Internet in brief





Gay-rights advocates sue after student expelled for profile 

KENTUCKY —?Gay-rights advocates in have filed a lawsuit challenging state funding to private universities after a student at the University of the Cumberlands was expelled in April for saying he is gay on his MySpace.com profile.

Jason Johnson was expelled and received failing grades in all his classes from the private University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Ky., after administrators found references to his sexual orientation on his profile on MySpace.com, a social networking Web site. The Southern Baptist-affiliated school has a policy that prohibits homosexuality.

Don Waggener, the lawyer who represented Johnson, said Johnson reached a settlement with the school in which he was able to finish the semester and receive his earned grades from the university. Waggener said Johnson will transfer to Eastern Kentucky University in the fall. 

The Kentucky Fairness Alliance, a gay and lesbian advocacy group, filed a lawsuit in late April to challenge the $11 million in state funding the school is slated to receive to build a new pharmacy school. The lawsuit names as a defendant Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who refused to use a line-item veto to block the University of the Cumberlands’ funding. 

Christina Gilgor, executive director of the Kentucky Fairness Alliance, said the university and several conservative legislators have joined as defendants in the case, while the Jefferson County Teachers Association and two Kentucky ministers have joined as plaintiffs. n

University restricts athletes’ usage of Facebook Web site

OHIO — Kent State University has reversed an order that would have required all student athletes at the school to delete their Facebook.com profiles by Aug. 1.

University Athletics Director Laing Kennedy said safety concerns prompted him to tell student athletes in May that they would no longer be allowed to access Facebook, a social networking Web site. In a reversal of that decision, Kennedy said now student athletes will be permitted to use the site, but they must limit public access to their personal profiles. 

The students also must allow their coaches and other academic counselors to access and monitor their personal profiles. Kennedy said this is to ensure that each student is complying with the university’s “code of expected behavior.” 

Online actions that might be considered breaking the code, Kennedy said, could include posting “provocative” pictures or making excessive references to partying.

But some First Amendment advocates say image and safety concerns do not give school officials the right to control what students do online.

“What if they wanted to badmouth the university as a whole, or they wanted to say negative things about the team, or how the team is performing or how the coach is performing?” said Gary Daniels, litigation coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio. “Would they be less inclined to do this, knowing that the university is observing what they say and may take action against them?” n

Internet filters block educational sites, policy report finds

NEW YORK — Student journalists and others trying to do Internet research at school or in libraries are hitting brick walls across the country, according to a new report.

The New York University Brennan Center for Justice released in June its new study, Internet Filters: A Public Policy Report, which discusses the overall ineffectiveness of online filter programs designed to block materials deemed obscene or otherwise “harmful” to minors. The report is a compilation of nearly 100 studies completed by various researchers and interest groups.

Internet filter programs are required under the federal Children’s Internet Protection Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 2000, for all schools and libraries that receive federal funding. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law in 2003 despite the American Library Association’s attempt to have it declared unconstitutional.

But Marjorie Heins, co-author of the report, said such filters are often a hindrance to student journalists and others attempting to do electronic research. Heins said filter programs use a “mechanized” process based on keywords, so many educational Web sites with information about drugs, alcohol, sexually transmitted diseases and other topics are blocked without actual human review. Other sites are sometimes blocked because of biases among program writers and administrators, she said. n

Settlement reached between military academy and student’s parents

VIRGINIA –– Hargrave Military Academy reached a settlement in early July with the creators of a Web site critical of the Chatham prep school.

On July 7, both sides agreed to a settlement, ending a battle that began when Jerry and Melissa Guyles’ son was expelled from the academy in March. 

The parents created the Web site, HargraveHasProblems.com, when their son Stewart was expelled from the academy after being found guilty of stealing by the school’s Honor Council. Hargrave and its president, Col. Wheeler M. Baker, then sued the couple for libel, tortuous interference, conspiracy and unfair trade practices. 

In May a federal district court issued a temporary restraining order requiring the couple to shut down the Web site. Shortly after, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia filed a friend-of-the-court brief on the Guyles’ behalf arguing that requiring the site to be shut down was a violation of the their First Amendment rights. 

A preliminary injunction hearing had been set for July 13, according to Anthony Monioudis, the attorney representing both Hargrave and Baker. Monioudis said the terms of the settlement are confidential. 

The Web site has been removed.


Fall 2006, reports