Freedom to Read Foundation current & recent case summary
Information about current and recent litigation or other situations in which FTRF is involved or monitoring
Prison Legal News v. Kane
Status: Currently in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania
FTRF involvement: amicus
Details: On February 17, 2015, Freedom to Read Foundation filed an amicus brief in this case challenging the constitutionality of Pennsylvania's "Revictimization Relief Act." That law, passed in October 2014, permits crime victims to sue offenders to stop actions - including speech - that cause "mental anguish" to their victims. Supporters of the law were motivated by a recent recorded graduation address for Vermont's Goddard College by Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of the 1981 murder of police officer Daniel Faulkner.
On January 8, 2015, the ACLU of Pennsylvania filed suit on behalf of several media outlets and former prisoners to challenge the law. On February 26, a motion for preliminary injunction was argued in federal district court.
FTRF's brief was written by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and also joined by American Booksellers for Freedom of Expression and Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association.
Status: On hold. Suit filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona on September 23, 2014. On November 3, 2014 plaintiffs including FTRF filed a motion for preliminary injunction. On November 26, 2014, the judge issued an order staying enforcement of the law (and staying the lawsuit), giving the state legislature an opportunity to reconsider the law.
On March 3, 2015, the state House of Representatives passed H.B. 2561, which would amend the statute but which still has constitutional concerns. On March 6, attorneys for the plaintiffs sent a letter to legislators outlining our continued concerns.
FTRF involvement: plaintiff
Details: FTRF filed this lawsuit against an Arizona statute criminalizing the display, publication, and sale of nude photos without the consent of the person depicted. While the law purports to make "revenge porn" sites illegal, the complaint argues that the law violates the First Amendment, as it is written so broadly that it includes a wide range of newsworthy, artistic, educational, and historical images, and would impact librarians, booksellers, educators, publishers, and many others. The complaint gives examples of situations in which individuals, in situations far from "revenge porn," could face felony charges.
The suit was filed by Media Coalition on behalf of FTRF and co-plaintiffs including the Association of American Publishers, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, five Arizona booksellers including Antigone Books, and other media organizations.
Status: Victory! On June 16, the U.S. Supreme Court decided unanimously that the plaintiffs could move forward with their pre-enforcement challenge to Ohio's "false politicking" law. On September 11, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Western Division, declared the law unconstitutional.
FTRF involvement: amicus
Details: Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus is a case involving the right to challenge laws that infringe on the First Amendment prior to their enforcement. The case on appeal to the High Court after the Sixth Circuit affirmed a lower court ruling that the Susan B. Anthony List (SBAL) lacked standing to submit a facial (or pre-enforcement) challenge to an Ohio law regulating speech in campaign advertising. The lower court found that SBAL couldn't demonstrate that prosecution under the law was "likely" or "imminent."
Details: This lawsuit, filed by teachers and students in the Tucson
Unified School District (TUSD) against the Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction
and other state officials, challenges the constitutionality of Arizona Revised
Statute § 15-112, which prohibits the use of class materials or books that
encourage the overthrow of the government, "promote resentment toward a
race or class of people," are "designed primarily for pupils of a
particular ethnic group," and "advocate ethnic solidarity instead of
the treatment of pupils as individuals." Tom Horne, Superintendent
of Public Instruction at the time of the law’s adoption, issued a finding that
TUSD was in violation of §15-112 because of courses offered as part of TUSD’s Mexican American Studies ("MAS”) program. John
Huppenthal, Horne’s successor, issued a second finding that TUSD was in
violation, and TUSD was forced to cease its Mexican-American Studies program
and remove books from its classrooms, despite the fact that they have studies
to support their position that the program has helped students to graduate and
that the program is open to all students, not just Mexican-American students.
On cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court
held that the statute did not violate the First Amendment. That ruling
currently is on appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The appellants filed their brief on November 18, 2013.
On November 25, 2013, FTRF filed an amicus brief in support of the students' First Amendment claims. Read the brief here.
