Forum Highlights Emerging Challenges to the First Amendment
January 15, 2009 — The rising presence of anonymous commentary on newspaper websites and the growing popularity of online social networking is setting up potential new challenges for the First Amendment, a panel of legal experts said during a Jan. 15 forum.
The event, co-hosted by Earle Mack School of Law and the Constitutional Amendments Forum, brought together a distinguished panel of attorneys to discuss the ways in which electronic communications intersect with free speech and religious expression to test the First Amendment in new ways.
Moderated by Sayde Ladov, the newly elected Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Assocation, the forum tackled a hypothetical legal tangle involving a public-school student’s prohibited recitation from the Koran and a resulting chain reaction involving social networking sites, the media’s use of unnamed sources and anonymous online postings by readers.
Judah I. Labovitz, Esq., of counsel with Langer, Grogan and Diver PC, Mary Catherine Roper Esq., a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania’s Philadelphia Office and Paul Messing Esq., a partner with Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg, agreed that school officials could face successful legal challenges for seeking to curb students’ religious expressions or protests.
But Earle Mack School of Law Professor Chapin Cimino, an inaugural member of the faculty at the Earle Mack School of Law, noted that students’ unfettered right to express themselves outside the school gate could be legally vulnerable in online communications that do not necessarily occur off campus.
Gayle Sproul Esq., a partner with Levine, Sullivan, Koch & Schulz LLP, said that while Pennsylvania law shields the news media from revealing the identity of confidential sources, newspapers could face lawsuits if they protect the anonymity of readers who post online comments on their web sites.
Aimee Katz, chairwoman of the Forum Advisory Committee, said the event was designed to help members of the community to clarify and understand their civil rights.
Earle Mack School of Law Dean Roger Dennis said new challenges to the First Amendment are inevitable, in light of the growing diversity of American society atop the many technological changes afoot.
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