Entries in First Amendment (5)


Cheerleaders See Victory as Judge Delays Decision on Religious Banners

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(KOUNTZE, Texas) -- A Texas judge has given cheerleaders in Kountze, Texas, two more weeks to display Bible verses on banners while he decides if they are violating the First Amendment.

The 32-girl cheerleading squad at Kountze High School have been both showing support for the team and displaying their religious beliefs by painting Bible verses on the banners that players run through before each game. Recently an unidentified spectator complained to an atheist group, which argued that the banners amount to a public school's advocating a particular religion, which is unconstitutional.

On Thursday, State District Judge Steve Thomas extended the temporary order he granted last month to allow the banners. The decision is a temporary win for the squad, who have rallied the support of their community and now have nearly 50,000 fans on a Facebook page devoted to their cause.

Banners displayed by the squad, which is made up of both middle school and high school girls, have included phrases like, "If God is for us, who can be against us. Romans 8:31," and "I can do all things through Christ which strengthens! Phil 4:13."

"This is not a Christian school and they cannot misuse their authority," said Annie-Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation.

School superintendent Kevin Weldon ultimately forced the cheerleaders to stop using scripture on the banners. That was when the squad members put down their pompoms and picked up the phone, calling attorney David Starnes, who argues that the banners are not school sponsored.

Coach Beth Richardson says that the squad has nothing out of the ordinary planned for Friday night's game against Woodville High, but that banners displaying scripture will be displayed. Richardson told ABC News that there are no cheerleaders on the squad who are against the banners.

"Everyone is town is supportive of it," she said.

The banner at Friday night's game, according to Starnes, will read, "Run with endurance the race God has put before you. Hebrews 12:1."

Starnes told ABC News that Friday's decision was a victory for the squad.

"The number one goal was to provide a means that the banner could be displayed. It will go up today, it will go up at next Friday's game, but the TRO will expire on Oct. 18," he said, referring to the temporary restraining order.

Starnes says that the case is a matter of private speech versus government speech. He argues that students have a limited public forum at school.

"They could have announced over the public address system that banner does not reflect the policy of the school district. To take the banner away from the students and say you can't do it at all is censorship."

Judge Thomas is scheduled to make a ruling on the 18th.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Is a Facebook ‘Like’ Protected Under the First Amendment?

Facebook(NEW YORK) -- Back in April, a U.S. District Judge ruled that hitting the Facebook “Like” button wasn’t protected under the First Amendment. You know, the one that ensures our freedom of speech.

The case involved six employees who worked for Sheriff B.J. Roberts in Hampton, Virginia. In 2009, Roberts was running for reelection and one of the six -- Daniel Ray Carter -- “liked” Robert’s opponent on Facebook. After the election, the Sheriff fired Carter and the others. The employees brought the case to court, but the judge threw out the case, ruling that clicking on “like” wasn’t protected by the First Amendment.

However, Facebook and the American Civil Liberties Union are on the case now. Both have filed their own friend-of-the-court, or Amicus Curiae, briefs in appeal of the judge’s ruling.

“The Supreme Court has made clear that the First Amendment protects everyone’s right to express their thoughts and opinions in whatever form they choose to do so, whether it’s speaking on a street corner, holding up a sign, or pressing a button on Facebook to say that you ‘Like’ something,” ACLU attorney Aden Fine said in a comment.

“Whether someone presses a ‘Like’ button to express those thoughts or presses the buttons on a keyboard to write out those words, the end result is the same: one is telling the world about one’s personal beliefs, interests and opinions. That is exactly what the First Amendment protects, however that information is conveyed,” says the ACLU brief. The entire ACLU brief can be read here.

Facebook makes a similar argument in its brief. “Liking a Facebook page is entitled to full First Amendment protection,” says the Facebook brief. “The district court reached a contrary conclusion based on an apparent misunderstanding of the way Facebook works; the resulting decision clashes with decades of precedent and bedrock First Amendment principles.”

