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    1st Amendment Tag

    On March 26th, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The uproar would lead one to think such a law was brand new and have never been codified in law before. That would be wrong of course, 19 other states and the federal government have their own versions of the RFRA. The federal version was in fact, signed by President Clinton in 1993 after it passed the Senate on a vote of 97-3. The moment it became law, activists, talking heads and journalists, without discussing the actual text of the law, began pontificating how gays could now be "discriminated against" in the state of Indiana. The histrionics hit a fever pitch, when Justin Nelson of the National Gay And Lesbian Chamber of Congress said businesses in Indiana would be allowed to put "Straights Only" signs up in their windows. Gabriel Malor wrote an in depth analysis for the law and had this to say:

    Earlier this month I wrote a lengthy but necessary breakdown of Texas' "Cop Watcher" bill. Sponsored by Dallas-area House representative Jason Villalba, HB 2918 as filed would have changed the way activists and citizen journalists are allowed to interact with police officers. Almost immediately after the bill was filed, Villalba came under fire from local and national activists who said that the bill was too restrictive and destroyed the ability for citizens to hold police accountable. Under pressure from constituents, activists, and his own colleagues, Villalba now appears amenable to amending---but not pulling---the controversial bill:
    "I will not consider pulling this bill but what I will do is considerably rewrite it," the North Dallas Republican said during a taping of WFAA's Inside Texas Politics to air Sunday morning at 9:00. Villalba appeared on the program to explain House Bill 2918 that makes it a misdemeanor to photograph police within 25 feet of them. News media was excluded. During the taping, Villalba said he will reduce the distance to 15 feet but make it apply to everyone, including journalists. "All we're saying is provide [police] a halo. Give them a little room. We're not saying don't film. We're not saying stop. We're saying just step back a little bit," explained Villalba.

    The Texas legislature has a reputation for creating headlines, and HB 2918, authored by Dallas-area state Representative Jason Villalba (R-HD 114), might just be the "lege" scandal that we've all been waiting for. Texans don't like it when you mess with their right to hold government accountable---especially when it comes to police action---and Villalba's HB 2918 appears to do just that. Citizens, advocates, and journalists alike are coming out in opposition to a bill that would restrict the rights of everyday citizens and bloggers to film the actions of police officers. The Dallas Republican is even taking heat from his own caucus, with colleagues speaking out publicly against the bill's filing: Screen Shot 2015-03-15 at 8.13.49 PM Villalba’s “cop watching” bill amends and adds to Section 38.15 of the Texas Penal Code, which applies a criminal negligence standard to civilian interference with police business. The problem is that the Villalba bill characterizes the filming or documenting of police action as "interference." Here’s the controversial language (emphasis mine):

    Turns out Twitter is also fed up with this administration's war on transparency. Last month, Twitter released a report detailing how they'd been banned from reporting the extent of government surveillance on the platform. In that report Twitter explained:
    "...if the government will not allow us to publish the actual number of requests, we want the freedom to provide that information in much smaller ranges that will be more meaningful to Twitter’s users, and more in line with the relatively small number of non-national security information requests we receive. We also pressed for the ability to be specific about different kinds of national security requests and to be able to indicate “zero requests” if that applies to any particular category of request. Unfortunately, we were not able to make any progress at this meeting, and we were not satisfied with the restrictions set forth by the DOJ.
    Today Twitter announced they're taking the transparency fight to court:
    Our ability to speak has been restricted by laws that prohibit and even criminalize a service provider like us from disclosing the exact number of national security letters (“NSLs”) and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”) court orders received — even if that number is zero. It’s our belief that we are entitled under the First Amendment to respond to our users’ concerns and to the statements of U.S. government officials by providing information about the scope of U.S. government surveillance – including what types of legal process have not been received. We should be free to do this in a meaningful way, rather than in broad, inexact ranges. So, today, we have filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to publish our full Transparency Report, and asking the court to declare these restrictions on our ability to speak about government surveillance as unconstitutional under the First Amendment. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is already considering the constitutionality of the non-disclosure provisions of the NSL law later this week.
    You can read the filing in its entirety beneath:
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