Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Getting It Right

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Getting It Right

Article excerpt


Federal appellate court frees the collegiate press of prior restraint

When I wrote The First Freedom: The Tumultuous History of Free Speech in America (Delacorte Press, 1980), I began with the 1969 U.S. Supreme Court decision (Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District) in which it ruled that neither students nor teachers "shed their constitutional right to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate."

On its first page, I made clear I started "with the young, for if they do not have reason to believe that the First Amendment is of real, palpable, personal value to them, its future will be in some peril."

Years before, freedom of the press became very personal to me when, as editor in chief of the Northeastern Daily News, I and my staff were commanded by the university's president, Carl S. Ell, to cease our muckraking reporting about the school and the city of Boston or be thrown out of our office. Leaving, we sadly turned in our bylines.

That traumatic event happened well before 1969, and, in any case, we would have had no standing in court because Northeastern was and is a private university.

But, in my rage, I became immersed in First Amendment history, and, in my book, I acknowledged my indebtedness to the Northeastern administration for providing such powerful motivation for the research. I have since covered cases of student-press censorship around the country and written of successful resistance in E&P. Resistance became much more difficult after the Supreme Court's 1988 decision (Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier) in which it ruled that principals and school boards could censor anything in the high-school press that was inconsistent with the school's "basic educational mission" -- as defined by the censors. In a furious dissent, Justice William Brennan accused his colleagues of teaching "youth to discount important principles of our government as mere platitudes."

On April 10, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declared that Illinois cannot extend the slippery standards of Hazelwood to the college-student press. Three years ago, Patricia Carter, then dean of students at Governors State University, stopped the printing of the student newspaper, the Innovator, because of its criticism of grade inflation and other offenses, claiming she had the right to exercise prior restraint under the Hazelwood decision. No issue has appeared since.

A U.S. district court, in Hosty v. Carter, dismissed the students' suit against the university's trustees and administrators, but denied Carter's claim that she was immune because of "qualified immunity. …

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