Monthly Archives: January 2016

UN Human Rights Experts Blast France’s “Excessive and Disproportionate” Cuts to Freedoms

Provisions imposed following last year’s terrorist attacks must be amended ‘to ensure they comply with international human rights law,’ experts state.

By Andrea Germanos, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 1-20-2016

French police on the Champs-Elysees, Paris, on New Year's Eve. (Photo: ninara/flickr/cc)

French police on the Champs-Elysees, Paris, on New Year’s Eve. (Photo: ninara/flickr/cc)

Joining a chorus of warnings over France’s state of emergency and increase in state powers imposed following the November attacks in Paris, a group of United Nations human rights experts has now said that the measures “impose excessive and disproportionate restrictions on fundamental freedoms.”

Among the concerns mentioned in the United Nations Special Rapporteurs’ joint statement released Tuesday is that the state of emergency—extended until February 26—and new electronic surveillance law have no safeguards of guaranteeing rule of law as there was no prior judicial review. Continue reading


HRW Issues Groundbreaking Call to Shut Down Israeli Settlement Businesses

‘The only way for businesses to comply with their own human rights responsibilities is to stop working with and in Israeli settlements.’

By Deirdre Fulton, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 1-19-2016

Barkan, located in the occupied West Bank, is an Israeli residential settlement and industrial zone that houses around 120 factories that export around 80 percent of their goods abroad. In the background is the Palestinian village of Qarawat Bani Hassan. (Photo: David Silverman/HRW)

Barkan, located in the occupied West Bank, is an Israeli residential settlement and industrial zone that houses around 120 factories that export around 80 percent of their goods abroad. In the background is the Palestinian village of Qarawat Bani Hassan. (Photo: David Silverman/HRW)

Decrying “an inherently unlawful and abusive system that violates the rights of Palestinians,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Tuesday called for all businesses to stop operating in and dealing directly with Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, including Jerusalem.

The report, Occupation, Inc.: How Settlement Businesses Contribute to Israel’s Violations of Palestinian Rights, also calls on third-party states such as the U.S. to “ensure that any import of settlement goods into their territory is consistent with their duty under international humanitarian law not to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Palestinian territories.” This includes requiring exporters to accurately label goods produced in settlements as such. Continue reading


Oil Prices Slide so Far Some Crude Is Now Worth Literally Less than Nothing

By Claire Bernish. Published 1-18-2016 by The Anti-Media

Bernice 1 and 2 wells - Amegard, North Dakota. Photo: Tim Evanson [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Bernice 1 and 2 wells – Amegard, North Dakota. Photo: Tim Evanson [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

From a glut in the U.S. supply to fears concerning what will happen now that sanctions on Iran have been lifted, the market for oil is tanking considerably — so much so that one supplier of crude in North Dakota finds itself in the odd position of paying people to take its product.

North Dakota Sour, a high-sulfur crude that’s more expensive to refine than other varieties, has now been listed at -$0.50 per barrel — down from $13.50 per barrel a year ago and $47.60 per barrel in 2014,Bloomberg reported. Continue reading


Turkey’s “Thousand Year-Old Friendship” with the Kurds belies truth

Written by Carol Benedict. Published with Author’s permission.

Supporters of Turkey's position take aim at the Kurdish Vigil across the street in Washington, DC. Image via Twitter.

Supporters of Turkey’s position take aim at the Kurdish Vigil across the street in Washington, DC. Image via Twitter.

As news unfolds of the growing human rights crisis in Turkey, the response has been to project the views of the regime and dictatorship of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to nations even within their NATO alliances.

Most recently, the Turkish Embassy in Washington, DC has taken aim at an organization holding a Vigil for King’s Dream in Kurdistan across the street from the embassy. On January 15, the Vigil began after realizing that during the previous evening, the embassy had hoisted a ostentatious flag and several banners repeating mistruths about Kurdish issues.

A native of Kurdistan, Kani Xulam is a commentator on the history and politics of Kurdistan, and advocates for the right of the Kurdish people to self-determination. He is the director of the American-Kurdish Information Network, and is involved in the Vigil in Washington.

