ACLU Tells Prince William County Schools to Stop Unconstitutional Filtering of LGBT Websites

Demand Sent as Part of Organization’s “Don’t Filter Me” Initiative

Prince William County, VA – In a letter emailed earlier today, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Virginia have demanded that Prince William County Public Schools stop viewpoint-based censorship of web content geared toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.

The letter, signed by ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg and ACLU LGBT Project staff attorney Joshua Block, asks Prince William Superintendent Stephen  L. Walts for a reply by April 25, and warns that legal action may ensue if the web filters are not removed.  (Access letter at: http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/PWC-School-Internet-Filtering-Letter.pdf)

The ACLU also sent similar letters to schools in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Texas as part of the organization’s “Don’t Filter Me” initiative, which seeks to combat illegal censorship of LGBT information on public school computer systems by enlisting students to check their school’s web browsers and report what they find.

Under the First Amendment right to free speech and the Equal Access Act, gay-straight alliances and LGBT support groups should have access to national organizational websites that help them to function, just as other groups, such as Key Clubs and the chess clubs, are able to access their national websites.

“There is no legitimate reason why any public school should be using an anti-LGBT filter,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney with the ACLU LGBT Project. “This is not a case where overbroad filters are accidentally filtering out LGBT websites. These filters are designed to discriminate and are programmed specifically to target LGBT-related content that would not otherwise be blocked as sexually explicit or inappropriate.  Public schools have a duty to provide students with viewpoint-neutral access to the Internet.”

“Prince William is not only blocking websites that provide support to LGBT students but allowing access to anti-LGBT websites,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “That kind of blatant viewpoint discrimination by the government is both unconstitutional and an affront to every  LGBT student in Prince William public schools.”

A video showing students how to test whether or not their school is illegally filtering content, and providing instructions for reporting censorship can be seen here: www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights/dont-filter-me.  Students who want to report unconstitutional web filtering at their schools can fill out a form at: action.aclu.org/dontfilterme. More information on the ACLU’s work on LGBT school issues can be found here: www.aclu.org/safeschools.

Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, 804-644-8022

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