Censorship

Bay Area Rapid Transit Issues Policies on Cutting Cell Phone Service

October 19, 2011

After being widely criticized for cutting off cell phone service in San Francisco train stations to thrwart a legal protest, officials with the Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) issued draft policies outlining when BART's General Manager could order cell phone service to be curtailed.

Those circumstances include the possibility of cell phones being used to detonate a bomb, to threaten lives through criminal activity like hostage-taking, or to disrupt substantially BART service or property.

BART's board of directors will discuss the proposed policies on October 27.

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In response to widespread criticism for cutting cell phone service to prevent a demonstration, BART officials clarify instances when cell phone service would be shut down

U.S. Supreme Court Hears Southern California Professor's Challenge of Broad Anti-Terror Law

February 26, 2010

The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments on February 23 in the case of USC professor of social work Ralph Fertig, who is President of the Humanitarian Law Project, a Los Angeles-based human rights organization that promotes peaceful conflict resolution through the use of international human rights laws. At issue is a provision of the Patriot Act which criminalizes providing expert advice, even advice on nonviolent conflict resolution, to an organization that the State Department has designated a terrorist organization. Fertig and the Humanitarian Law Project feared that their advocacy on behalf of the Kurdsish minority in Turkey could be interpreted as a violation of the law because some of the individuals with whom the group might be members of the Kurdistan Workers Party, which the State Department considers a terrorist organization. 

The clash in this case between the anti-terrorism law and free speech rights echoes prior conflicts. In 1919, California and other states passed "criminal syndicalism" laws which created the felony of promoting "any doctine or precept advocating. . .unlawful acts or force and violence. . .as a means of accomplishing a change in industrial ownership or control, or effecting any political change." The law became a tool to squelch the free speech rights of union organizers, strikers, and political dissidents. In 1923, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Upton Sinclair was arrested in San Pedro for reading the U.S. Constitution at a rally in support of striking dockworkers.

During the Cold War, President Harry Truman authorized the Attorney General to create a list of "totalitarian, fascist, communist, or subversive groups." The government considered membership or "sypmathetic association" in any of the 123 organizations on the list to be evidence of disloyalty.

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High court asked to decide whether an anti-terrorism law violates the free speech rights of a Los Angeles-based group advocating peaceful conflict resolution.

Political Cartoonist Paul Conrad Dies

September 8, 2010

Legendary political cartoonist Paul Conrad, who skewered the powerful and fought against censorship, died on September 4 in Los Angeles at the age of 86.

Conrad, who said he was “most proud of being on Nixon’s enemies list,” won three Pulitzer Prizes during the course of his half-century career, including 30 years at the Los Angeles Times. He used his agile pen and his deft sense of humor to denounce presidents, governors and others he saw abusing power.

Conrad is featured in Wherever There’s a Fight because of his advocacy of freedom of the press.  In 1968, one of his cartoons (above) angered then-Mayor of Los Angeles Sam Yorty, who filed a $2 million libel suit against the paper.

In an amicus brief on behalf of Conrad, ACLU of Southern California attorneys Al Wirin and Fred Okrand stated, “if Mayor Yorty is permitted to prosecute …or recovers damages, it will have a considerable inhibiting effect on what to many is the main purpose of the First Amendment: the right of, and the need for, the public to know and be informed in order that there may be true democratic government.”

In 1970, Conrad was vindicated when a judge ruled that penalizing the defendants would “subvert the most fundamental meaning of a free press.”

In a PBS documentary on Conrad, Tom Brokaw said, “Every line he draws cries out to the powers that be, ‘We’re watching you!’”

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Conrad was the target of a 1968 libel suit filed by Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty, who tried to censor one of the artist's cartoons.

City Lights Reading

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Date: 
November 11, 2009

Listen to a podcast from historic City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, where Elaine Elinson and Stan Yogi read from Wherever There's a Fight.

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LA Board of Supervisors Approves Settlement for Photographers Detained by Sheriff's Deputies

March 5, 2015

On March 3, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a settlement with three photographers who were detained by L.A. County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) deputies while shooting photos in public places.

The photographers, Shawn Nee, Greggory Moore and Shane Quentin, filed a lawsuit in 2011 against the county and individual deputies charging that the deputies violated their First and Fourth Amendment rights by detaining, searching and questioning them for taking photographs of Metro Rail turnstiles, oil refineries and traffic in front of a court house.

The settlement includes $50,000 in damages for the photographers and implements training for deputies interacting with photographers or members of the public who are taking photos in public places.

The training details LASD policy that members of the public “have a First Amendment right to observe, take photographs, and record video in any public place where they are lawfully present” and prohibits deputies from “interfering, threatening, intimidating, blocking or otherwise discouraging” photographers from taking photos or video unless they are violating a law.

The training also makes clear that members of the public “have the right to photograph and record video of peace officers engaged in the public discharge of their duties” so long as they “are in a place they have a legal right to be present,” and forbids LASD deputies from requiring any person to show pictures or video without a warrant, or from deleting or destroying any photographic, audio or video recording under any circumstances.

In recent years many law enforcement agencies, including LASD, have instituted “suspicious activity reporting” programs designed to train officers to report certain activities believed to have a potential link to terrorism. Many departments include photography among the activities that should be reported.