Xulam stated the reasons for A Vigil for King’s Dream in Kurdistan clearly in a statement published prior to the beginning of the event. His subsequent announcement was featured in an article, Is America’s Best Muslim Friend In the Middle East Being Crushed? The group is using the hashtags #KurdsHonorDrKing and #TwitterKurds.

Within Turkey, access to news has been controlled by the government. Any website or other social platform presenting views other than that of Erdogan’s is being blocked. Journalists attempting to cover the stories of the atrocities, human rights violations, indiscriminate killings and sieges and curfews on entire neighborhoods are being arrested, detained, tortured, and, in some cases killed.

What Turkey wants is for the international community to begin identifying all Kurds within their borders as associated with any organization labeled by the Turkish government as a terrorist group. If this goal can be accomplished, Turkey will achieve the dream of Erdogan to secure his life-long dictatorship over his country by perpetrating a mass genocide on the millions of Kurds residing within Turkey’s borders and will expect the world to look away as he claims they were protecting their nation.

There has never been a question of Turkey’s undeclared support and backing of the terrorists groups such as Daesh (IS). During the siege of Kobani a little more than a year ago, the military sat on the Turkish border and refused to allow Kurdish persons to cross to help defend the Syrian town. Meanwhile, evidence surfaced proving ISIS militants were allowed to cross at free will, bringing supplies, weaponry and additional fighters with them.

For years, those wishing to join the fight Daesh is waging across the Middle East have routed their access through Turkey. It has been documented in multiple credible news sources that ISIL fighters traveled through Turkey on their way to join the terrorist group. It was not until Daesh began attacking within the country of Turkey that access became more difficult, and yet it remains possible to this day.

Most Americans remain uninformed about news out of Turkey. It is seldom covered in US news media outlets, and usually only occurs when sensational headlines are associated. But more Americans need to pay attention, because their tax dollar is being used to commit these violations and atrocities within Turkey against an innocent civilian population.

President Barak Obama recently appealed to Americans to support his executive orders to remove loopholes in background checks for gun purchases in the US. During this speech, he remarked that we can no longer allow our children to be innocent victims of the senseless violence taking place in communities across America.

We must ask what difference there is in American children here and Kurdish children in Turkey, that the man who would say this can continue to approve and sign that which is needed for the US military industrial complex to continue to sell and ship weaponry and ammunition to a country that is using that weaponry against the children in their own country.

It is said that those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it. Humanity has seen this kind of treatment toward an ethnic group in the past, and each time we recoil in horror and swear we must never allow this to happen again. And now it IS happening again.

Anyone with a heart and soul that values humanity must take action and support all efforts to make the world aware before it is too late once again.

If you are reading this and can not physically join the Vigil that is currently taking place in Washington, DC across from the Turkish Embassy, you at least can share this and other news with any and all people that still have a beating heart within their chest.

About the Author:
Carol Benedict is an independent researcher studying Kurdish history, culture and politics. She is also a human rights activist and advocate.


Academics for Peace: “enemies of the state” in Turkey

About 1,100 Kurdish and Turkish academics signed a letter condemning the ongoing atrocities by the Turkish army. In response, Erdoğan accused them of treason

Authored by Francis O’Connor & Semih Celik. Published in ROAR Magazine on 1-16-2016.

Police are arresting Academics in Turkey for signing a declaration. Photo via Twitter.

Police are arresting Academics in Turkey for signing a Declaration for Peace. Photo via Twitter.

“I am fine with everything except for imprisonment,” says a recently appointed Assistant Professor from one of the most prominent universities of the country, in Ankara.

“Everything happened so quickly. First, we signed the statement, the next day President Erdoğan was condemning us with the worst of adjectives, immediately after that, came the inquiries.”

His personal anxiety in the face of the latest clampdown on academics in Turkey is one example, but it is representative of the common mood among hundreds of young academics who have become part of a movement “Academics for Peace” through their signing of a statement.


