Issue 88, Winter 2002/2003

  • Mayor Jay Lee of Virgin, Utah has a unique view of First Amendment rights. Local residents who want to comment on zoning and planning issues at Town Council meetings must pay $25. “I want the meetings to be positive, not a gripe session,” explained the Mayor. Virgin tried to require homeowners to possess a gun for self defense two years ago, but the ordinance was struck down.
  • John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men was challenged recently at a high school in Grand Valley, Michigan by parents who complained that the novel contains words and phrases students are prohibited from using by the school official handbook. The school district rejected the request for banning, explaining why the classic novel is widely taught, how students are prepared to read the book, and that parents may ask for alternative reading.
  • Students at Southwest High School in Green Bay, Wisconsin, were not so lucky. When Pat Conroy’s critically-acclaimed novel, The Lords of Discipline, was criticized as “literary pornography,” the Superintendent banned it from an advanced language arts class. He then instituted policies for book selection, alternative reading, and parent notification. One student wrote that most students could “see past the words on a page and understand the meanings behind them. The few students who could not do this should not be forced to read books like The Lords of Discipline, but their peers should not suffer the consequences.” However, student opinions were not only ignored by the Board, they were ridiculed by some parents.
  • Important First Amendment cases are pending in the Supreme Court: a copyright case, Eldred v. Ashcroft, argued in October, challenges a 1998 extension of copyright protection in most cases to 100 or more years; in March the Supreme Court will review the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) requiring libraries (and schools) receiving federal funds to filter computers—a lower court had blocked its enforcement in public libraries; the Court heard arguments in December in Virginia v. Black, which raises the question whether cross-burning is ever protected symbolic speech. The Court is also considering petitions in other important First Amendment cases.
  • A landmark Internet court ruling in Australia may profoundly chill online speech. The case was brought by an Australian businessman who claimed that an article in Barron’s, published online by Dow Jones in New Jersey, defamed him. Dow Jones and international media companies argued that the lawsuit should be tried under American laws in American courts, but the Australian court allowed the case to proceed.
  • New & Noteworthy:
    The Bill of Rights, The First Ten Amendments to the Constitution, David L. Hudson, Jr., Enslow Publishers. This informative book, written for grades 6 and up, is appropriate for a general audience. It brings to life the ten amendments, their importance and application today, and describes the Constitution’s development, and the amendment process.