ACLU defends blogger who parodied anti-gay billboard
By James Lanaras, Bay City News Service
March 22, 2006
The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California has
come to the defense of a Santa Rosa man whose blog parodied an
"ex-gay" group's billboard offering "reparative
therapy'' to gays.
The ACLU said Justin Watt's parody on his blog is protected by
the First Amendment as a form of political commentary.
The billboard, sponsored by the "ex-gay'' ministry Exodus
International in Florida, read, "Gay? Unhappy? www.exodus.to.''
Watts, 26, a web developer for O'Reilly Media in Sebastopol, felt
compelled to respond when he saw the billboard on a Web site in
"It was pretty immediate. It took about 15 or 20 minutes.
I felt it was pretty offensive, unfair and mean spirited. I wanted
to respond in a productive way,'' Watt said.
His response was an altered version of the billboard that he
posted on his blog. It read, "Straight? Unhappy? www.gay.com.''
His intent was to get straight people to think how they would
feel if their sense of self was disparaged.
"If the parody was real it would be ridiculous,'' Watt said.
Watt said 40 other Web sites posted his parody and nothing happened
until he got a cease and desist order from Liberty Counsel in
Orlando Fla. by e-mail on March 1.
Liberty Counsel is a non-profit litigation, education and policy
organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity
of human life and the traditional family, according to its Web
The ACLU said Liberty Counsel threatened legal action unless
the parodies were removed.
"My first reaction was, 'Wow, I'm excited. I pissed someone
off,''' Watt said. He then called the ACLU the next day.
The ACLU sent Liberty Counsel's attorney Matthew Staver a four
"Exodus may not find the parody humorous and may dislike
people mocking its views. Nevertheless, Mr. Watt's parody is precisely
the free expression that the copyright laws protect.
There is no colorable legal basis for any claim against Mr. Watt.
Mr. Watt therefore expects that exodus will abandon its attempts
to censor a viewpoint with which it disagrees,'' said attorney
Laurence Pulgram of the San Francisco firm Fenwick and West LLP
which also represents Watt.
The ACLU also denounced reparative therapy for gays, and ACLU
attorney Ann Brick said both Exodus' and Watt's speech is constitutionally
Brick said it's the first time the Northern California chapter
has handled a First Amendment case involving a blog.
A call to Liberty Counsel in Florida after business hours was
not immediately returned.
Brick said there are indications Liberty Counsel is not pursuing
the matter further.
"I hope it's been resolved, but it's also important that
cease and desist letters shouldn't be used to take down material
protected by the First Amendment,'' Brick said.
She said bloggers are not always familiar with their First Amendment
rights and may be intimidated by such challenges.
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