University president forces ad removal
Newspaper faces opposition over planned parenthood clinic advertisement
MONTANA — The staff of the student newspaper at the University of Great Falls is questioning its publishing freedom after the president of the university stopped an advertisement for a family planning clinic.
The advertisement, paid for by Montana Family Planning Services, was cut after it ran twice in the Lumen Press.
University President Frederick Gilliard told the editors to pull the ad because it conflicted with the views of the Catholic Church. Great Falls is a Catholic university.
The ad was scheduled to run a third time, and according to editor in chief Thomas Nelson, the newspaper had to refund 25 percent of the ad costs back to the clinic for breaking the advertising contract.
Nelson said the newspaper staff was under the impression that it was free to print what it wanted.
“We were going by the rules we were given,” Nelson said.
According to a student handbook released by the university, the student press at Great Falls “shall 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.”
Gilliard said that the newspaper is funded by the private school, and therefore is not entitled to the First Amendment rights of a public school’s publication. He argued that news coverage should remain free because it is generally balanced in its coverage, but advertising is a different issue.
Gilliard added that the newspaper’s policy may need to be clarified.
“What came out on paper wasn’t exactly the total picture,” Gilliard said about the policy defined in the student handbook. “I would like to see the development of a change in the advertising policy.”
The Lumen Press, Gilliard said, is not a public forum, and should meet the standards of the church.
Nelson and the rest of the Lumen Press staff have met to discuss the newspaper policies, and Gilliard said he will open the issue to public debate when school begins in the fall.
Nelson said the policy in the student handbook clearly states that the newspaper should have total control of its content, and it is unfair for the university to suddenly change its mind about the policy.
“It’s not a debatable issue,” Nelson said. “If [Gilliard] tries to change it himself, there is going to be some anger. That’s an injustice to the students and an injustice to the university.”
Courts have said that private schools may be legally bound by the policies they adopt supporting free expression, even though the First Amendment does not require them to adopt such protection.
In an editorial written after the incident, the Lumen Press wrote, “This is an issue that people have to deal with in this day and age, regardless of their religion or beliefs. Catholic beliefs are only one way to look at the ever-present issue of sexuality and birth control.”
Nelson said the staff continues to believe the control over the ads is a breach of contract between the newspaper and the university.
“We just want the right to choose what ads we put in our paper,” Nelson said.
Fall 1997, reports