Kirsten Andersen

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ACLU threatens to sue PA high school for filtering 'sexuality'-based gay websites

Kirsten Andersen
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READING, PA, March 1, 2013, (LifeSiteNews.com) – The ACLU is threatening to sue a Pennsylvania high school over a web filtering program designed to protect students that the group says is “discriminatory” toward homosexuals.

Governor Mifflin High School in Berks County uses a commercial internet filter by Smoothwall designed to block students from accessing inappropriate or distracting websites on school computers. Websites blocked by such software typically include pornography (which is required by federal law) and most social media, but schools may choose to add additional categories, as well.

Governor Mifflin High School has blocked access to “sexuality,” which the ACLU complains blocks access to pro-homosexual websites like the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), Freedom to Marry, and Lambda Legal.

The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has given the school until March 14 to modify their filtering software and respond to their complaint. If their demands are not met by then, the ACLU will move forward with legal action.

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The powerful legal group became aware of the “sexuality” filter after a lesbian student, Maison Fioravante, sought out gay websites for a paper she was writing in support of homosexuality. When she discovered they were blocked, she posted a video on YouTube stating that she was “outraged” and concerned that homosexual students wdenied access gay websites might “kill themselves.”

Upon running afoul of the “sexuality” filter, Fioravante said she questioned a teacher she knew to be sympathetic to homosexuals. That teacher in turn questioned the school.

The school agreed to allow Fioravante to access the blocked websites for her paper, but not to lift the restrictions for anyone else. That drove Fioravante to start a petition at Change.org to remove the filters for everyone. As of this writing, the petition has collected 3,314 of a targeted 5,000 signatures.

When the ACLU heard about the petition, they stepped in, writing a letter (PDF) to the school and threatening to sue.

“Being able to access information on the internet at the school library is not only critical for academic purposes, it can also be a lifeline for LGBT students in crisis who don’t feel safe seeking support on their home computers,” Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said in a statement. “Blocking these sites not only violates the First Amendment, but it does a disservice to students trying to learn about themselves and the world around them.”

In addition to the “sexuality” filter, the ACLU noted that some pro-family groups opposing homosexuality had also been blocked under a separate “intolerance” filter. In their letter to the school, they said that they also consider this an “independent violation” of the First Amendment that they would like to see remedied.

Still, they wrote, “Blocking access to LGBT websites is especially problematic.”

The ACLU has been active in trying to persuade schools across the nation to allow students to access gay content. In 2011, the group launched an initiative called “Don’t Filter Me.” The purpose of the campaign was to convince schools to remove filters that block pro-homosexual viewpoints, and to persuade the companies that make the filters to stop separating gay content.

In most cases, schools and companies alike readily acquiesced. Where the group met resistance, they sued.

In Missouri, a judge ruled (PDF) that schools must provide access to gay websites and ordered a high school to remove its filters and pay $125,000 to the ACLU.  

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