Court Finds Law Blocking Teachers From Friending Students 'Staggering'; Blocks Implementation

from the oh-look,-there's-a-first-amendment-after-all dept

There was quite an uproar after Missouri passed a law to ban teachers from communicating with current or former students on social networking platforms like Facebook. It didn't take long before teachers sued, and it was even faster for the court to issue an injunction blocking the implementation of the law, noting that it violated the First Amendment (thanks to Eric Goldman for the pointer). The judge made quick work of it. Here's the relevant portion (and the full ruling is embedded below):
Section §163.069.4 RSMo implicates the rights of Plaintiffs protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and the Missouri Constitution in that it prohibits all teachers from using any non-work-related social networking sites which allow exclusive access with current and former students. Even if a complete ban on certain forms of communication between certain individuals could be construed as content neutral and only a reasonable restriction on "time, place and manner," the breadth of the prohibition is staggering. The Court finds at based upon the evidence adduced at the preliminary injunction hearing, social networking is extensively used by educators. It is often the primary, if not sole manner, of communications between the Plaintiffs and their students. Examination of the statute indicates that it would prohibit all teachers from using any non-work-related social networking sites which allow exclusive access with current and former students. It clearly prohibits communication between family members and their teacher parents using these types of sites. The Court finds that the statute would have a chilling effect on speech.

Given the fundamental nature of the right implicated, a "chilling effect" constitutes an immediate and irreperable harm sufficient to support a preliminary injunction.
Nice to see some courts willing to recognize that a First Amendment violation is irreparable harm. Too bad not all courts agree.

This isn't the end for the law. It's just an injunction barring it from being implemented until a full trial can be heard on the merits, but it sure sounds as if the court is pretty skeptical about the legality of the law as a whole.

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  1. identicon
    ASTROBOI, 29 Aug 2011 @ 11:55am

    Precident for this....

    Decades ago when I worked in the movie theater business, one major theater chain had a "non-fraternization" rule which basically forbade teen-agers who worked as ushers, concession workers, ticket takers etc. from fraternizing during off-duty hours! If you took this literally it would mean kids who attended school together would have to stop speaking to each other, certainly stop dating, and give up belonging to the same clubs, maybe stop sharing lockers or playing on the same teams. There was no attempt to enforce this silly rule, no way it could be enforced. But it was always there as a backup if they wanted to fire a kid they didn't like or who they suspected of stealing or calling in sick too many times. This was all the more ironic when the theater pressured their employees to recruit their friends to hire on. Some even paid a small bounty. So you would get your friend a job but you would have to cease being friends.

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