Hamburg and the Constitution
The right to blog anonymously is a right. The Hamburg School District is trampling all over that right, and sends a poor message to the students it purports to represent.
I have never read the “Hamburg Educational Ethics” blog, which is written by the “Concerned Hamburger” anonym, but whoever writes it is a WNY blogger and, as far as I’m concerned, a colleague.
I don’t know the first thing about what goes on in the Hamburg schools, but I know that the district doesn’t have to like what the author of that blog writes – in fact, they can hate it. But that doesn’t give them the right to serve a subpoena to “out” its author.
Criticism of a school district is, after all, political speech – in 1st Amendment jurisprudence, political speech is afforded the very highest protection from government intervention or harassment. It is unconscionable that the district – which is a government entity – is so blatantly violating the 1st Amendment in an attempt to silence a critic. This is the stuff dictatorships do. It is absolutely unacceptable in this country.
One of the blog’s anonymous commenters, who is also subject to the district’s subpoena, wrote this,
Recently Concerned Hamburger received an email notification from Google indicating that the Hamburg School District, through their attorney Dick Sullivan of Harris Beach~ a commercial real estate attorney moonlighting in education and constitutional law~issued a subpoena to Google demanding the identities of Concerned Hamburger, Super and Klozman. Immediately, Concerned, Super and Klozman, remaining anonymous, hired a constitutional attorney to quash the subpoena. You see readers~ we have the right in this country to voice our opinions and state the facts as we see them. For almost three years and approximately 300K page hits, Concerned Hamburger has been operating as a citizen journalist reporting on the antics of the public faces of the Hamburg School District. Concerned is dedicated to reporting, and will continue to write on the school district despite their efforts to silence me and others. It has been reported to Concerned Hamburger by many sources, that Dr. Joan Calkins has a vindictive and demonic alter ego. Joan’s “other self ” has reported thoughout the Hamburg Community that she will unmask Concerned Hamburger, and she will cause financial harm to the victims of frivolous and baseless lawsuits she and Steve concocted. Fortunately, turn around is fair play, and it seems that the plans of the District, the Bored of Education, Mr. Abramovitch and others will have unintended consequence never deemed fathomable on the onset of their witch hunt.
Frankly, if the behavior of the the Bored of Education and Mr. Achramovitch was not so egregiously corrupt, there would be no material to report. Instead, you the reader~of which there are many~ have been give factual, and sometimes humorous, accounts of the insidious behavior.
* Concerned Hamburger has already spent thousands of dollars attempting to protect their rights, and it is likely the the district has spent tens of thousands on this witch hunt. This latest stunt by Steve and Joan et. al. should shock the conscience of any reader. Taxpayer dollars intended to go to children to support a fair and balanced education in accordance with NYS Constitutional Law instead is being used to strip Federal and State Constitutional rights from private citizens- who are taxpayers. Steven Achramovitch ought to be fired immediately, and charges should be filed against each and every board member individually and collectively. A groundswell of anti-Joan and Steve support it growing across this community, and it appears this is only the beginning.
That’s the nice thing about the 1st Amendment’s protection of political speech – if you don’t blatantly libel someone (that is, knowingly or negligently publishing a false statement of fact, depending on whether the subject is a public figure or not), you can write whatever you want. For instance, the author above refers to people as “corrupt”, “frivolous”, “vindictive” and “demonic”. Those are statements of opinion, not fact, and opinion cannot be false or true – it is protected speech.
A quick scan of the front page of the blog reveals recitations of facts dealing with school policy and budgeting, and opinion about those facts. Nothing appears to be defamatory or otherwise actionable. The fact that the district took action against the bloggers and not individual members who feel insulted helps enhance the Constitutional issue.
Bloggers have rights with their foundation in the 1st Amendment. Anonymity is sometimes used by bloggers to shield them from repercussions at work. In 1995, the Supreme Court held that anonymous speech is protected speech.
Protections for anonymous speech are vital to democratic discourse. Allowing dissenters to shield their identities frees them to express critical minority views . . . Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. . . . It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation . . . at the hand of an intolerant society.
The Federalist Papers were written by anonyms. The Hamburg school blog may be no Federalist Papers, but it is still important to protect anonymous political speech, and the district’s efforts to use the courts to chill speech critical of it is reprehensible.
While a minority of western New Yorkers expresses weeks’ worth of righteous Constitutional outrage over a gun law that only slightly tightens what were already the most restrictive gun laws in the country, this – this infringement on protected political speech deserves at least the same reaction.
Perhaps the district’s social studies teachers can add this to their curriculum.