In 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that censorship of certain articles in a student news publication didn’t violate the students’ First Amendment rights.
This case is Hazelwood vs. Kuhlmeier and it sprung out of St. Louis. The case set harmful precedent for the following decades of student journalism. But, Missouri can make a change.
According to the U.S. Courts website, students at St. Louis’ East Hazelwood High School wrote articles about teen pregnancy and divorce. The high school’s principal deleted the articles before publication.
The Supreme Court ruled 5-3 that the students’ free speech rights were not violated because the school sponsored the newspaper, and the “school had legitimate interest in preventing the publication of articles that it deemed inappropriate,” according to the U.S. Courts summary on the case.
But censoring student journalists actually hurts the future of journalism. When you take away their First Amendment rights to publish, you damage their trust in the system that supports journalism.
The First Amendment provides for the freedom of the press, but that freedom shouldn’t be limited to professional journalists. Students should have the same protection so they can learn and grow into young journalists.
That’s where the New Voices laws come into play. According to the Student Press Law Center, “New Voices is a nonpartisan student-driven grassroots effort to create state-based student free press protections and to prevent retaliation against advisers who stand up for student free press rights.” In 2017, Missouri Rep. Kevin Corlew introduced the Cronkite New Voices Act, but the bill died in the Missouri Senate, according to the New Voices website.
In May, the New Voices of Missouri Facebook page posted that, “The shortsighted Hazelwood decision was birthed in Missouri, and Missouri has a chance to put a nail in its coffin, if the Senate acts quickly,” while sharing an opinion article by Frank LoMonte, the former executive director of the SPLC, written specially for the Kansas City Star.
“A student has a constitutionally protected right to wear a “Make America Great Again” hat to school — but not to publish a photo of the hat in the paper,” LoMonte wrote. “We all know that makes no sense.”
The New Voices laws aim to restore the same protections that the Tinker v. Des Moines case gave students. In this 1969 case, students at a public Iowa school wore black armbands to protest the Vietnam War, according to the U.S. Courts summary of the case.
The students were suspended and the parents sued the school. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that “students don’t shed their constitutional rights at the school house gates.”
Missouri is one of six states that has introduced a bill protecting student journalists this year.
Fourteen other states have New Voices laws, according to the Student Press Law Center, including neighboring Kansas.
It’s time for the bill to pass.
It’s long overdue.