'Occult' Blocking Software Goes Too Far

January 11th, 2012 § 1 comment § permalink

On behalf of Salem resident, Anaka Hunter, the ACLU last week filed a complaint against the City of Salem, Missouri, its public library’s Board of Trustees, and the library’s director.

The ACLU maintain that the ‘Netsweeper’ content filtering software used by the library is unconstitutionally limiting Hunter’s ability to access information on ‘minority’ religious views, specifically sites related to Native American religions and Wicca.

While trying to do research on her own Native American heritage, as well as on the Wiccan faith, Hunter discovered that the sites she was trying to access were being blocked.

The reasons given were that they contained content related to the ‘occult’ and/or ‘criminal skills’.

To understand how ludicrous this situation is, take a look at some of the sites Hunter was denied access to:

•the official website of the Wiccan church
•the Wikipedia entry for Wicca
•the Encyclopedia on Death and Dying

Interestingly enough, Christian discussions on pagan and occult practices were not blocked by the software.

According to the complaint, library director Glenda Wofford told Hunter that library staff will only allow people to view blocked websites if the content in those sites pertain to their jobs, or they’re writing a paper, or if it’s determined by the staff, that the person inquiring has some legitimate purpose for viewing the content.

Wofford also noted that she was required to inform the proper authorities about anyone she believed might misuse the information being requested.

Personally speaking, I can’t imagine why any of the websites listed above are considered a threat to Salem residents. And it’s absolutely outrageous that Native American traditions are being classified as occult or potentially illegal.

And what do they mean by ‘occult ‘ and ‘criminal skills’ anyway?

I’m glad that the ACLU took up this case, and I wish them and Ms. Hunter success with it.

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Fortune-telling Now Legal in Meridian, Mississippi

August 18th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

The saga continues … Meridian, Mississippi has changed their minds again. Fortune-telling is now legal.

City council voted 3-1 on Tuesday in favour of rescinding the longstanding, and hotly debated ban on fortune-telling in the city.

Threats of legal action by the American Civil Liberties Union prompted the change of heart. A lawsuit would be expensive, and the city would likely lose on constitutional grounds.

But not all councillors were convinced, and psychic readers won’t be able to set up shop just anywhere in Meridian.

Though such businesses are now legal, according to the Sun Herald, business zoning classifications for where they’ll be allowed will be highly restrictive.

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Charleston vs. the Tarot Reader

June 3rd, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

An interesting legal case is developing in Charleston, South Carolina. And a Tarot reader is at the center of the controversy.

In March 2010, Jonathan Spiel, a street performer and Tarot reader, set up his table, chairs, mirrors, candles and cards, on the sidewalk in downtown Charleston. He sat there with his dog, available for readings if people asked.

Police showed up four times while he was there, and each time, gave him a ticket for making charitable solicitations without a permit. These charges were later dropped, as it doesn’t appear that he was soliciting anyone.

In May 2010, police gave him four more tickets, this time for not having an ‘encroachment permit’, something he couldn’t get because used a table and chairs.

Later that month, Spiel decided to set up again, this time using a wheelchair as both his chair and a makeshift table. According to him, it was an attempt to avoid the encroachment issue.

When police told him to take down his wheelchair setup, he instead offered himself up for arrest, and was charged with disorderly conduct.

Now, the ACLU has taken up his case, claiming that city police violated Spiel’s right to free speech.

Their concern isn’t so much with his Tarot reading, but rather in what they see as his right to be in a public place, with furniture, and to speak to people when spoken to.

Susan Dunn of the ACLU, believes Spiel was being targeted simply because his presence was deemed offensive.

When the solicitation charges didn’t stick, police changed the offense. From her perspective, they were just looking for a reason to move him on.

She worries that this action could be precedent for targeting other forms of free speech, like volunteers with tables seeking petition signatures, or painters with easels.

Ravi Sanyal, an attorney representing the city, doesn’t see it that way at all. He claims the police have a right to clear sidewalks in order to protect pedestrians and drivers, prevent traffic jams and to keep Charleston visually appealing.

For him, the facts are clear; Spiel broke the law and needs to pay his fines.

I look forward to seeing how this goes. Spiel being a card reader has virtually nothing to do with the case, though it’s what made me look. And maybe it’s what made the police look too, who knows?

In any case, it’s interesting. And I can’t help but notice the humor in a free speech case being brought up for a man named ‘Spiel.’

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Fortune Telling Going to the Federal Court

October 22nd, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Another case has been filed in US Federal Court against prohibitions on fortune telling.  This case involves Candice Wohlfeil, a tarot reader from East Ridge, Tennessee.

She’s been reading cards from a booth at a flea market since 2007.  In 2008 a Codes Enforcer came by and told her she was in violation of a local ordinance banning fortune-telling.  She questioned the constitutionality of the law and was told the City would look into it and get back to her.  They didn’t, until this past September when she was told that if she didn’t stop reading cards, she’d be fined $500 per violation.   She closed down her booth.

After attempting to contact the City Attorney with no success, Wohlfeil approached the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee.  They’ve taken up her case and brought it to Federal Court.

As reported by WDEF.com, ACL-TN Cooperating Attorney Donna Roberts  of Stites & Harbison PLLC said, “The First Amendment precludes the government from declaring which ideas are acceptable or not. Our client has the right to make predictions, whether for fun or profit, without the government discriminating against the content of her speech.”

I couldn’t agree more.  Power to you Candice!

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