Deputies had stopped, detained and searched the photographers for taking photos in public places.

California Supreme Court Rules Cities Can Ban Airport Solicitations

March 26, 2010

The state Supreme Court on March 25 upheld a 1997 Los Angeles ordinance that prohibits the solicitation of money at Los Angeles International Airport's terminals, parking lots, and sidewalks. Justice Carlos Moreno, writing for the court, said that panhandling was "far more intrusive" than leafleting and other forms of Constitutionally-potected speech.  He added that travelers are frequently in a rush and that airports are often crowded. Solicitations could increase congestion, the court reasoned, resulting in travelers missing their flights or exposing visitors to potential intimidation and fraud.

The court acknowledged that asking for funds is a form of free speech that the Constitution protects. But the justices said solicitation is subject to reasonable limitations, citing a 2000 state Supreme Court ruling upholding a Los Angeles ordinance prohibiting panhandling near banks and ATMs.
David Liberman, the Hare Krishna's attorney, called the decision "disgusting." He anticipated that owners of shopping centers and other public venues would now try to institute similar bans.
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In 1980, the United States Supreme Court upheld an earlier California Supreme Court decision that the state can require owners of private shopping centers to provide access to political activists distributing literature and otherwise exercising their freedom of expression.
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The state high court unanimously rules that a Los Angeles ordinance barring Hare Krishnas and other groups from soliciting funds in California airports does not violate their free speech rights.

State Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Free Speech Case

October 21, 2010

The California Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of owners of the Galleria Mall in Roseville, east of Sacramento, who challenged an appellate court ruling allowing speech at the shopping center unrelated to retail business.

In 2006, mall security officers arrested Matthew Snatchko for talking with three teenagers about his religious beliefs, in violation of the mall's policy of requiring a permit for speech or activities unrelated to the mall or one of its stores.

Snatchko lost an initial lawsuit, but on appeal Third District Court of Appeal unanimously ruled that the mall's permit requirement violated free speech rights.

The appellate court decision was written by Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Governor Schwarzenegger's nominee to replace retiring state supreme court Chief Justice Ronald George.

In 1979, the state supreme court issued a landmark free speech ruling that owners of a shopping mall in the Silicon Valley could not bar political activists from distributing leaflets at the mall.

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The day after the high court refused to take up the Galleria mall lawsuit, a man barricaded himself inside a store in the Galleria and started a fire, which spread and resulted in extensive damage.

High court rejects Roseville mall owner's appeal to limit pastor's right to approach shoppers to talk about religion.

KQED Forum: California, 'Wherever There's a Fight'

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Date: 
July 28, 2010

Host Michael Krasny talks with Elaine Elinson and Stan Yogi about the many unsung heroes of California's past profiled in their book.

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Fighting Censorship: From School Libraries to Symphony Halls

Attempts to censor books, films, and live performances are perennial. In the latter part of the 20th century, prize-winning books, ethnic dance performers, and a gay men's chorus were just some of the targets of censorship in California.

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U.S. Supreme Bans Advising Terror Groups on Peaceful Conflict Resolution

June 22, 2010

In its first ruling since 9/11 in a national security case dealing with restrictions on free speech, the United States Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the government can criminally prosecute anyone who advises a group that the State Department has designated a terrorist organization, even if the advice deals with peaceful conflict resolution.

Writing for the court's majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said that the law does not violate the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech. He justified the ban on advising terror groups because such action “frees up other resources within the organization that may be put to violent ends,” and “helps lend legitimacy to foreign terrorist groups.”

In dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, wrote that the court's majority was incorrect in failing "to insist upon specific evidence, rather than general assertion" that national securitiy trumped the speech in question. Bryer added that “this speech and association for political purposes is the kind of activity to which the First Amendment ordinarily offers its strongest protection.”

The dissenting Justices proposed a narrower interpretation of the law: individuals should not be prosecuted unless they intentionally provided advice or service that they had reason to believe would further violence.

One of the plaintiffs, USC professor of social work Ralph Fertig, is President of the Humanitarian Law Project, a Los Angeles-based human rights organization that promotes peaceful conflict resolution through the use of international human rights laws. Fertig opposes violence and said his advocacy on behalf of the Kurdsish minority in Turkey could be interpreted as a violation of the law because some of the individuals with whom the Humanitarian Law Project worked might be members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (known as the PKK), which the State Department considers a terrorist organization. 

Commenting on the decision, Fertig stated, "This is a very dark day … but we will not let this inhibit our commitment to the Kurdish people. We will continue to advocate for the rights of the Kurds who are being oppressed. We do so with great fear that some of the people we are working with might be members of the PKK."

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The clash in this case between the anti-terrorism law and free speech rights echoes prior conflicts. In 1919, California and other states passed "criminal syndicalism" laws which created the felony of promoting "any doctine or precept advocating. . .unlawful acts or force and violence. . .as a means of accomplishing a change in industrial ownership or control, or effecting any political change." The law became a tool to squelch the free speech rights of union organizers, strikers, and political dissidents. In 1923, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Upton Sinclair was arrested in San Pedro for reading the U.S. Constitution at a rally in support of striking dockworkers.

High court justices weigh free speech rights against national security interests and rule that advice from a human rights group constitutes unlawful "material support" of terrorism.
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