Details: According to CPS documents, on March 11, a directive was given from the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) administration at a meeting of the 19 Chiefs of Schools (called "mini-superintendents” by some, they oversee the networks of CPS schools) regarding the graphic novel Persepolis. The following day, a follow-up email was sent to the chiefs saying, "Please instruct your Network’s Instructional Support Leader(s) to collect the book titled Persepolis from your schools’ classrooms and libraries." On March 13, another email was sent saying: "Update: It appears that while we can collect the copies of the book from the classrooms, we cannot collect them from the school libraries without going through the process outlined in the policy for 'New Collection Development Policy for School Libraries' (604.7)."
On March 15, following a wave of publicity, FTRF & ALA staff spoke with CPS Chief of Instruction Annette Gurley who
said CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett made the decision to restrict access to the book after a principal called it to her attention. She said that due to concerns about "graphic illustrations and language” and "student readiness,” CPS wanted
to "control how it’s being presented” and that the book was restricted from both curricula and classroom libraries until "teaching guidelines” were developed and training implemented for instructors who wanted to teach the book.
The afternoon, a letter to CPS principals from Byrd-Bennett instructed principals to remove the book from seventh grade classrooms and not to remove Persepolis or any other book from central school libraries, "unless you have
complied with the [CPS collection development] policy.” She also said "We have determined Persepolis may be appropriate for junior and senior students and those in Advance Placement classes” and that the administration was
considering its appropriateness for eighth through tenth grades. FTRF filed its FOIA request that day.
UPDATE: In December, 2014, CPS responded to a FOIA request from University of Illinois MLIS student Jarrett Dapier, who was writing a paper on school censorship. In their response, they included documents suggesting that, contrary to CPS' initial public statements - and their response to FTRF's FOIA request - there was in fact an effort to remove Persepolis from all schools and libraries in CPS. Moreover, Barbara Byrd-Bennett herself was involved in that decision. See more on the FTRF Blog.
Details: On November 1, 2011 the Freedom to Read Foundation filed an amicus brief with the Michigan Supreme Court in the case of Michigan v. Kilpatrick. The case involves former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who was convicted of obstruction of justice and assault of a police officer, and who is currently under indictment for tax evasion, mail fraud, extortion, and bribery.
The brief supports Kilpatrick’s application to the court to hear an appeal of an order escrowing all proceeds from his book, Surrendered: The Rise, Fall & Revelation of Kwame Kilpatrick, which an intermediate appellate court refused to hear.The brief holds that Michigan’s version of a "Son of Sam” law—in which a convicted criminal is required to forfeit all proceeds from a book that mentions the crime—unconstitutionally chills protected speech. FTRF was joined in the brief by the Association of American Publishers, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, and PEN American Center.
The brief was written by FTRF Trustee Jonathan Bloom, who is General Counsel to AAP.
Weber et al. v. Davis School District: Utah school library book removal
Status: Victory! This case was settled on January 31, 2013, resulting in full reinstatement of In Our Mothers' House and a commitment not to ban books based on the Utah law banning promotion of homosexuality. See FTRF's blog post on the settlement, and read the official settlement.
FTRF involvement: FTRF provided expert assistance to the ACLU of Utah
Details: This lawsuit challenges the decision by the Davis County School District to remove all copies of the children’s picture book In Our Mothers' House from the district’s library shelves and place the book behind a counter where students must have written parental permission to view and access the book. The school district made its decision following a complaint by a parent that the book "normalizes a lifestyle we don’t agree with,” despite a finding by the original reconsideration committee that the book should be retained in the library. The district claims that, by telling the story of children raised by same-sex parents, the book constitutes "advocacy of homosexuality,” in purported violation of Utah’s sex-education laws.
The lawsuit seeks an order returning the book to school library shelves without restriction and prohibiting the school district from restricting access to books in the library on the grounds that the books contain "homosexual themes” or "advocacy of homosexuality.”