Joan Bertin

About Joan Bertin

Joan E. Bertin, Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Censorship, is a graduate of NYU Law School, where she was a fellow in the Arthur Garfield Hays Civil Liberties Program. After law school, she spent seven years representing indigent clients as a legal services lawyer, and more than a dozen litigating civil rights and civil liberties cases at the ACLU. She has taught at Columbia University, where she remains on the faculty, and at Sarah Lawrence College, where she held the Joanne Woodward Chair in Public Policy, but prefers activism to academia. She frequently speaks and writes on legal and policy issues, and is the author of more than 30 chapters and articles in professional books and journals.

Another School Year Just Started: Welcome Back to the Book Censorship Wars

By |2020-01-03T14:52:07-05:00September 22nd, 2014|Blog|

NCAC joined forces with author Cory Doctorow earlier this year to intervene on a challenge to his book Little Brother in Pensacola, FL. The following article by NCAC Executive Director Joan Bertin, featured on Doctorow’s Boing Boing website to kick off Banned Books Week 2014, discusses the book banning epidemic that always seems to sweep the nation as kids go [...]

NSA’s collection of metadata “should end,” according to new report

By |2020-01-03T14:08:24-05:00January 23rd, 2014|Blog|

Responses to recent disclosures about official surveillance of private communications and activities are rolling in. The most recent is from the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which today released a Report on the Telephone Records Program Conducted under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act and on the Operations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The PCLOB is an independent [...]

ProPublica – Debunking Rationales for Mass Surveillance

By |2020-01-03T14:08:24-05:00January 22nd, 2014|Blog|

ProPublica has published an analysis of the four most often cited rationales offered to justify mass surveillance and collection of metadata, describing why they are “questionable claims.” It is instructive reading for anyone who is concerned about claims that security cannot be achieved without sacrificing constitutional principles. Whatever the right answer to that dilemma, official dissembling does little to advance [...]

Federal Judge Rules NSA Program Likely Unconstitutional

By |2020-01-03T14:08:13-05:00December 17th, 2013|Blog|

Yesterday, a federal judge issued an order holding that the National Security Agency's tracking and collecting cellphone "metadata" without a warrant is "almost certainly" unconstitutional under the 4th Amendment. The court issued a preliminary injunction against the NSA's tracking cellphone information of the named plaintiffs. This is the first serious legal fallout from the disclosures by Edward Snowden last summer [...]

Response to PayPal & Erotic Literature

By |2020-01-03T13:43:23-05:00March 8th, 2012|Blog|

Last week we sent a complaint to PayPal about its policy to shut down accounts of online merchants who sell erotica containing descriptions of rape, incest, and bestiality. Many other organizations have since registered their concerns over the policy.  Today, PayPal posted a response on its blog. Unfortunately, it doesn't say much.  It refers to "brand, regulatory and compliance risk [...]

Violent Video Games in the Supreme Court

By |2019-03-06T15:23:02-05:00November 5th, 2010|Blog|

Like all the other forms of expression that were feared initially – including the printing press – video games will certainly become part of mainstream culture, and the anxiety over their effects on young people will appear foolish in retrospect.

The Fuss over GQ’s ‘Glee’ Photo

By |2020-01-03T13:38:46-05:00November 2nd, 2010|Blog|

The Parents Television Council has done a lot of things bordering on the inane, but this time they’ve outdone themselves by saying that the cover of GQ magazine “borders on pedophilia.” As Frank Bruni pointed out in the New York Times, the women pictured on the cover are 24. Somebody at PTC should check the dictionary before using big words. [...]

Secrecy vs Transparency in the Struggle Over Gay Rights

By |2020-01-03T13:38:26-05:00August 16th, 2010|Blog|

The battle over same-sex marriage has taken many twists and turns.  One of the more unusual cases pitted the privacy rights of those who signed a petition to repeal a Washington law on domestic partnerships against supporters of the law who claimed the public records law required disclosure of the names of the petition signers. Both claimed the First Amendment [...]

Scott Southworth is at it again

By |2020-01-03T13:37:39-05:00April 28th, 2010|Blog|

Scott Southworth, the district attorney of Juneau County, Wisconsin, is threatening to prosecute teachers who comply with a new state law that requires sex education courses to include “medically accurate, age-appropriate” information, including information on contraceptives. Southworth claims the law “promotes the sexual assault of children,” “[u]ndermines parental authority,” “requires school districts to condone controversial sexual behavior,” and “provides access [...]

Hillary: The Case

By |2020-01-03T13:36:59-05:00January 22nd, 2010|Blog|

“The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich, as well as the poor, to sleep under the bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread." Anatole France Even for true believers of the First Amendment, the decision in the latest campaign finance case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, raises difficult issues. (For a press report on [...]

Index on Censorship Censors Itself

By |2019-03-07T23:02:55-05:00December 22nd, 2009|Blog|

We couldn’t make this up. Not so long ago, Yale University Press, on direction from the university, pre-emptively self-censored images of Mohammed from The Cartoons that Shook the World by Jytte Klausen, a scholarly examination of the controversy that erupted over the publication of cartoon images of Mohammed by the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten. Yale’s action was met by a torrent [...]

NCAC, AAUP and Others Issue Call to Action Over Censorship in Response to Threats of Violence, Real and Imagined

By |2019-03-14T17:35:55-04:00December 1st, 2009|Blog|

The National Coalition Against Censorship and the American Association of University Professors, joined by leading groups in the academic, civil liberties, journalism, and free speech fields, issued a Statement of Principle and Call to Action urging governments, institutions and private individuals to support freedom of expression and academic freedom, and to resist caving in to threats of violence, real and [...]

