."

It will be interesting to see at what point these people DO have something they get upset about, and not have anyone left to help them.

Dramatic? Sure. But we're getting there again.

9:00 AM  

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