Fall is here and so is a steady stream of First Amendment news!
The United States Department of Education sent a letter to Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill late last month, ordering the schools to reform their joint Middle East studies program. The letter comes at the heels of an ongoing federal inquiry into the program led by several high-ranking officials noted for their fear of anti-Israel bias in higher education. Indeed, the letter notes that “there is a considerable emphasis placed on … understanding the positive aspects of Islam, while there is an absolute absence of any similar focus on the positive aspects of Christianity, Judaism, or any other religion or belief system in the Middle East.” Despite the inquiry and the letter, however, the program still received its expected federal funding for the school year.
In other letter-related news, the Freedom From Religion Foundation recently sent a letter to governor of South Carolina, Henry McMaster, for violating the First Amendment. The letter details McMaster’s past practice of leading prayers at the beginning of government press conferences, most recently in the midst of Hurricane Dorian preparations. One attorney for the Foundation noted that “[h]aving the prayers at all raises red flags…but it is worse when it’s a specific religion that’s being promoted, because then it’s not just nonreligious residents, but also all minority religion residents are being excluded.” In response, one spokesperson for the governor stated, “[f]or as long as Henry McMaster is the governor of South Carolina, and we have to prepare for these dangerous storms, there will be a chaplain saying a prayer before each of those press conferences.”
Edward Snowden, the controversial whistleblower known for leaking classified information from the NSA, has written a new memoir entitled Permanent Record. The book details Snowden’s decision to leak the classified information before he eventually sought asylum outside of the United States. Shortly after the book’s release, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Snowden arguing that Snowden failed to seek pre-approval in divulging information in his memoir, which constituted a breach of his employment agreement as a former contracted employee of the NSA. The lawsuit requests that all royalties from the memoir be given to the federal government.
In response to its belief that “[c]onservatives are under attack” and that “the future of the conservative movement depends on [its] ability to communicate [its] message,” the Media Resource Center, a conservative media watchdog group, has created the Free Speech Alliance. The alliance is a cohort of over 60 conservative organizations that specifically “fight for transparency on social media and demand equal footing for conservatives on Twitter, Facebook, Google and the other platforms.”