A federal judge has ordered a Camden County School District to unblock website filters restricting access to sexually explicit material. U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey issued a preliminary injunction banning the
use of Internet filtering software maintained by the Camdenton R-III School District.
The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union alleging that the school district was deliberately restricting access to homosexual-themed websites. The litigation is part of a national campaign by the ACLU called "Don't Filter Me," an initiative of the group's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Project.
The ACLU demanded that the Camdenton School District disable filters on expansive categories of content, including such searches as "sexuality,"
"homosexuality," and "LGBT." The removal of filters on those categories provides students unlimited access to thousands of highly pornographic websites.
Judge Laughrey charged that the Camdenton School District used its filtering software "out of an intent to burden websites expressing a positive view toward LGBT individuals." The judge ruled that the school district's website filtering provider "fell below professional standards," and that there were other
filtering systems that were "more effective" at blocking pornography without restricting free speech.
Tim Hadfield, superintendent of the Camdenton School District, has insisted that the district's technology administrators have never targeted homosexual-oriented websites for exclusion. He says the district's website filters are designed to limit access to content that would be pornographic for minors.
The school district says it is evaluating its options in determining whether to appeal the judge's ruling. Judge Laughrey issued her ruling in mid-February, and
gave the district 30 days to discontinue or reconfigure its current internet-filter software.
"The district stands by its position that it has acted in the best interest of its students and will continue to do so. The district does not discriminate or tolerate discrimination against any of its students and supports the rights of its students to receive information," the district stated in a news release.
The Missouri Family Policy Council joined the Alliance Defense Fund in filing a friend-of-the-court brief in the case defending the school district's responsibility to provide students with an age-appropriate curriculum.
ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman
says the ACLU's "Don't Filter Me" project is part of a nationwide campaign of intimidation aimed at public school administrators. The ACLU has taken six other school districts across the country to court in addition to the Camdenton School District.
"No school district should be bullied into exposing children to sexually graphic material," Cortman says. "It is reprehensible that the ACLU is more concerned about advancing an agenda that exposes children to harm than they are about protecting those children. Those who oppose bullying should not be bullies themselves."
The brief filed by ADF and the Missouri Family Policy Council provided numerous examples of sexually explicit websites that would be accessible to students if the district's category filters were removed. These included sites containing pornographic pictures and videos, sites advertising sexual encounters, sexual escorts, sex parties, and sex toys, and forums discussing pornographic materials.
The joint brief also pointed out that the Children's Internet Protection Act adopted by the U.S. Congress requires the school district to shield its students from
Internet content that "is obscene, is child pornography, or is harmful to minors." Schools are required to adopt and enforce policies monitoring the online activities of minors on school computers, including their use of electronic mail, chat rooms, and other forms of direct electronic communication."
Jeremy Tedesco, another staff attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, argues that the ACLU is
determined to turn school district computer labs into gateways for pornography. "The ACLU cannot mask its attempts to turn school computers into porn portals for children by expressing a supposed concern for censorship. Parents expect schools to be places where their children learn--not places where they access pornography."