Since August last year, the Turkish government has imposed intermittent open-ended military curfews on an array of Kurdish cities in its campaign against young militants in the YDG-H, which is linked to the PKK. These have been dramatically scaled up since mid-December, however, when a number of cities — most notably the Sur district of Diyarbakir, Cizre, Silwan, Şırnak and Silopi — were put under military siege.

In these cities, around 200,000 civilians are trapped in what remains of their houses, in some cases for up to 30 days — many without electricity, water or even food in some places. Injured civilians have been prevented from accessing medical attention and have subsequently died of their wounds. Families have been prevented from reclaiming the bodies of their loved ones.

According to the Turkish Human Rights Foundation, the civilian death toll as of January 8 is 162 civilians, including 32 children, 29 women and 24 victims over 60 years of age. These extensive sieges involve enormous deployments of soldiers and police officers encircling urban centers before targeting them with heavy artillery, oblivious to the presence of local residents.


In light of Turkey’s flagrant disregard for both its own laws and international human rights protocols, more than a thousand Kurdish and Turkish academics signed a letter declaring that they would not pay silent witness to the ongoing atrocities. They announced: “we will not be a party to this massacre by remaining silent and demand an immediate end to the violence perpetrated by the state.”

The letter further called for an immediate end to the curfew, the presence of international monitors in the affected districts and a restoration of the peace negotiations which Erdoğan deliberately scuppered in an effort to restore the AKP’s electoral dominance last summer.

In response to the call for an end to the violence, Erdoğan decried the signatories’ ignorance, accused them of favoring colonialism and ultimately of treason. In the immediate aftermath, state prosecutors initiated legal proceeding against all the original signatories of the declaration, charging them with “propagandizing for a terrorist organization” and “overtly insulting the Turkish nation, the State of the Republic of Turkey, Grand National Assembly of Turkey, the Government of Republic of Turkey and the judicial organs of the state.” These charges can result in sentences of up to five years in prison. Twenty-two of the signatories have already been taken into custody.

In addition to these legal proceedings, the Council of Higher Education (Yükseköğretim Kurumuo, or YÖK) has vowed to take further punitive measures against the signatories. YÖK has demanded that Prof. Bülent Tanju from Abdullah Gül University in Kayseri resign, while individual university administrations — contrary to all legal protocols — have suspended or fired their own staff members, such as in the case of Professor Latife Akyüz in Düzce University.

In cities like Bolu and Kocaeli in northwestern Turkey, police have raided the houses of signatories. Incidentally YÖK was established by the military government in 1982 as a means to limit universities’ autonomy and restrict their capacity to serve as sources of opposition to the state.


In parallel to this blatant suppression of freedom of expression, a concerted media and political campaign is trying to further demonize the signatories. Turkey’s far-right MHP party has been to the forefront these efforts: one of its Istanbul deputies, İzzet Ulvi Yönter, declared that “the government should immediately take action and fight as it does in the districts of Sur, Cizre, Dargeçit and Silopi against the terrorists in universities.”

Meanwhile, other figures with links to fascist or Turkish nationalist organizations such as the criminal Sedat Peker have threatened: “at that moment, the bell will toll for you all … I would like to say it again: we will spill your blood and we will shower in it!”

This cannot be dismissed as an idle threat. Turkey has a long and shameful history of murdering intellectuals, critical academics and journalists. Calls like these are seized upon by university students of extreme right-wing political organizations like the Grey Wolves, responding with insults and threats to the signatories, mostly by marking and sticking threatening letters on their office doors promising to “make the city hell” for their own professors.

Students have also acted upon their threats by raiding their professors’ offices. Prof. Kemal İnal’s life, for instance, was directly threatened by his own colleagues. As a result, he was one of the two signatories to withdraw their signature. The threats, both from state officials and public figures, have found support among the pro-government and pro-state segments of Turkish society, contributing to the signatories’ stigmatization and leading only to further polarization.


