Interpretation of 'public forum' is crucial to case





A key issue in the Governors State University case could be whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit agrees with the university's argument that the student newspaper should be considered a ''nonpublic forum.'' In essence, the Illinois attorney general claims that The Innovator is government property that has never been open to free expression by student editors.

\n

\n No court, however, has ever found a student-edited college publication to be a nonpublic or closed forum. Most recently, in the 2001 case Kincaid v. Gibson, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit said the college yearbook at Kentucky State University was a public forum and school officials could not censor it.

\n

\n In fact, the Kincaid court went so far as to say that it was not sure the forum question would even be appropriate in the context of a college paper, implying that a college student newspaper is by its very nature an avenue for free expression.

\n

\n How the Seventh Circuit deals with the ''forum question'' could determine the outcome of the case. Courts have said when a publication is a public forum, censorship is rarely if ever allowed. If a publication is not a public forum, however, much more extensive control by the government -- school officials in this case -- will be permitted.


Fall 2002, reports