Editor’s note: This editorial ran last year about this time. The bill has been reintroduced. We have made minor changes to the editorial, but our position remains unchanged.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
These words make up the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. They are critical to the life of a free society.
The First Amendment assures us the right to practice and proclaim our beliefs, even if those beliefs are not the popular beliefs.
It is not a liberal or conservative amendment but it is the solid foundation upon which we freely worship, we peacefully protest, we complain about our politicians and we in the media keep the public informed of what is happening on the local, national and world scene.
Unfortunately, freedom of the press does not presently apply to post-secondary school students publishing in their college newspaper. Instead, their stories can be censored, their voice silenced.
Imagine a school administrator or a professor failing students simply because of their political views. If students did not agree 100 percent with the professor’s view, then they failed. Student journalists get the proof, the professor even admits it on the record, but before the story hits the press, the administration decides the story will cast the school in the wrong light and say the story cannot publish or there could be retaliation on the student or adviser.
The story could be about the misuse of taxpayers' money, sexual assault, hazing or something as simple as a dress code.
That would never happen, you say.
Under Nebraska law, and many other states, it can and does.
The Supreme Court stripped away these rights from student publications back in 1988 in the Hazelwood School District vs. Kuhlmeier case. The case was geared toward K-12 schools but has been applied to colleges.
These aren’t real newspapers, you may say.
However, it was the Booster Redux, a Pittsburgh High School in southeastern Kansas, who investigated the credentials listed on the new principal hired by the school board.
“Everyone kept telling them ‘stop poking your nose where it doesn’t belong,’” their newspaper adviser told the Washington Post in April 2017.
They did the work of a journalist and discovered the new education and work experience on the new principal was a lie. The principal resigned.
Had it been a publication in Nebraska and they not had the support of the school district’s superintendent, the truth may never have come to light.
However, a bill (LB 206) introduced by Nebraska State Sen. Adam Morfield will give student journalists the freedom our forefathers gave the rest of us in the Constitution.
If passed by the Unicameral, the legislation will ensure student journalists and their advisers the same First Amendment rights as all other Americans.
The Constitution should apply to student journalists and advisers just as it does for all other Americans. One’s rights should not be restricted because of age or the degree they hold.
These students are already under the same legal obligations of any journalists working at this newspaper or any other. They cannot slander or print information they know to be false.
Student journalists must do their research like they did at the Booster Redux and be true to the facts. If the facts are behind the story, it should be allowed to run without fear of censorship or retaliation.
The bill does not require any funding; it simply gives freedom of the press to student journalists, a right given to all Americans in the First Amendment of our Constitution.
We would encourage our readers to ask their state senators to pass LB 206. We would also encourage our State Sens. Tom Brewer, Steve Erdman and John Stinner to support this bill and give all Nebraskans their First Amendment rights.