The threats and legal measures have created a strong sense of solidarity among the academics who had signed the statement. Nearly all of the more than 1,100 signatories have declared that they stand firmly behind their words. Their efforts have been further supported by their own students in universities, and in a wave of statements of solidarity from filmmakers, journalists, publishing houses and authors.

However, given the horrendous human rights credentials of the Turkish state, anxiety caused by the inability to foresee what is awaiting them makes it harder to bear the smear campaign launched by the government and state institutions. “What is the worst that could happen?” worries one comrade who had signed the statement. The ambiguity of criminal codes and their arbitrary application since the 1990s leaves this ghastly question mark hovering in the signatories’ minds.

For a younger generation of academics who have been politicized in post-1990s Turkey, the immediate example is the unlawful imprisonment, for months, of thousands of Kurdish university students and professors, activists, journalists and members of the pro-Kurdish party under the accusation that they were members of the “civilian” wing of PKK, the KCK, in 2011.

The likelihood of spending months in prison makes losing academic positions a concern of lesser importance. Many of the affected academics who have established ties with institutions outside of Turkey maintain the possibility of fleeing abroad in order to be able to continue their professional careers in environments with a minimum breach to their freedom of expression.

Despite this gloomy and pessimistic picture, initial feelings of sorrow, weariness, fear and anxiety have been transformed into hope as a result of the ever-growing sense of solidarity. Another comrade, a research assistant from a private university in Istanbul whose contract has been suspended due to the ongoing investigations, expressed her happiness for the huge number of solidarity messages she has received in a single day.

In this light, we should consider that the ultimate outcome of the clampdown on the Kurdish activists in 2011 was broader solidarity and a better organized Kurdish movement, whose mobilization made the peace talks and the ceasefire between the PKK and the Turkish armed forces possible.

At the moment, our conversations end with a sense of hope generated by the acts of solidarity of friends, colleagues and total strangers. Solidarity remains the only force to beat the darkness that prevails in the country for more than 40 years. Another comrade reminds us the famed verses of one of the most prominent contemporary poets of Turkey, Murathan Mungan: “Our path might cross through steppes/Yet; the streets will reach the sea.”


Tonight, thousands of brave academics, journalists and activists across Turkey are anxiously awaiting a knock at the door — a knock that could potentially escort them to years in prison or add them to the tragic list of great minds murdered for views considered impermissible by the state. Similarly, tens of thousands of civilians are cowered down in the basements of Silopi, Cizre and Sur, parents attempting to lull hungry children to sleep while being bombarded by their own government.

Emboldened by his success in the November elections, Erdoğan is determined to quell any internal opposition and to silence all voices which resist his violent authoritarianism. The Turkish state’s willful disregard of its own citizens’ well-being and rights, and its determination to punish those who refuse to remain silent in face of its atrocities, demands a collective response from international political actors, activists and civil society.

Let us collectively raise our voices and act in solidarity with our Kurdish and Turkish colleagues and comrades under threat in Turkey. Solidarity demonstrations are being organized across the globe, across Europe, North America and of course in Turkey itself. The barbarism and inhumanity of Erdoğan and his regime needs to be halted.

The world can no longer remain complicit by its silence.

About the Authors:
Francis O’Connor is a Germany-based researcher from Ireland. He completed his PhD at the European University Institute on the Kurdish struggle in Turkey.
Semih Celik is a PhD candidate at the European University Institute, department of History and Civilization.

Related Article:
Why Turkey’s government is threatening academic freedom


Turkey Detains Academics as Chomsky Takes Aim at Erdoğan’s Brutality, Hypocrisy

With reknowned public intellectual Noam Chomsky playing prominent role, situation escalates over Turkey’s treatment of Kurdish population

By Jon Queally, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 1/15/2016

World-renowned intellectual Noam Chomsky has accused Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of launching a "tirade against those who condemn his crimes against Kurds, who happen to be the main ground force opposing ISIS in both Syria and Iraq." (Photo: Youtube/file)

World-renowned intellectual Noam Chomsky has accused Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of launching a “tirade against those who condemn his crimes against Kurds, who happen to be the main ground force opposing ISIS in both Syria and Iraq.” (Photo: Youtube/file)

Global outcry over academic freedom and human rights has erupted following news on Friday that the Turkish government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has arrested at least 18 academics and scholars for signing an open letter last week calling for the end of Turkey’s brutal treatment of the country’s Kurdish people.

