SPLC launches First Amendment Fund

Campaign's goal is to ensure protection for student voices

"Anyone who works with students recognizes that they frequently have to fight for their right to cover important issues," says Mary Arnold Hemlinger, youth journalism and diversity consultant for the Newspaper Association of American Foundation and chair of the SPLC's board of directors. "The SPLC not only provides legal advice to students whose rights are threatened, but also works to instill in all students an enthusiasm for the principle of free expression."

The goal of the First Amendment Fund is to raise $415,000 in 2001 for proactive efforts to protect student rights. Gifts to the First Amendment Fund will support several new initiatives as well as current SPLC programs and services.

"Oftentimes, advisers find themselves caught between students and the administration," explains David Adams, Director of Student Publications at Indiana University in Bloomington and treasurer of the SPLC's board of directors. "The Fund is a wonderful opportunity for them to show support for an organization that is working to educate administrators, school board members and the general public about student rights. At the same time, the Center's workshops and materials teach students to be responsible journalists and how to avert a crisis."

The First Amendment Fund represents the first major resource development undertaking for the SPLC, according to Mark Goodman, the CenterĂ­s executive director.

"While creating something new is always challenging, it is essential that we succeed," Goodman says. "The SPLC has done much with limited resources for over 25 years, but the years ahead will be critical ones. The First Amendment Fund is the best possible way to ensure the Center can continue to champion the work of student journalists and their advisers."

Court decisions have eroded high school students' free-press rights, and there is always the threat of similar rulings affecting college publications, Adams points out. Incidents of school violence have added to administrators' and parents' fears, often leading to increased restrictions on student expression. And while the Internet has created opportunities for students to research and express their opinions, he adds, it has also created disagreement among adults about what students can and cannot do online.

"The First Amendment Fund will provide the funds SPLC needs to continue improving services for student journalists and advisers of school-sponsored activities," says Goodman. "At the same time, the Fund will allow the Center to increase its outreach to all students, including those who publish alternative papers, create issue-oriented Web sites or distribute leaflets.

"Support for the concept of free expression must be ongoing and strong in order to maintain a national climate of respect for First Amendment freedoms," explains Goodman. "The First Amendment Fund will ensure the SPLC can continue expanding our important work well into the future."

reports, Spring 2001