Monday, October 30, 2006

My trip to the COPA trial, and more of the Big Picture


I did the Amtrak choo-choo trip to Center City Philadelphia today, and even got a Philly Cheesestake sandwich bought for my lunch (the catsup slip and ran all over my suit) in a restaurant featuring a photo of Ebbets Field, old home of the Dodgers with its short right field (why is this picture in Philly?)

I took a break to visit the National Constitution Center next door to the James A. Byrne U.S. Courthouse, but watched a few hours of the testimony on COPA, and they all cohered to make a big point that I will induce.

The witnesses today were history professor Henry Reichman (California State University, East Bay), author of Censorship and Selection: Issues and Answers for Schools, published 2001 by the American Library Association, ISBN 0838907989 (look it up on Amazon), Adam Glickman, CEO of condomania.com, and Mitchell Tepper, a major operator of sexualhealth.com. Dr. Reichman talked a lot about the selection and deselection of materials suitable in public schools, and, with excerpts from his book, discussed how sensitive school boards are to cultural complaints from sensitive parents. His reasoning is that school boards, as well as public funding for abstinence-only education, help create a mindset for what community standards might regard as HTM according to the prongs of COPA. This creates the fear of prosecution and chilling effects. Later Mr. Tepper mentioned a case where a teacher was dismissed for revealing “all that personal stuff” information at school, presumably to a student. But that situation raises the search engine question: what if a student finds from a teacher’s personal profile or blog personal information that could cause parents to lose confidence in the teacher. Mapping this problem out to the military “don’t ask don’t tell”, what happens, for example, if a student finds out that a physical education teacher (who might have some visual “forced intimacy”) is gay from a student’s statements on the Internet? This sounds outside of the direct literal legal scope of COPA’s prongs, but is certainly backs up the plaintiff’s claims of a chilling effect by fear of what a prosecutor could do. Legal consequences could invoke other laws besides COPA in certain situations.

Reichman also commented on the movie MPAA rating system, or least on the fact that it is "private" and not government-run, but it obviously does provide a paradigm for who Internet content might be rated, hopefully without the secret corporate bureaucracy in the movie "This Film Is Not Yet Rated."

I sat in the back, dead center, and although I am not scheduled to testify, I think most participants are aware of my association with the “don’t ask don’t tell” issue with respect to gays in the military, and to a lesser extent with gay marriage and with homosexuality and religion—as well as pinning down in public discourse exactly what we mean by “family values,” “family responsibility” and even the possible connection to future expansion of filial responsibility laws.

At one point today, Judge Reed commented that the "chilling effects" is an "elusive concept" related to state-of-mind about many related issues and problems.

In the family area, it’s well to reinforce here, that some of the plaintiffs are married with children (by testimony) and have no problem reconciling their business or cultural interest in these matters with raising kids. Mr. Tepper’s site is of particular value to disabled persons, or to legally married persons with medical or psychological issues in maintaining interest. The Song of Solomon in the Bible may well celebrate the sensual benefits of healthy marriage, but if so it is healthy to make this information available to couple in the public space.

What is so important, not so much about the case literally as the statute reads, but as the testimony unfolds and plaintiffs appear on scene, is how a free speech case like this brings so many other issues together onto the table and makes us “connect the dots.”

I have a chapter in a book in the Thomson-Gale Opposing Viewpoints seire, in which I discuss the arguments for presenting LGBT issues in public schools. Ken Wells is the editor, and the link is here.

Back to filters and labels technology on the next (or a future) posting.

3 comments:

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