The controversy has been elevated internationally by the involvement of Noam Chomsky and other high-profile academics who have also expressed public contempt for Turkey’s policies towards the Kurds as well as Erdoğan’s double-standards on fighting “terrorism” both inside his own country and in neighboring Syria. Continue reading


Is America’s Best Muslim Friend In the Middle East Being Crushed?

Written by Kani Xulam. Published with Author’s permission.

Turkish Embassy in Washington DC, about to be visited by local Kurds and their supporters. Photo by Brian Johnson & Dane Kantner (originally posted to Flickr as Turkish Embassy) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Turkish Embassy in Washington DC, about to be visited by local Kurds and their supporters. Photo by Brian Johnson & Dane Kantner (originally posted to Flickr as Turkish Embassy) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Why is President Obama silent over brazen human rights violations in Turkey?

Will America turn a blind eye to the shelling of Kurdish civilians by Ankara?

America supplies the Turkish state with weapons to murder Kurds, the only group that has bravely fought and defeated the West-hating Islamic State cutthroats.

This American policy of apathy stands logic on its head, and makes a mockery of common sense.

Basic human decency cries out against such blatant injustice!

Kurds have not attacked Turkey.  We only want what Abraham Lincoln justly hailed: “Self-government is better than good government.”

Kurds have never had a legitimate, let alone good, government under the Turks, and are now saying: mind your manners or else you are not welcome in our neighborhoods and cities.

Kurds share a country with the Turks—Turkey, which is fast becoming like Syria, an exporter of refugees and a brutal workshop for radical Islamists.

Kurds want to be a credit to the human race, and help Turkey turn into something like the old state of Czechoslovakia—a country that did not discriminate among the Czechs and the Slovaks at its birth and allowed their peaceful separation in 1993.

Kurds know that war is like an earthquake, and should be avoided at all costs—and if it has to be waged, it should only be done in self-defense, as Kurds are doing against Islamic State and Turkey now.

Kurds are horrified by news accounts of a 10 year-old Kurdish girl, Cemile Cagirga, murdered on the steps of her home by a Turkish sniper on September 7, 2015.  The Turkish lockdown of her city heartlessly forced her mother to keep her child’s decomposing body in the freezer till the authorities allowed her to bury her child five days later.

Kurds are shocked to see on homemade videos that a three month-old Kurdish baby, Miray Ince, was shot in the face by another Turkish sniper in Silopi.  When the child’s 80 year-old grandfather tried to rush her to the hospital, he too was shot dead.

The Ince family is still waiting to bury two generations in one day.

Kurds hate waking up on a Sunday morning to learn that a 38 year-old Kurdish woman, Melek Apaydin, sat down for breakfast in her home on Sunday, January 3, 2016—only have a shell from a Turkish tank blast her brains all over her living room.

Six thousand miles separate us from this gore and madness and yet as diaspora Kurds we are expected to sleep through it every night and report to work every morning as if it were business as usual.

It is not. Our loved ones can tell you that we can’t sleep at night, and can hardly make it through the day, wondering if peace with liberty will ever grace our lands again!

Unfortunately, Turkey is waging merciless war against the Kurds.

And yet, we come here in peace, ready to undergo suffering to make up for America’s sin of indifference towards this humanitarian crisis and Turkey’s sin of intransigence towards our immediate relatives.

Today, January 15, 2016, marks the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.

He resisted the domination of whites over blacks, as we are resisting the domination of Turks over Kurds.

He also urged America to seek peace with Vietnam, as we are asking Turkey to do in Kurdistan.

We don’t claim to know how God works out these things.

We want the world to know that we will continue on the same road of nonviolence with Dr. King till death or victory comes our way.

