Student newspaper cannot run political ads, school board says

NEW YORK -- After an anti-military ad ran in Warwick Valley High School's student newspaper, the school board voted to limit ads to those selling a product, not a political idea.

According to a new rule adopted in February by the Warwick Valley Board of Education, advertisements appearing in the student newspaper, The Survey, ''must be limited to products and services.''

While it does not state it specifically, the new rule would bar ads from anti-war groups, military recruiters, Planned Parenthood, Right to Life and any student or community member campaigning for office.

Board president Michael Meinhardt stressed those rules could change, but said the board felt something needed to be done after the controversial ad ran in October.

The ad was a full-page photo of tombstones with the bold, white message: ''You can't be all you can be if you're dead. There are other ways to serve your country. There are other ways to get money for college. There are other ways to be all you can be. Think about it before you sign your life away.''

According to an October 2005 article by the Times Herald-Record, a local newspaper, the ad was paid for and created by a Warwick High School student who is a member of the Bruderhof community, a Christian-based communal order whose members do not serve in the military of any country.

Meinhardt said the response to the ad was mixed: Some were glad to see such a bold statement in the paper, but others thought it was ''distasteful and out of line.''

After some debate, the board voted in February to tack on the extra stipulation to the existing ''school newspaper'' policy that would prohibit any person or group from buying an ad if they are not selling a specific product.

It is not clear how much money the newspaper could lose from rejecting ads from the military as well as other national and local organizations.

Newspaper adviser Denise Markt decline to comment for this story and said, ''I'm not supposed to talk to reporters without the principal's permission.''

Warwick Principal Randy Barbarash did not return phone messages from the Student Press Law Center, but told the Times Herald-Record that he approved the ad before it ran. He was quoted saying, ''I knew the ad would be controversial, but we felt it had a place in our publication as a matter of free speech.''

Passing the restrictive ad policy is not infringing on students' First Amendment rights, Meinhardt said.

''Freedom of speech has been protected, just outside the venue of paid advertising,'' he said.

In fact, this protects the free speech rights of people who cannot afford to shell out hundreds of dollars for a full-page ad, Meinhardt said. According to the

Times Record-Herald, the ad cost $50 and was part of a year-long purchase totaling $450.

Meinhardt said the new rule, ''protects freedom of speech for everyone.''

''As a student who doesn't have $5 in my pocket, is my opinion any less valuable?'' he said.

Adam Goldstein, legal fellow at the Student Press Law Center, said Warwick's policy flies in the face of the First Amendment.

''The First Amendment doesn't care whether the speech is free or paid for, it's the core value of American democracy,'' Goldstein said. ''At its core, this is part of the government saying no one can pay to criticize the government. Obviously, there's a constitutional problem with that.''

Meinhardt said the policy is not set in stone and could be changed if the board decides it is not working.

''We don't know if this is perfect,'' Meinhardt said. ''It happened this year and we realized we didn't have any policy. It's not a clear-cut thing.''

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