Facebook argues, “If Carter had stood on a street corner and announced, ‘I like Jim Adams for Hampton sheriff,’ there would be no dispute that his statement was constitutionally protected speech.”

There were other issues, unrelated to freedom of speech, that the judge cited in dismissing the case in April, according to the Hampton local paper, the Daily Press. So even if a Facebook “like” ultimately deserves First Amendment protection, it isn’t clear if the issue would be enough to send the case back to court.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Attorneys Will Continue to Fight Dismissal of Marine Critical of Obama

(SAN DIEGO) -- Civilian lawyers for the Marine sergeant discharged Wednesday for posting critical comments about President Obama on Facebook say they will continue to fight his dismissal in civilian courts.

On Wednesday, Sergeant Gary Stein was given an “other than honorable” discharge from the Marine Corps for disparaging comments that included labeling President Obama an enemy.

The Marines said the comments by the nine-year veteran were detrimental to good order and discipline and violated military law.  Because of the “other than honorable” discharge, Stein will be demoted to lance corporal and be ineligible for most federal veterans benefits.

The conservative U.S. Justice Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union say they will continue to fight Stein’s dismissal in federal courts.

They believe the Marine Corps overreached its authority and violated Stein’s First Amendment rights to free speech.  Earlier this month, a federal judge denied their request for a temporary restraining order to block Stein’s dismissal.

Gary Kreep of the U.S. Justice Foundation told ABC News that, once Stein has transitioned out of the Marine Corps in a few weeks, “we’ll be amending the complaint to reflect a request for relief for his reinstatement to the Marine Corps. ”

A spokesperson for the ACLU confirmed that the organization would continue to try and block Stein’s discharge through the federal courts.

Kreep said his organization is committed to taking Stein’s case all the way to the Supreme Court if that’s what he wants.

Stein expressed his disappointment about his discharge on his Facebook page. "I have spent the last 9 years honorably serving this great nation and the Corps,” said Stein. “Even though I will be discharged no one can take the title of Marine away from me. I thank my family and friends for their support and love. Today is just the start of the rest of my life. Semper Fi.”

Kreep said Stein’s case has united groups from across the political spectrum because “free speech and due process rights are important.”  He added, "It shows people who disagree on a variety of issues can come together, and that’s what we’re doing."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Teens' Facebook Death Threats Are Subject of Free Speech Lawsuit

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(LAKE COUNTY, Ind.) -- The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against an Indiana middle school for expelling three students who allegedly threatened to kill other classmates on Facebook. The ACLU suit says the girls' right to free speech was violated and the use of emoticons and "LOL" showed they were only joking.

The three students, all 14-year-old girls, were expelled from Griffith Middle School in Lake County, Ind. in early February following comments they'd made on Facebook about "whom [among their classmates] they would kill, and how they would accomplish this feat, if they had the opportunity," according to the lawsuit filed at the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Indiana.

The controversy began after school on the afternoon of Jan. 24, when one of the girls posted a Facebook status update "concerning her disdain for cutting herself while shaving her legs," according to the court documents. The update was only visible to that particular girl's Facebook friends. Then the three girls began commenting on the status update from their personal home computers, allegedly joking about various topics in some 70 comments that were posted in the span of two hours, according to Gavin Rose, the ACLU of Indiana attorney representing the girls.

The conversation then turned to which of their classmates they'd like to kill, but Rose says that because the girls peppered their comments with smiley-face emoticons and Internet expressions like "LOL" indicating laughter, they should not have been taken seriously by the school.

"It was done so in an entirely jestful fashion, as exemplified by the fact that when you are serious about something, you don't follow it up with 'LOL,'" Rose told ABC News.

The lawsuit alleges that no one, including the girls, mentioned the Facebook conversation at school the next day, but that on the day after that, the mother of one of the girls' classmates showed a printed transcript to school administrators. The girls were each called to the school administrator's office and suspended for 10 days "with recommendation to expel."