To the Turks who are working in the embassy behind us, you can put an end to our presence here by urging your government to stop waging war on our loved ones, and lift the shroud of death hanging over our cities.

To the Kurds living in America, you can join our vigil.

To the Kurds living in other countries that respect the rule of law, you can ignite similar protests—until the world is aflame with our bold cry for justice.

To the Americans who are here or will see this statement of ours on the Internet, you can remain true to your noblest ideals—such as when your bravery buoyed Dr. King and crowned blacks with justice in America.

“He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it,” Dr. King declared.

American support for Kurdish justice, with the same vigor given Dr. King, can spark brushfires of freedom that will light up the world with courageous cries for freedom in Turkey and Kurdistan!

Thank you.

About the Author:
Kani Xulam is the Founder and Director of the American-Kurdish Information Network, an educational organization based in Washington, DC. He was featured in the 2010 Kevin McKiernan award-winning documentary, “Good Kurds, Bad Kurds.”


The US Government Has an Internet Killswitch — and It’s None of Your Business

The Supreme Court has refused to hear a petition concerning the Department of Homeland Security’s secretive internet and cellphone killswitch program.

By Derrick Broze. Published 1-13-2016 by The Anti-Media

United States — On Monday the Supreme Court declined to hear a petition from the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) that sought to force the Department of Homeland Security to release details of a secret “killswitch” protocol to shut down cellphone and internet service during emergencies.

EPIC has been fighting since 2011 to release the details of the program, which is known as Standard Operating Procedure 303. EPIC writes, “On March 9, 2006, the National Communications System (‘NCS’) approved SOP 303, however it was never released to the public. This secret document codifies a ‘shutdown and restoration process for use by commercial and private wireless networks during national crisis.’” Continue reading


Can schools punish students for off-campus, online speech?

Clay Calvert, University of Florida

In January 2014, Reid Sagehorn, a student at Rogers High School in Minnesota, jokingly tweeted “actually yeah” in response to a question about whether he had made out with one of his high school teachers.

The public school, acting on the tweet, suspended him for seven weeks. Sagehorn, a member of the National Honor Society, fought the suspension in a federal court, claiming the actions of school officials violated his First Amendment right to free speech.

Did the school have the right to punish him for his off-campus expression? It turns out – no.

In August 2015, a federal judge rejected the school officials’ motion to have the case dismissed. After all, the court found that Sagehorn made the post while away from campus, during nonschool hours, without using the school’s computers. And last month Sagehorn collected a settlement of more than US$400,000.

Sadly, Reid Sagehorn’s case is not unique. For at least the past 15 years, schools across the nation have engaged in Orwellian overreaches into the homes and bedrooms of students to punish them for their off-campus, online expression regarding classmates, teachers and administrators.

Despite the bevy of cases, the issue of whether schools can punish students for off-campus, online speech remains unresolved.

Cases where school kids were suspended

For instance, in April 2015, a federal court in Oregon considered a case called Burge v Colton School District 53 in which an eighth grader was suspended from his public middle school based upon out-of-school comments he posted on his personal Facebook page.

And in September 2014, a federal court in New York considered a case called Bradford v Norwich City School District in which a public high school student was suspended “based on a text-message conversation he had with another student regarding a third student while outside of school.”

Judge Glenn Suddaby observed in Bradford that “the Supreme Court has yet to speak on the scope of a school’s authority to discipline a student for speech that does not occur on school grounds or at a school-sponsored event.”

Silence from the Supreme Court

Indeed, a key problem here is that the US Supreme Court has never ruled in a case involving the off-campus speech rights of students in the digital era.

Public school students do possess First Amendment speech rights, although those rights are not the same as those of adults in nonschool settings.

A case in point is the Supreme Court’s famous 1969 proclamation in Tinker v Des Moines Independent Community School District that students do not
“shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

A key problem has been the silence of the Supreme Court on free speech rights of students. Jeff Kubina, CC BY-SA

In this case, a divided court upheld the right of students to wear to school black armbands emblazoned with peace signs as a form of political protest against the war in Vietnam. The majority reasoned that such speech could be stopped only if school officials had actual facts to believe it would lead to a substantial and material disruption of the educational atmosphere.

