Court refuses to hear advertiser

Yeo v. Lexington ends after four-year fight over ad rejection

MASSACHUSETTS — A Lexington community activist, whose political advertisement was refused by a high school’s student publications, was denied a hearing by the U.S. Supreme Court in late May.

Douglas Yeo sued the Lexington School District in 1994 after the student editors of both the high school newspaper and yearbook rejected his ad encouraging sexual abstinence.

In 1997, a three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit overruled a lower court by defining the student publications as “state actors” who could not refuse advertisements because they received partial funding from the school.

However, a number of organizations, including the Student Press Law Center, filed briefs with the court in support of the school.

The decision was thrown out a few weeks later after a six-judge panel reheard the case and unanimously ruled that since the student editors made all the advertising decisions, there was no First Amendment violation.

Adam Foreman, the district’s attorney, called the Supreme Court’s decision, along with the last circuit ruling, a victory for student media.

“It shows that school publications should have editorial freedom,” he said. “The First Circuit Court of Appeals decision came from a respected court. It was a useful decision that will be used in the future.”

But Yeo said by limiting the issue to the First Circuit’s jurisdiction, which includes most of New England and Puerto Rico, the Supreme Court lost an opportunity to protect the rights of advertisers nationally.

“This hurts the free speech on the part of advertisers who are trying to get their message across through publicly funded areas,” Yeo said. “I am disappointed by the ruling but not surprised by it.”

Karen Mechem, Lexington High School’s yearbook adviser, said because of the Court’s decision, student editors will remain in control of their publications.

“It’s a victory for these editors to decide what they want to include,” she said. “It’s also a victory for journalists who get to keep their integrity.”

Mechem said the advertisements offered by Yeo, who was acting on behalf of the Lexington Parents Information Network, of which he was chairman, did not fit the student editors1 policy.

“At that time, most of the ads were directed at congratulating graduates,” Mechem explained. “While seeking ads, the editors had an agreement that they would accept ads from places were students went, like for pizza, ice cream, etc.”

Foreman said the four-year-old case had gone on long enough.

“For a school system trying to act on limited resources to create quality education, litigation is a huge distraction,” he said. “In fact, the students in charge of the publication at that time just graduated from college. That’s how long this has been going on.”

Though Yeo said he will not pursue anymore legal action against the district, he expressed his belief that the community’s free speech regarding the benefits of sexual abstinence were violated.

“We believe that this was the wrong decision by the Supreme Court,” he said. “It hasn’t been the first and probably won’t be the last.”

advertising, Fall 1998, Massachusetts, reports, Yeo v. Lexington