ACLU Demands that Schools Stop Unconstitutional Web Filtering of LGBT Content

March 29, 2011

DETROIT – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Michigan sent letters to Rochester High School and public high schools across the country today demanding that the schools stop viewpoint-based censorship of web content geared toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities.

The ACLU was notified that the schools were censoring material after teaming with Yale Law School to launch the “Don’t Filter Me” campaign, which asked students to check to see if their school was blocking content.

The use of internet filtering tools to censor websites that advocate for the fair treatment of LGBT people is wrong and illegal,” said Jay Kaplan, ACLU of Michigan LGBT Project staff attorney.“Many of these websites provide much needed support and resources for LGBT youth during a critical time in their lives. By blocking LGBT websites, schools are sending a terrible message to students that LGBT voices are to be ignored and silenced.”

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 have the same access to national organizational websites as other groups such as the Key Club and the chess club.

Some schools have also improperly configured their web filters to block news items pertaining to LGBT issues and deny access to 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.

Students who have responded to the “Don’t Filter Me” campaign include Nick Rinehart of Rochester High School in Rochester, MI and Molly Mendenhall, of Oak Park High School in Kansas City, MO.

“I couldn’t believe my school would block access to perfectly legitimate websites just because they were about LGBT issues,” said Nick Rinehart, who was blocked from looking up information on gay-straight alliances with a message that said his search violated Rochester High School’s “acceptable use” policy. “It’s not fair for the school to try to keep students in the dark about LGBT resources.”

Some schools have improperly configured their web filters to block access to websites for LGBT rights organizations such as the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, and websites pertaining to the National Day of Silence to protest anti-LGBT bullying.

However, the filters sometimes allow access to sites that condemn homosexuality or urge LGBT people to try to change their sexual orientation, such as People Can Change.

“We’re pleased that students around the country are responding to the initiative by asserting their rights and letting their schools know that censorship is unacceptable,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney with the ACLU LGBT Project. “Blocking these sites not only discriminates against LGBT viewpoints, but can deny LGBT students in crisis a much-needed lifeline for support.”

The ACLU has given the schools until April 4 to respond.

Key News and Documents
Read the ACLU’s letter to Rochester Public School Superintendent Dave Pruneau
Learn how to see if your school is illegally filtering content and how to report censorship
Report unconstitutional web filtering at your schools