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An Injunction Against the Missouri Facebook Law

Late this Friday afternoon, only 4 days before the law was scheduled to go into effect, word came that a judge in Missouri has issued an injunction against implementation of the Missouri anti-social networking (Facebook) law between teachers and students. Here is a local story on it (thanks to my good friend Dave Doty @canyonsdave). Also, thanks to the Missouri State Teachers' Association, who filed the suit, for following up on twitter with their press release

First, this is just a preliminary injunction. This is not a final judgment and the matter is still to be decided. 

But, the language the judge used is outstanding. Please, give it a read: 

[The law implicates the First Amendment and the Missouri Constitution.] "Even if a complete ban on certain forms of communication between certain individuals could be construed as content nuetral and only a reasonable restriction on "time, place and manner," the breadth of the prohibition is staggering. The Court finds ... social networking is extensively used by educators. It is often the primary, if not sole manner, of communication 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 or 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."

Well, yeah. Of course. In an upcoming article in the Journal of School Leadership, I predicted as much if a state tried to ban Facebook in this way. This judge is clearly on the same wave-length. I just don't see how a law similar to this one has a chance of being constitutional. There is just too much protected speech that will be chilled. The example I used in the article is - where teachers and students must be free to interact in any reasonable interpretation of the First Amendment. Those kinds of examples are probably not what the legislators in Missouri were thinking of when they wrote the law, but putting a broad ban on social networking is going to chill all kinds of clearly constitutional speech. I think the judge understood that and really had no choice but to issue the injunction. 

This is a great victory for the Missouri teachers. But, it is just the first decision in what promises to be an extended legal battle that will probably eventually wind up in the Missouri Supreme Court.