High schools illegally blocking students’ access

Children practice meditation as part of Falun Dafa. So why can’t high schoolers in Gainesville see Falun Dafa web sites? Picture by Flickr user longtrekhome.

You may not be familiar with Falun Dafa, the Chinese-based system of rituals and practices, though you may know it by the name Falun Gong. By either name, high schoolers in Gainesville, Florida were unable to look up information about these beliefs because they were blacklisted by their schools’ Internet filtering software.

Why? Because the word “occult” is blocked, and these practices are sometimes described that way.

Last I checked, the First Amendment still prevented government agencies (which includes schools) from restricting religious freedom or showing preference for one religion (or non-religion) over another.

It turns out the ACLU has jumped into the fray on cases like this in the past — mainly where schools were filtering out search results related to LGBTQ queries. According to their site:

Blocking all LGBT content violates students’ First Amendment rights to free speech. They also violate the Equal Access Act, which requires equal access to school resources for all extracurricular clubs, including gay-straight alliances and LGBT support groups. Some schools have even configured their web filters to block access to websites for positive LGBT rights organizations, but still allow access to anti-LGBT sites that condemn LGBT people or urge us to try to change our sexual orientation. This is called viewpoint discrimination, and it’s also illegal.

I think it’s safe to say that issues related to equal access, as well as viewpoint discrimination, apply to occult and alternative spiritualities as well as they apply to sexual orientation.

When the ACLU went after a Virginia school for such filtering, one school leader told them:

The school system is required by federal law to use Internet filtering software to keep students and staffers from looking at inappropriate content at school. He said the division’s Blue Coat filtering software blocks out 32 specific categories, including, for instance, sites containing pornography or promoting violence or drugs. But the process is automated and sometimes the software doesn’t correctly differentiate between, for example, gay support groups and gay pornography.

I can see where there might be trouble distinguishing types of sites when it comes to LGBTQ material, but when it comes to the occult, the likelihood of turning up something inappropriate — e.g. porn — is very, very small. Filtering out occult-related information is just plain discriminatory. I can’t help wondering how many other high schools attempt to prevent kids from accessing such information.

Parents, are you aware of what filters your kids’ schools are using to restrict access to information? What would you want such filters to include? What wouldn’t you want them to include?


One response to “High schools illegally blocking students’ access

  1. Pingback: ACLU sues library for filtering “occult” Web sites | Backward Messages

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