Censorship and HS Newspapers

I found the story interesting and the attorney’s position probably false. Here, you be the judge. From WSAW-TV in Cleveland, OH.

The portion to be discussed here is not the religious nature of the anti-gay marriage column, nor the school’s bullying policy. This is a First Amendment, Freedom of Speech question.

The “Point-Counterpoint” columns concerned the two sides of the Gay marriage issue and, more specifically, whether a same sex couple should be able to adopt a child?

For me, the question is almost silly on the surface. If a same-sex couple wants to have a child through natural means, with a surrogate father or mother, there appears to be no opposition. So what makes adoption so different?

I have read both columns and must say, they are both well written and thought out. You can also read them: Shawano Student Article. You do not have to agree with either, but I do urge you to read them.

Now the issue here is the First Amendment rights of both columnists.

Fact: The Point-Counterpoint was published in the Shawano Community High School’s newspaper. Both authors are students at the school. Neither student received punishment for this situation.

The question of First Amendment rights is ripe here. As “Claudette” wrote on the WSAW Web page, “Amendment I of the Constitution states that Congress shall make no law abridging the freed [sic] or the press. The Shawano Superintendent has bowed to the God of Political Correctness.

She is not wrong her, but, as will all of our rights, the courts have declared that there are some limitations and exceptions to these rights. One of those exceptions came by way of the Supreme Court and Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260.

Students of Hazelwood High School in Missouri claimed that their First Amendment rights were violated when the school’s principal rejected two columns in the paper; one concerning pregnancy and the other divorce. The reason for the rejections concerned privacy of the individuals and families.

The real question here was whether the high school newspaper constituted a “public forum.” Writing for the majority, Justice White held in 1988:

Respondents’ First Amendment rights were not violated.

(a) First Amendment rights of students in the public schools are not automatically coextensive with the rights of adults in other settings, and must be applied in light of the special characteristics of the school environment. A school need not tolerate student speech that is inconsistent with its basic educational mission, even though the government could not censor similar speech outside the school.

(b) The school newspaper here cannot be characterized as a forum for public expression. School facilities may be deemed to be public forums.

Part of this determination was based on Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503. In this case, students were forbidden to wear black arm-bands in protest to the war in Vietnam. The court did say this was a violation of the student’s right to free speech because, “A prohibition against expression of opinion, without any evidence that the rule is necessary to avoid substantial interference with school discipline or the rights of others, is not permissible under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.”

The key here is that the students at Des Moine ICSD “were quiet and passive. They were not disruptive, and did not impinge upon the rights of others.”

The last shows the clear distinction and one, I believe, that will settle the Kirkwood case in favor of the school. The principle deemed the articles as disruptive because,

… the school’s principal, who objected to the pregnancy story because the pregnant students, although not named, might be identified from the text, and because he believed that the article’s references to sexual activity and birth control were inappropriate for some of the younger students.

The principal objected to the divorce article because the page proofs he was furnished identified by name (deleted by the teacher from the final version) a student who complained of her father’s conduct, and the principal believed that the student’s parents should have been given an opportunity to respond to the remarks or to consent to their publication.

Here is where I believe  Brandon Wegner and and his attorney Harry Mihet of the Liberty Counsel, a conservative “international nonprofit litigation, education, and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family since 1989, by providing pro bono assistance and representation on these and related topics,” will lose.

This case needs to work its way through the Ohio and lower U.S. courts first before it makes to the highest court. With the money backing young Mr. Wegner and his anti-gay marriage and adoption position, which is very religiously based, this should not take that long to travel from Cleveland to Washington D.C.

As confusing and annoying it may seem, the rights provided to American citizens and residents are broad, but not absolute. We are not allowed to yell “fire” in a crowded theater. We cannot own fully-automatic handguns, shotguns and rifles. There are situations when a police officer does not need a warrant to enter your home.

And high school students do not always have the protection of the first Amendment.

By the way – Students in private schools have no free speech protections at all. Has anyone seen Sister Elizabeth Mary and her very big eraser?

David Rosman’s newest book, A Christian Nation? An examination of Christian nation theories and proofs is now available through Amazon.com in paperback or eBook versions.

You can invite David to speak to your group or organization. For more information, please contact him at Speaker@InkandVoice.com


About David Rosman

David is the winner of the Missouri Press Foundation's "Best Columnist" in 2013 (First Place) and 2014 (Second Place), the 2016 Harold Riback Award for excellence in writing, and the winner of the 2007 Interactive Media Award for excellence in editing.
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