ABFFE Challenges Texas Board of Ed, Vice President Cheney

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The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) recently filed amicus briefs in two cases challenging First Amendment rights. On Monday, November 22, ABFFE filed a brief in a case challenging the Texas State Board of Education's decision to reject a highly regarded science textbook because it allegedly blames "Christianity, democracy, and industrialization [for] causing the so-called environmental 'crisis.'" And on Monday, November 29, ABFFE joined a coalition of public interest groups urging a federal appeals court to order Vice President Dick Cheney to reveal the names of the people participating in meetings of an energy task force that he appointed in 2001. "In both cases, government officials are threatening First Amendment rights," said ABFFE President Chris Finan.

The challenge to the Texas State Board of Education, which is now pending before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, was filed when the board rejected Daniel Chiras' Environmental Science: Creating a Sustainable Future (Jones & Bartlett). The action followed a public hearing at which two conservative groups described the book as "anti-Christian" and "anti-free enterprise."

In their amicus brief, ABFFE, the Freedom to Read Foundation, and the National Coalition Against Censorship argue that while the U.S. Supreme Court has granted local governments broad discretion in making curricular decisions, this does not extend to rejecting textbooks merely because they contain ideas that are unpopular. The brief states, "A belief that it is acceptable to suppress information in service of a political, social, or religious agenda endangers the integrity of academic inquiry and sends a dangerous message to students and teachers alike."

In the second case, the Sierra Club sued Vice President Cheney when he refused to reveal information about the operations of his National Energy Policy Development Group (NEPDG). There was speculation at the time that representatives of the oil and gas industry participated in the policy discussions of the group and offered advice to the government, which would make NEPDG subject to open meeting requirements of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). FACA was designed to eliminate the ability of special interest groups to secretly influence government by requiring full disclosure of the membership and proceedings of any advisory committees that include non-government personnel.

Cheney has maintained that his task force is not an advisory committee and that being forced to reveal information about its operation would violate the separation of powers, undermining the executive branch's ability to solicit advice without interference by the courts.

The amicus brief filed by ABFFE, the American Library Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, and others proposes a compromise that would protect the separation of powers while maintaining public accountability. It asks the court to order Cheney to prepare a log indicating the dates of all meetings of the NEPDG with a list of who attended the meetings. If outsiders were involved, Sierra Club can then request the release of documents relating to their participation.

Both briefs are available online in PDF format: the Chiras brief on ABFFE's Web site and the Cheney brief on ALA's site.