ACLU’s Internet filtering suit against Mo. school district will be hard fought, WUSTL expert says

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recently filed a lawsuit against the Camdenton, Mo. school district for using filtering software to block websites targeted to the gay and lesbian community.

Advocacy sites such as the Matthew Shepard Foundation and Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) are not accessible in the school district.

“The Supreme Court has made clear that school districts have great latitude in choosing what educational materials they make available to their students,” says Gregory P. Magarian, JD, constitutional law expert and professor of law at Washington University In St. Louis. “However, in a case in 1982, a plurality of the Court suggested that schools may not have the authority to remove materials from school libraries based on viewpoint discrimination.”


Magarian believes the Camdenton case will turn on two factors: first, whether the court treats the school district’s use of filtering software as a selection decision or a removal decision; second, whether the court follows the 1982 Supreme Court plurality’s position that schools may not remove materials based on viewpoint discrimination.

“I think the district will probably win, although it should lose,” he says.

In his view, “this is a clear case of viewpoint-based discrimination, and school districts should not be able to censor students’ access to arguments and worldviews that school authorities find objectionable.”