Following their suspension, the school held a formal expulsion hearing, where the three girls and their parents were present. An "expulsion examiner" reviewed the facts and ultimately recommended that the girls should be expelled, according to court documents. The girls will be allowed to return to the school district in the fall as ninth graders, but will miss the rest of their eighth grade school year.

Griffith Middle School principal Edward Skaggs told ABC News that the school would not comment on the case, and directed inquiries to the district's legal representatives.

The school has 21 days to respond to the plaintiffs' lawsuit.

According to Rose, one of the students named by the girls in their conversation submitted a letter to the expulsion examiner, saying that he didn't think the girls should be kicked out of school, and that he'd understood what they'd meant.

"It was the type of conversation that every eighth grader has had with their friends," said Rose, but with the growth of social media, "these personal conversations are suddenly available to school administrators."

The school's right to control speech that didn't take place on school grounds depends on whether the girls' conversation presented a "material and substantial disruption," according to Ruthann Robbson, a constitutional law expert and professor at the City University of New York School of Law.

While the school has a reason to be concerned about death threats given the spate of suicides connected to online bullying, Robbson says the off-campus nature of the girls' conversation makes it tough to determine whether they presented a substantial disruption at school, particularly given recent cases that have favored the protected speech of students, not a school's right to curtail it.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Supreme Court to Take Up Cher’s Use of the 'F Word'

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- When the entertainer Cher launched an expletive on live broadcast television in 2002, she probably had little idea she was triggering a major test of the government’s ability to regulate content over the public airwaves.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case stemming from celebrities’ use of isolated expletives as well as images of partial nudity during primetime broadcast programming. The case involves Cher’s use of the F word on a Fox broadcast of the Billboard Music Awards and a similar outburst the following year on the same awards show by actress Nicole Richie.

The Court will also review an episode of ABC’s NYPD Blue that featured a seven-second shot of an adult woman’s nude buttocks. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), charged with regulating public airwaves, found that the incidents violated its prohibitions against the broadcast of indecent material before 10 p.m.

At issue before the Court is whether the FCC’s current indecency-enforcement policy violates the Constitution.  A lower court struck it down, ruling it was “impermissibly vague.”  Fox Television, ABC, Inc. and other broadcasters argue that the current policy is arbitrary and puts a chill on broadcast speech.

“The FCC's current enforcement policy, which subjects even isolated expletives or brief, scripted images to multi-million-dollar fines, cannot survive First Amendment scrutiny,” argues Carter G. Philipps in court papers on behalf of Fox Television Stations INC.

The broadcasters are urging the Court to overturn a 34-year-old precedent in a case called FCC v. Pacifica Foundation.  At issue in that case was a broadcast of comedian George Carlin’s “filthy words” monologue, aired on a radio broadcast in the middle of the afternoon.  After complaints from the public, the FCC ruled that the broadcast was indecent and could be subject to sanctions.

The Supreme Court rejected a First Amendment challenge to the FCC’s determination, finding, “of all forms of communication, broadcasting has the most limited First Amendment protection.”  The Court ruled narrowly, finding in part that the broadcast medium is unique because, “material presented over the airwaves confronts the citizen, not only in public but in the privacy of the home.”  The Court also found that,“broadcasting is uniquely accessible to children.”

But the broadcasters currently argue that much has changed since Pacifica was decided and that they should no longer be regulated more restrictively than other media such as cable and the Internet.

“Pacifica justified reduced First Amendment scrutiny of broadcast indecency regulation on the theory that broadcasting was uniquely pervasive and uniquely accessible to children,” writes Seth P. Waxman, an attorney representing ABC, Inc. “Neither predicate is true today.”

Waxman points out that today the vast majority of households receive television through cable or satellite and are exposed to the Internet.

“Over the past three decades,” Phillips writes, “the media marketplace has changed dramatically, thoroughly undermining Pacifica’s rational for its unequal treatment of broadcast speech under the First Amendment.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio