Intellectual Freedom Update
(NOTE: Many of you remember that the VLA Intellectual Freedom Committee authored an “Intellectual Freedom Update” in the VLA Newsletter from 1998 until approximately one year ago. With this issue of the Newsletter, the Committee resumes the Intellectual Freedom Update, which will be published in every other issue of the Newsletter. If you have comments and/or suggestions for items to be included in the update, please forward them to Timothy Coggins email@example.com.)
Virginia General Assembly Likely to Consider Internet Filtering Legislation
When the Virginia General Assembly convenes in January 2005, the Senate and the House likely will consider bills to tie state aid for public libraries to the installation of Internet filtering devices in an effort to protect children/minors from “harmful content.” The Intellectual Freedom Committee and the Legislative Committee will monitor the developments and alert VLA members about the status of this legislation. Stay tuned for more about this.
The Jefferson Muzzles
Did you miss the 2004 Jefferson Muzzle Awards last Spring? In mid-April each year the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression announces the Award winners “as a means to draw attention to abridgments of free speech and press and, at the same time, foster an appreciation for those tenets of the First Amendment.” The thirteen winners in 2004 included the following:
- Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum for granting a request by the prosecutors in the Martha Stewart case that the public and press be denied access to the courtroom to observe the jury selection process. The Jefferson Center recognizes that detecting biases among prospective jurors in a criminal case is vital to ensure a fair trial, but it also reasons that public openness generally acts to protect, rather than to threaten, that process.
- Albermarle County (Va.) School Board for revising its student dress code policy to prohibit messages on clothing relating to “drugs, alcohol, tobacco, weapons, violence, sex, vulgarity …” The revision to the dress code resulted from an incident involving a student wearing an NRA t-shirt. When confronted with a request to apologize to a student because he had been asked to remove the shirt or wear it inside out by an assistant principal, the Board revised its policy instead.
- The South Carolina House of Representatives for passing a House Resolution calling upon the Dixie Chicks to publicly apologize for the statement about George Bush made by lead singer Natalie Maines, which the House called “unpatriotic,” “unnecessary,” and “anti-American.”
For a complete list of 2004 (and previous years) Award winners, go to the Thomas Jefferson Center’s website (http://www.tjcenter.org/muzzles.html).
Release of Presidential Papers Under Scrutiny
The Presidential Records Act of 1978 allows for public access to presidential records through the Freedom of Information Act beginning five years after the end of an administration. The Act requires that the sitting president must approve the release of any records to be opened earlier. Former President Bill Clinton has indicated that he would like 100,000 domestic policy records available to researcher when his presidential library opens in Little Rock on November 18. But President Bush has not decided to release the documents. Unless President Bush accedes to former President Clinton’s request, the only records that are certain to be available at the library’s opening are approximately 500,000 pages involving former First Lady Hillary Clinton’s health care task force. Some Democratic senators are concerned. They believe that President Bush nominated historian Allen Weinstein for archivist of the United States and filed an executive order (#13292) in March 2003, which places more severe restrictions on the release of presidential papers, in order to keep his father’s sensitive papers (which should become public in January) under wraps. Weinstein, testifying at a July 22 hearing, assured the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, however, that he is opposed to the new Executive Order because it tilts the balance in favor of less public disclosure.
College Newspaper Advertisements: Ban An Invalid Restriction of Commercial Speech
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held on July 29 that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution precludes enforcement of a Pennsylvania statute that restricts liquor advertising in college newspapers. In Pitt News v. Pappert (No. 03-1725, 7/29/04) the court said that the Pennsylvania statute that prohibits advertisers from paying for advertising of alcoholic beverages in mass media affiliated with “any educational institution” does not directly advance the State’s substantial interest in preventing underage drinking to material degree and is not adequately tailored to achieve that interest. For those reasons, the statute violates the First Amendment. For more information about this case and its analysis of commercial speech, see the August 10, 2004 issue of U.S. Law Week (BNA, Inc.).
~Submitted by Timothy L. Coggins, Intellectual Freedom Committee