Broad coalition asks appeals court to reconsider censorship decision

More than thirty journalism schools, professional education groups, news media organizations and civil liberties advocates join to urge reconsideration of "unprecedented...and extremely dangerous" ruling

CINCINNATI -- Two Kentucky State University students asked yesterday that the full panel of judges sitting on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reconsider a Sept. 8 decision by a three-judge panel that upheld the school's censorship of the student newspaper and yearbook. School officials confiscated the yearbook and removed the newspaper adviser almost five years ago.

Lawyers for Capri Coffer and Charles Kincaid argued in their written petition to the court that the three-judge panel that initially heard their case ignored over thirty years of legal precedent providing strong First Amendment protection to college student media when it ruled that KSU broke no laws in locking up some 2,000 copies of the yearbook for "quality" reasons and transferring the newspaper adviser to a secretarial position because she refused to censor material critical of the administration. KSU officials said they confiscated the yearbooks because they were upset with grammatical errors, the lack of photo captions, the inclusion of a current events section in the book and the decision of the editor to publish the yearbook with a purple cover, instead of one in the school's official colors of green and yellow.

The yearbooks remain locked away in a KSU storage room; school officials have said they will eventually be destroyed.

Representatives from every accredited journalism program in the Sixth Circuit (which covers Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee), as well as groups representing student media, educators, professional journalists and civil liberties advocates also filed a friend of the court brief on Tuesday urging the court to rehear the case.

The coalition told the court that the Sept. 8 ruling was both "unjustified and extremely dangerous."

"The [Sept. 8] decision not only unconstitutionally censors the speech involved in this case, its potential consequences place at risk the entire spectrum of expressive activities on campus, including faculty expression," the coalition argued.

Mark Goodman, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said the court's Sept. 8 ruling came as a shock to the civil liberties and student press community. He is optimistic that the full court will come to a different conclusion.

"The size and breadth of the group that has joined in one voice to ask the court to reconsider this case is unprecedented," said Goodman. "I sincerely hope that the judges of the Sixth Circuit will be moved by our concern and take a second look at this troubling court ruling."

The court's decision on whether to rehear the case is expected in about six weeks.

The coalition's brief was written by the Cincinnati-based law firm of Frost & Jacobs, which donated its services.

Mark Goodman, Executive Director Student Press Law Center (703) 807-1904

Richard Goehler, coalition attorney Frost & Jacobs (513) 651-6711

Bruce Orwin, Attorney for Plaintiff Students (606) 678-4386

Hinfred McDuffy Vice President for University Advancement Kentucky State University (502) 227-6760

A copy of the coalition's brief as well as background information about the case can be viewed on the Student Press Law Center's Web site at:

List of groups that joined in the brief in support of the request for rehearing:

Student Media Groups

Student Press Law Center; The Associated Collegiate Press; The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication; The Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication; College Media Advisers Inc.; The Community College Journalism Association; The Kentucky Intercollegiate Press Association; The Society for Collegiate Journalists; The Southwestern Journalism Congress; The Texas Intercollegiate Press Association; The Texas Community College Journalism Association.

Sixth Circuit Journalism Schools Representatives

The Department of Journalism and Mass Communications, Murray State University; School of Journalism and Telecommunications, University of Kentucky; Department of Journalism, Western Kentucky University; Faculty, Department of Journalism, Central Michigan University; School of Journalism, Michigan State University; Department of Journalism, Bowling Green State University; School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Kent State University; E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, Ohio University; Faculty, School of Journalism and Communication, Ohio State University; Jack Mooney, Ph.D., Professor, Division of Journalism, East Tennessee State University; School of Journalism, Middle Tennessee State University; Dan Lattimore, Ph.D., Chair, Department of Journalism, University of Memphis; Dwight Teeter, Jr., Ph.D. Dean, College of Communication and Professor of Journalism, University of Tennessee; Communication Department, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga; Department of Communication, University of Tennessee at Martin.

Civil Liberties, Professional Educators and News Media Groups

American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky; The American Association of University Professors; The American Society of Newspaper Editors; The National Council of Teachers of English; The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press; The Society of Professional Journalists; The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression.

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