Friday, July 16, 2010

Website blocking a rights violation? Not in USA apparently!

I was a wee bit disturbed by some news that I read this morning on my tea break.
The article revealed a clear breach of church-state separation in the USA, within Indianapolis schools. They are banning students from viewing the websites of certain religions, as well as atheist and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) sites.

Some quotes that I pulled from the offending document regarding banned sites...

"Sites that promote and provide information on religions such as Wicca, Witchcraft or Satanism. Occult Practices, atheistic views, voodoo rituals or other forms of mysticism, [...] the use of spells, incantations, curses, and magic powers. This category includes sites which discuss or deal with paranormal or unexplained events."

Pardon? How on EARTH have they popped Atheism in with occult and witch-craft? It is one of the very few theologies that DONT subscribe to “magic.”
And how was a man who rose again after death, walked on water, turned water into wine and hung out with hookers NOT part of this ban?

The ban of LGBT sites says that sites can't "cater to one's one's sexual orientation or gender identity including, but not limited to, lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender sites".

At first sight this appears to simply be directed toward parental concerns that their children may be exposed to adult themes or content that they shouldn’t be at school. I can’t condemn them for protecting children from unsafe or dangerous sites.
However there is also a section specifically stating that adult content is banned.

So it appears that this LGBT section is banning the kids from viewing anything other than heterosexual Christian, Jewish and Muslim role-models.
How dismal that children sent to a public school in a country founded on the separatism of church and state are being exposed to absolutely no variety of role models involving consenting adults in healthy relationships with each other and their gods.
The real world waiting for them has plenty of variety of relationships, both healthy and unhealthy in the straight and LGBT community. I see no reason for age appropriate sites to be banned to children and young adults questioning their sexuality or belief systems.

So that was distressing but I already had a dismal view of the American public school system, thanks to my exposure while working with young people in the New York state.

Upon further research it appears that the problem began in 2009 but is still current.
The Freedom from religion foundation hit on it when it first started, and have this week reposted the issue – clearly still a problem that has not been addressed.

What I was not aware of is that this is a more widely spread problem than just Indianapolis.

The American 'Children's Internet Protection Act' requires that all schools seeking federal funds through the E-Rate program and Title VI of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, install a "technology protection measure" to protect against access to obscene material, child pornography, and material that is harmful to minors.

Many public school districts in the U.S. have or will be installing filtering software that functions by blocking access to sites that the filtering company has determined are inappropriate.
Some of the companies that are the focus of this report were active in the efforts to ensure the passage of this legislation through the efforts of a trade association called the Internet Safety Association(ISA) and through testimony provided to Congress.
The other major champions of this legislation were conservative religious organizations.

According to
“The open secret about content filters, besides the fact that they can be easily hacked, is that many of the site lists used in these filters had their genesis with conservative Christian organizations”

“Some of the filtering companies appear to have partnership relationships with conservative religious organizations. Some filtering companies have been functioning as conservative religious ISPs and have recently established new divisions that are marketing services to schools. Most of the companies have filtering categories in which they are blocking web sites presenting information known to be of concern to people with conservative religious values -- such as non-traditional religions and sexual orientation -- in the same category as material that no responsible adult would consider appropriate for young people. “

“Because filtering software companies protect the actual list of blocked sites, searching and blocking key words, blocking criteria, and blocking processes as confidential, proprietary trade secret information it is not possible to prove or disprove the hypothesis that the companies may be blocking access to material based on religious or other inappropriate bias. This situation raises concerns related to student's constitutionally-protected rights of access to information and excessive entanglement of religion with schools.”

So in summary, if your provider of filters origionated from a religious organisation you may find more that just objectionable material being blocked from your kids.

I would hope that even if my teenage son or daughter was in the grumps with me, that at the very least they could go to school and use the computers to look up something they needed to know – rates of homosexuality in young NZ men for example.

The internet has a lot of flaws and filth within it, but its major strength is that no one should feel alone with the variety of the world at their fingertips.

I would be VERY interested to know what programmes are used in New Zealand schools.
Does anyone have a way of finding out? I would hope that our public school system has a stronger level of freedom to it, but there is only one way to find out...


  1. WOW! thats crazy interesting... Spot the scientest - nice use of references dork!!
    Thanks for letting me know about the new blog.

  2. Very thought provoking... In NZ schools, we have watchdog which I don't rate very highly at all. Even with watchdog, some of the ads on kids' sites mean Google should be shot. They're not relevant to children, and shouldn't be marketed on those sites.

    In any case, I think rather than blocking kids' access to the net, adults should be discussing the importance of critical thinking and knowing how to deal with a situation when they are uncomfortable. Intolerance always feeds off fear and ignorance- parents and educators need to be informed, and they need to lobby for extremists and bigots to take their hands out of the state coffers and foot it on the same playing field as other viewpoints.

    My biggest security factor for kids is providing them with a blog that has links to kid safe sites that are relevant to their learning. I also supervise their time on the web in my classroom and give them specific tasks. I'll send you the link to their blog, so you can check it out, but I'll send it privately because I don't advertise it on the web. :-)


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