Nebraska Sen. proposes bill to protect student journalists
- A Nebraska state senator has introduced legislation designed to protect student journalists and their faculty advisors against retaliation from administrators.
- The legislation was made necessary by a 1988 Supreme Court ruling that deemed student publications to be “limited public forums” subject to censorship by the schools that sponsor them.
- Democratic State Senator Adam Morfeld said he was inspired both by conversations with current students and professors, as well as his own experience being threatened with expulsion for starting an independent publication in high school.
A Nebraska state senator has introduced legislation designed to protect student journalists and their faculty advisors against retaliation from administrators.
The “Student Journalism Protection Act,” introduced Monday by Democratic State Senator Adam Morfeld, would clarify that student media publications, including those related to class assignments, are entitled to the same First Amendment protections afforded to professional journalists, according to The Daily Nebraskan.
Specifically, the bill would protect student journalists from being disciplined by their school as result of their journalistic work, and would also prevent administrators from firing or otherwise retaliating against the faculty advisors of student publications for approving an article or editorial.
Morfeld told Campus Reform that the legislation was inspired in part by conversations with “students and professors who had come to me about concerns at their respective state colleges,” but also by his own experience as a high school student, when he “started an alternative publication and was threatened with expulsion in South Dakota.”
In addition to protecting student journalists from retaliation, Morfeld also stressed the importance of teaching students about the First Amendment, saying that “instilling the values of a free press at an early age is important to our democracy and civic education of our future journalists and civic leaders.”
David Moshman, a former professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who has previously written about academic freedom, told Campus Reform that legislation protecting student journalists first became necessary in 1988, when the Supreme Court ruled in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier that student publications are “limited public forums” subject to censorship by the schools that sponsor them.
“The bill essentially protects freedom of the student press to the same extent that it was protected from 1969, when Tinker established student First Amendment rights, to 1988, when Hazelwood limited those rights,” Moshman explained.
As an example of the type of situation the legislation is intended to prevent, Moshman cited the case of Max McElwain, a student newspaper advisor at Wayne State College in Nebraska who was dismissed from his position in 2016 after approving the publication of several articles that were critical of the administration.
Morfeld said that he expects the legislation to receive bipartisan support when it comes up for consideration, though it must first be assigned to a committee and debated before it can be brought to the floor for a vote.
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