Kudos to a Courageous Kentucky Librarian

By |2020-01-03T13:36:21-05:00November 17th, 2009|Blog|

Two library employees were fired at the Jessamine County Public Library for violating library policy.  Deciding that the graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume IV: The Black Dossier was inappropriate for young patrons, they conspired to keeping the book on permanent “checked-out” status and removed a “hold” one young patron placed on the book so that she would [...]

Caving to the fears: schools cancel Bill Ayers visits

By |2016-01-14T15:48:14-05:00April 2nd, 2009|Blog|

A Naperville, Illinois, school has canceled a speech by Bill Ayers, a professor of education, because of objections to his association with the Weather Underground 30 years ago. Ayers was scheduled to talk about his field, urban education, to a high school social studies class. All the students had parental permission to hear him speak. Word of his appearance leaked [...]

Separating science from politics: Obama on stem cells. Next: abstinence-only funding?

By |2019-02-25T12:50:21-05:00March 12th, 2009|Blog|

It’s refreshing to see President Obama moving forward on his promise to separate science from politics.  By freeing scientists to do more research using stem cells, and by commissioning NIH to develop guidelines, the President has put scientific decisions where they belong – with scientists. Now maybe he’ll do the same with abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, which have been condemned as inaccurate [...]

The right to know what Karl Rove, Harriet Miers did on our dime and in our name

By |2016-01-14T15:54:18-05:00March 5th, 2009|Blog|

It’s about time that Karl Rove and Harriet Miers testify before the House Judiciary Committee about the dismissal of nine US Attorneys in 2006. There have been widespread allegations that they were fired solely for political reasons, which were supported by an internal Justice Department investigation. Still, Rove and Miers have refused to testify or turn over relevant documents to [...]

Wyeth v. Levine decision: Victory for the right-to-know

By |2019-03-13T15:14:03-04:00March 4th, 2009|Blog|

The Supreme Court handed down an opinion today that doesn’t seem to be about suppression of scientific information, but it is. Diana Levine lost her arm when a drug manufactured by Wyeth, was administered to her improperly.  Wyeth knew of the risk of this method of administration, but did not disclose it in its warning label.  Because the label had [...]

Is There Censorship? NCAC Letter to NY Times

By |2016-02-09T15:57:05-05:00December 22nd, 2004|Blog|

To the Editor: If Rachel Donadio ("Is There Censorship?" Book Review, 12/19/04) is correct that the "c-word" is occasionally overused, the main example this holiday season is the absurd claim that using generic phrases like "happy holidays" and "season's greetings" constitutes censorship of "Christmas" and "Christians." More importantly, however, Donadio's overly restrictive view of censorship misses the big picture. The reader is left unaware of the assault on teaching evolution, [...]

Court Errs on Upholding Library Web Filters

By |2016-02-05T14:44:24-05:00June 25th, 2003|Blog|

NEWSDAY June 25, 2003   Three years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court compared the Internet to "a vast library including millions of readily available and indexed publications ... a vast platform from which to address and hear from a world-wide audience." Unfortunately, the library and the audience have just shrunk. On Monday, the court upheld the Children's Internet Protection Act [...]

Now They Check the Books You Read

By |2016-02-05T13:06:11-05:00September 16th, 2002|Blog|

Newsday September 16, 2002   In the post 9/11 world, there is undoubtedly a government official whose job is to invent innocuous-sounding, if not reassuring, acronyms for government initiatives against terrorism. Operation TIPS is a case in point. The Terrorism Information and Prevention System will recruit millions of utility, transportation and other workers to report on "potentially unusual or suspicious [...]

Coming Soon to Your Library – Culture Wars – The Sequel

By |2017-06-08T12:52:10-04:00February 3rd, 2000|Blog|

by Joan E. Bertin In Holland, Michigan, a small town near Grand Rapids, there’s a pitched battle over Internet censorship in the library. It’s only one salvo in what promises to be another long, drawn-out culture war. On February 22, voters in Holland will be asked to decide whether the city should withdraw funding from the district library if the [...]

Pornography Law Goes too Far

By |2017-06-08T11:31:59-04:00October 17th, 1997|Blog|

LOS ANGELES TIMES Friday, October 17, 1997 The first round of papers has been filed in a federal appeals court in San Francisco challenging the constitutionality of the Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996. At the same time, the new movie version of Vladimir Nabokov's book Lolita, starring Jeremy Irons, is opening all over Europe, even though it is not [...]

Sex-Related Censorship on the Rise

By |2017-06-08T11:40:47-04:00September 1st, 1997|Blog|

ProChoice IDEA - Summer/Fall 1997 Sex and the Censors Censorship of anything related to sex is on the rise. Here are some recent examples:  The police in Oklahoma City seized copies of the Academy-Award winning film, The Tin Drum, after a local group complained about it and a judge called it "obscene." The Wall Street Journal reported that the new [...]

Tin Drum Censors Have Tunnel Vision

By |2016-02-01T10:33:21-05:00August 5th, 1997|Blog|

  NEWSDAY Tuesday, August 5, 1997   What can explain the fact that The Tin Drum could win an Academy Award for best foreign film and Best Picture at the Cannes Film Festival in 1979, and be faced with the claim that it is "obscene" and "child pornography" in 1997? Were we all blind to obscenity and child pornography then? [...]

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