Freedom of the Press for All….Minus Students


Faith Morrow, Editor

   Freedom of the press is a constitutional right…right? You’d think so, but as a student journalist I can tell you there are strings attached. Student newspapers’ freedom of the press is restricted due to a Supreme Court ruling allowing school officials to censor content. In the Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier case of 1988, student journalists claimed their school violated their first amendment rights by omitting their articles on teen pregnancy and the effects of divorce.

   The court ruled in favor of the Hazelwood School District, arguing that school publications not deemed official public forums can be censored by school administrators because they are meant to serve academic purposes. School authorities could now block content if it was “ungrammatical, poorly written, inadequately researched, biased or prejudiced, vulgar or profane, or unsuitable for immature audiences. The Supreme Court’s allowance of student press censorship is something I disagree with because of the fearfulness, self-censorship, and tip-toeing around controversial topics it promotes. 

   The Lancer Ledger is directed by an editorial board including myself, the editor-in-chief. We publish articles online, manage social media, design layout, intensely edit articles, and print a monthly paper that we sell to students and teachers. As a smaller country school, we don’t generate very controversial or breaking-news articles, or have problems with school authorities. But this year, one of my articles didn’t make it past inspection. 

   For two years I have been an advocate for an organization called Fight the New Drug (FTND) which gives facts about how a certain form of adult entertainment creates harmful effects on relationships, mental health, and the world. One of their most poignant topics is how this controversial subject fuels human trafficking and how coerced or nonconsensual content can be uploaded, undistinguished amist rehearsed videos. Though it’s very taboo to discuss, the information the organization provides strikes me as underreported and important because its link to trafficking is truly frightening and my heart breaks for its victims.

   I decided to write an editorial about FTND and address how most teenagers are oblivious to the general negative effects of this subject and its link to trafficking. It was appropriately and well written with the intent of educating teens, of which 57% ages 13-17, according to the Barna Group’s 2016 study, seek out this certain form of adult entertainment at least once monthly. Though the article was relevant to teens, accurate, maturely written, and with the intent to provoke educated lifestyle decisions, I still suspected that the principal would likely cancel it. That’s exactly what happened. Though my adviser was supportive of the editorial, ultimately the principal respectfully said it was “well-written and educational” but not appropriate for our generally conservative audience who would not even want us to mention the topic. My goal of the editorial was to better educate students rather than solely let pop culture continue to inform them. Isn’t educating kids on sexuality and lifestyle one of the goals of health class? I of course politely disagreed with the decision, but there is little I can do to keep pushing for the editorial because of current student censorship laws. In fact, this response editorial is self-censored because I want my opinion to be read but can’t risk its cancelation at the cost of specifically mentioning the sensitive content of my original article. 

   Controversial topics can certainly cause immature or harsh reactions in students, teachers, and parents. Nevertheless, freedom of the press is something student journalists and their audiences deserve. Just because we are young and developing opinions, why does that make it okay for authority to stunt our duty to educate our audience and express ourselves? The ability of authority to censor student writing is something I challenge by supporting movements like the New Voices Act created by the Student Press Law Center to pass state laws protecting students’ freedom of the press. Furthermore, I plan to write on more hard-pressing, important topics that teens will appreciate. As someone who wants to keep pursuing journalism in college, this restraint on student speech strikes deep with me and I will continue to rebuke this scoff at student expression.