But Tinker was an on-campus speech case. And although the Supreme Court has considered three more student speech cases since Tinker, none involved either off-campus or digital expression.

A chance to resolve the issue

Schools today are trying to exert their authority far beyond the schoolhouse gate. Some courts have allowed these efforts and others have rejected them, but now the Supreme Court has a prime opportunity to resolve the matter in a case called Bell v Itawamba County School Board.

In January 2011, a Mississippi high school student, Taylor Bell, was suspended from Itawamba Agricultural High School after he posted, while away from campus during nonschool hours, a homemade rap video to Facebook and YouTube.

In the video, Bell criticizes in no uncertain terms two male teachers for their alleged sexual harassment of minor female students. A version of rap that describes the resulting controversy is available online.

In August 2015, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit narrowly ruled that high school officials in Mississippi did not violate the First Amendment speech rights of Bell when they punished him for posting the video because it allegedly threatened two teachers.

In a ruling against Taylor Bell, the Fifth Circuit majority concluded that the rule from the Tinker case applies to off-campus speech:

when a student intentionally directs at the school community speech reasonably understood by school officials to threaten, harass, and intimidate a teacher, even when such speech originated, and was disseminated, off-campus without the use of school resources.

One of the judges in the case, James Dennis, writing in dissent, ripped into the majority for broadly proclaiming “that a public school board is constitutionally empowered to punish a student whistleblower for his purely off-campus Internet speech publicizing a matter of public concern.”

Judge Dennis stressed that the rule from Tinker, which requires school officials to reasonably predict a substantial and material disruption will be caused by speech before it can be stopped, does not apply to off-campus speech cases.

Why the Supreme Court should hear the Taylor Bell case

Some minors inevitably will post and upload – while away from campus and using their own digital communication devices – allegedly disparaging, offensive or threatening messages and images about fellow students, teachers and school officials on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Snapchat.

The key question, then, is whether and to what extent public schools, consistent with the First Amendment, may discipline students for their off-campus speech.

In November 2015, Bell filed a petition with the US Supreme Court asking it to hear his case.

As Bell’s attorneys argue, the court should take the case because whether or not Tinker applies to off-campus speech cases has “vexed school officials and courts across the country.”

In December, the organization I direct, the Marion B Brechner First Amendment Project, filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the court to take the case.

Briefs from the attorneys for the school are due January 20, and the court will decide whether to hear Bell later this spring.

The bottom line is this: public school students deserve the right to know, pre-posting and pre-texting, what their First Amendment rights are when they are away from campus.

They must, in other words, be given fair notice. The court should hear Bell to let them know precisely what their rights are. It is an issue not likely to go away soon.

The Conversation

Clay Calvert, Brechner Eminent Scholar in Mass Communication, University of Florida

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


The American War Machine Finally Stopped Pretending to Care About Your Safety

By Claire Bernish. Published 1-11-2016 at The Anti-Media

A sea of graves spreads across the Fort Snelling National Cemetery landscape. (Photo author's own work.)

A sea of graves spreads across the Fort Snelling National Cemetery landscape. (Photo MNgranny)

Economic opportunism, or more accurately, profit opportunism, best describes the foundation on which the war machine sustains its existence; and a recent report for ‘defense’ industry investors lays bare this callous reality.

“The Islamic State (ISIS) has become a key threat in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan and is involved in exporting terrorism to Europe, Africa, and elsewhere. The recent tragic bombings in Paris, Beirut, Mali, the Sinai Peninsula, and other places have emboldened nations to join in the fight against terrorism,” reads the report from the accounting firm Deloitte. “Several governments affected by these threats are increasing their defense budgets to combat terrorism and address sovereign security matters, including cyber-threats. For defense contractors, this represents an opportunity to sell more equipment and military weapons systems.” Continue reading