Looking back at 2018, a year that was filled with challenges and victories, it’s easy to see that the front lines of free expression are still under attack all too frequently. Thanks to the generous support of members, readers, and followers, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund was able to face the challenges head-on and fight for First Amendment rights of readers all across the country. Check out some of the best parts of 2018, and consider making a tax-deductible donation today to help be a part of the continued fight for free expression in 2019!
CBLDF took part of several crucial court cases this year, including filing amicus briefs, to offer expert advice in two high profile First Amendment cases.
In the first, CBLDF filed an amicus brief with nine other media organizations, asking the New York Court of Appeals to reject actress Lindsey Lohan’s and former Mob Wives star Karen Gravano’s invitation to expand the state’s right of publicity law by broadening New York Civil Rights Law Section 51. The brief stated that the “plaintiffs’ proposed reading of this state’s privacy statute would have a profoundly chilling effect on free speech.” That reading would endanger a wide range of comics, including works of nonfiction, fiction, and satire. Both Lohan’s and Gravano’s lawsuits against Take Two Interactive claimed that their likeness and personas were used to create fictional characters in the popular video game Grand Theft Auto V, which violated their right to privacy. If Lohan and Gravano had succeeded in expanding the concept of privacy to include potential cartoon likenesses of real people, nonfiction comics and satire comics would have been at risk for constant censorship. Luckily the court decided Lohan and Gravano had no case, and dismissed it.
CBLDF contributed an amicus brief with a diverse group of free speech nonprofits and arts advocacy organizations after the congressional architect removed a controversial artwork from an exhibition following instructions from then speaker of the house Paul Ryan. The painting, by David Pulphus, depicted pigs in police uniforms, threatening anthropomorphized wolves protesting police brutality. The painting was removed under the guise that art hanging in Congress, counted as Congressional speech. The. Brief posited that “The visual arts are omnipresent in public libraries, universities, and government buildings. Particularly in the case of student artists, governments often sponsor or support such displays. If an artist’s individual expression in his or her art ‘could be passed off as government speech by simply affixing a government seal of approval, government could silence or muffle the expression of disfavored viewpoints.’ Matal v. Tam, 137 S. Ct. 1744, 1758 (2017). That is precisely what happened here. Moreover, contests or public displays of art would likely become tantamount to contests to convey messages that curry favor with the government, which is more characteristic of totalitarian regimes than our democracy.”
2018 was a great year for new free resources advocating the freedoms of the First Amendment. In a year filled with citizens utilizing their right to peaceably assemble and “petition the Government for a redress of grievances,” millions of American students stood up for themselves and spoke out against the gun violence cutting the lives fo their peers far too short. In advance of the protests scheduled across the nation, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and National Coalition Against Censorship teamed up with cartoonist Kai Texel to create Be Heard! – a free comic designed to outline best practices, possible risks, and provide additional free resources to help kids assert their rights to speech, protest, assembly, and petition! Check out https://cbldf.org/beheard to read, share, and download your copy today!
Ensuring the freedom to read starts with ensuring the best access to books possible. With that in mind Comic Book Legal Defense Fund partnered with graduate students at University of Washington iSchool to figure out how everyone found comic books (or didn’t) in their local libraries. Comics – Start Here! is the result of those findings! A free resource designed to answer possible questions librarians may have about comics and manga, discuss shelving strategies, and patron engagement. To read, download, and share a copy of Comics – Start Here!, along with a list of free online resources, check out https://cbldf.org/library
When considering the vast number of books in the world, it’s clear that proportionally comics are the most frequently challenged and banned – so CBLDF created a visual guide that helps you identify, understand, and protect them! Read Banned Comics is a free resource that delves into comics that are challenged, how to report and fight censorship, programming ideas, and more tips to make a celebration of Banned Books Week in your community! Discover the books frequently facing censorship. Hear from the creators themselves as they talk about their own experiences having work banned, including Neil Gaiman, Raina Telgemeier, G. Willow Wilson, and more. Explore fun and educational ideas for hosting Banned Books Week events in your store, school, or library! To read, share, and download your copy of Read Banned Comics check out https://cbldf.org/read-banned-comics
The first attack arrived in New Jersey, when two parents decided that the award-winning graphic novel Fun Home was unacceptable due to “the sexually explicit nature.” The book was assigned to various senior English sections this past spring, and one of the parents, Steve DiSturco, wanted it removed from the curriculum before his child became a senior in the fall.
In an email to New Jersey’s Echoes~Sentinel, Superintendent Elizabeth Jewett said that while she understood the concerns both parents had, the work was chosen with careful consideration. “The curriculum was expanded to include a broad range of literature to reach all students, not just works that portray traditional gender and sexual identities. The expansion of the English curriculum is in alignment with the strategic plan and is the result of a two-year research process which included professional development for the English department staff.”
CBLDF and the Kids Right to Read Project drafted a letter of support to encourage the Superintendent of Watchung Hills Regional High School to stand behind their curriculum. The letter addressed to Superintendent Elizabeth Jewett discusses legal precedents set that support the First Amendment right of students and offers additional help with the challenge if the school needs it.
“We understand that the book – which was recently added to your 12th grade curriculum after a two-year review – contains illustrations that some parents have objected to, prompting a review per Watchung Hills District Policy 2240.
We write to offer our support as you perform this review. We urge you to base your decisions on pedagogical motives, rather than yielding to ideologically motivated pressures from some groups or parents.”
Also included with the letter, was a copy of the CBLDF Discussion Guide for teachers using Fun Home in their classrooms.
In addition to CBLDF, the letter was signed by National Coalition Against Censorship, American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, National Council of Teachers of English, American Booksellers for Free Expression.
CBLDF was among the first to respond in support for the library, alongside National Coalition Against Censorship and the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. Thanks to the far-reaching support of CBLDF followers who shared the story and the stalwart and outspoken locals who attended the library meeting and fought for the freedom to display books that cover the interests and stories of many different voices, the challenge was shot down and the display stayed standing. “The freedom to read is expanded when citizens have the right to make up their own minds,” said CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein about the decision, adding “We commend the board of the Rumford library for respecting their citizens and upholding their rights.”
If you want to help with victories like these in 2019, consider making a donation today. Your generous support helps CBLDF extend advice and resources when comics are challenged all over the country, as well as develop new ways to fight for freedom of expression every day. Whether you become a card-carrying member of CBLDF or snag free speech merch in our Reward Zone, every dollar donated to CBLDF helps further the fight for free speech in the coming year.