Paper barred from writing about abortion





NEW YORK — The Torch at St. John’s University ignited a debate about free press when staff writer Peggy Hoey wrote a column defending the right to legal abortion, bringing the paper head to head in a censorship battle with the Catholic school’s administrators.

After the paper was distributed, administrators told the editors that the paper would no longer be allowed to discuss abortion from a pro-choice perspective within its editorial pages.

“We don’t even have it in writing yet, but we’re not supposed to write anything opposing the Catholic church regarding abortion, contraception, or physician-assisted suicide,” said Jack Flynn, news editor of The Torch.

In a memo published in the St. John’s Today, university president Rev. Donald Harrington said that the university community enjoys “the right to freedom of speech and expression that is consistent with the university mission and its Catholic character and Vincentian tradition,” meaning that free press rights end on campus when they come up against teachings of the Catholic church.

“Most of the reaction came from administrators,” Flynn said. “As far as the students, St. John’s is unfortunately an apathetic campus. We have writing in our student handbook that clearly gives us almost limitless freedom, so we are trying to hammer out an agreement with the administrators to clear this up. If nothing else, it may come down to a breach of contract.”

The student handbook says “the student press should be free of censorship and advance approval of copy, and its editors and managers shall be free to develop their own editorial policies and news coverage.”

But The Torch has been told that those protections are superseded by the other policy, and the paper’s staff isn’t finding much support from the university community.

The current ban applies only to columns and to the editorial pages. The Torch is still allowed to cover abortion-related issues in its news pages. The paper has not been subjected to prior review policies yet, and no punishment has been outlined for if the paper decides to violate the new restrictions.

Flynn said the staff hopes to resolve this issue diplomatically before testing it and risking further restrictions.


reports, Spring 1997