Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Reinforcing a Bad Civics Lesson in Texas

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Reinforcing a Bad Civics Lesson in Texas

Article excerpt

CENSORSHIP has triumphed in the Austin, Texas, Independent School District, with the United States Supreme Court's blessing.

The Austin school board recently authorized principals to review all material in high school student newspapers - before publication. A principal may decide "to remove content from a publication" if he or she does so "in a timely manner and for a specific reason supported by the school's educational mission."

This is prior restraint, one of the most pernicious forms of censorship. Historically, it has been used by those in positions of power to stifle controversy and silence dissent. It is antithetical to the First Amendment, as the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled.

Yet the court has also said that prior restraint is constitutional when applied to school-sponsored student publications.

In the case of Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeler (1988), five justices ruled that high school students are second-class citizens. When they write for their school newspapers, students do not enjoy full First Amendment protection.

In the Hazelwood case, a suburban St. Louis principal in 1983 had banned potentially controversial stories about abortion and divorce from running in his high school's student newspaper. The Supreme Court upheld his authority to do so.

In Austin, controversial stories about teen sexuality, AIDS, and safe sex published last April in the Lone Star Dispatch, Bowie High School's student newspaper, triggered the school board's new policy authorizing prior restraint.

Angry parents and other district residents protested that those articles were "pure filth" and "an example of the moral degradation of our society." The stories critics charged, "put ideas in {students'} minds that didn't need to be there."

Protesters believed that prohibiting students from publicly discussing teen issues would make them disappear. They also wanted to suppress viewpoints they found disagreeable. They thus exemplify a widespread intolerance that threatens the nation's schools and students.

This closed-mindedness also manifests itself in attempts to bar sex education from public schools; in criticism of teachers who use innovative methods; in opposition to the teaching of evolution in science classes; and in efforts to ban books. …

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