College censorship in brief


Editors sue school, student government over budget cutback

GEORGIA -- Editors at The Inkwell, Armstrong Atlantic State University's student newspaper, filed a lawsuit against the university and its Student Government Association in June accusing the school of stifling their right to free speech.

Angela Mensing, former editor in chief of The Inkwell, claimed the university slashed the newspaper's budget for 2008-09 year because of the paper's aggressive and critical approach to covering the school administration and SGA.

"The university didn't like our content choices, they didn't like the stories and they didn't like the way we covered the student government," Mensing said.

In March, the university's student government cut the amount The Inkwell receives from student fees by $14,760. The SGA raised its projection of the newspaper's ad revenue by $10,500, representing a net reduction in the paper's budget of $4,260 from the year before.

At the budget meeting in February, SGA Sen. Chris Nowicki asked for copies of every issue The Inkwell published that year. Mensing said this was proof the SGA was using the newspaper's content as a reason for the budget cut.

The Inkwell was one of just two student organizations to have its funding cut for next year.The university has yet to comment on the lawsuit. On August 5, it filed notice to remove the suit to federal court.

The Inkwell plaintiffs -- editors Mensing, Kristen Alonso and Brian Anderson -- claim the university violated both the federal and state constitutions and are asking the court to return the newspaper's funding to its previous level.

Attorney Gerald Weber, who is representing the student editors, took the case through the SPLC's Attorney Referral Network.

Case: Mensing v. Armstrong Atlantic State Univ., No. 08-154 (S.D. Ga. notice of removal filed Aug. 5, 2008), removed from No. CV081617-KA (Super. Ct. Chatham County Ga. filed July 3, 2008).

Judge reasserts Va. alcohol ad ban in college papers unconstitutional

VIRGINIA -- A federal judge in June issued a permanent injunction barring Virginia's Alcoholic Beverage Control board from enforcing two regulations that ban certain kinds of alcohol advertisements in newspapers.

The injunction, issued by U.S. Magistrate Judge M. Hannah Lauck, declared two provisions of the ban to be "facially unconstitutional" because they violated the First Amendment. One of the provisions Lauck invalidated prohibited alcohol advertisements in student newspapers.

"It's great we're finally able to print what we want to," said David Harries, editor in chief of the Collegiate Times. "It's not for them to decide what we can and cannot print. It falls under freedom of the press."

The initial lawsuit against the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control board was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia in 2006 on behalf of two student newspapers: University of Virginia's The Cavalier Daily and Virginia Tech University's Collegiate Times.

"This decision reaffirms the idea that student newspapers are part of the press just like any other publication," said Rebecca Glenberg, an ACLU of Virginia attorney.

In March, Lauck ruled the two provisions restricting alcohol ads were unconstitutional, but allowed both sides to suggest the way Lauck should interpret the ABC's policy.

The attorney general's office of Virginia, which represented the ABC, asked Lauck to issue a narrow order that would still allow the state to enforce parts of the regulations. Lauck, siding with the ACLU of Virginia, chose to completely strike the provisions.

In a document filed with the court, The Cavalier Daily estimated it lost about $30,000 in 2006 because of the alcohol advertisement ban.

The Virginia decision comes after a 2004 ruling by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that struck down a similar law in Pennsylvania.

Case: Educational Media Company at Virginia Tech, Inc. v. Swecker, No. 06-396 (E.D. Va. Jun. 19, 2008) (issuing permanent injunction).

Former DJ will not take First Amendment appeal to Supreme Court

MICHIGAN -- The Michigan Supreme Court will not reconsider a former disc jockey's claim that a university radio station violated his First Amendment rights. The former disc jockey, Theron "Terry" Hughes, said he considers the case finished and will not appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Hughes had filed a lawsuit against Eastern Michigan University and WEMU-FM Station Manager Arthur Timko after Timko fired him in 2003. Neither Timko nor Hughes are students at the university.

Timko fired Hughes after listeners complained about Hughes' on-air comments supporting the Iraq war, violating the station's policy requiring disc jockeys to remain neutral on controversial issues. He also refused to run hourly National Public Radio newscasts.

The district court initially sided with Timko, ruling that Hughes could be fired for failing to comply with his boss' orders and for undermining the station's goal of maintaining neutrality. But the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed the district court's ruling in 2006, determining 2-1 that Hughes' speech addressed a matter of public concern and WEMU's interest in maintaining neutrality did not outweigh Hughes' interest in freedom of speech.

But after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Garcetti v. Ceballos in 2006 that the First Amendment does not protect statements made by public employees pursuant to their official duties from employer discipline, the appeals court re-evaluated Hughes' case.

In a new 2-1 decision, the appeals court in 2007 affirmed the district court's dismissal in favor of Timko.

Hughes' on-air comments were not akin to those typically afforded First Amendment protections, the appeals court said. Instead, Hughes, acting in his official capacity as a station employee, used the airwaves "as a bully pulpit to expound on his own opinions and grievances in response to the revised policies of his employer requiring him to curtail personal opinion and commentary and to run NPR news broadcasts."

Case: Hughes v. Timko, No. 135186 (Mich. Jan. 8, 2008) (denying leave to file appeal).

Judge: General Assembly broke Ky. law by mixing state affairs with religion

KENTUCKY -- A judge has ruled that the Kentucky General Assembly violated state law when it appropriated $12 million to a private, Baptist university in Williamsburg, Ky.

The state's relationship with the University of Cumberlands garnered attention after a student was expelled for writing he was gay on his MySpace profile in 2006.

Jason Johnson indicated he was gay and wrote about his boyfriend on the Web site. Administrators asked Johnson to leave the school, citing the student handbook, which stated, "any student who engages in or promotes sexual behavior not consistent with Christian principles (including sex outside marriage and homosexuality) may be suspended or asked to withdraw."

Johnson had threatened litigation, but his attorney, Don Waggener, said they reached an agreement with the school in which Johnson was allowed to finish the semester and had his grades reinstated.

As a result of the Johnson matter, the Kentucky Fairness Alliance, which represents the interests of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, began paying attention to the university, said Misty York, the organization's communications director.

After the Kentucky General Assembly appropriated $10 million for the construction of a new pharmacy school at Cumberlands and $2 million to begin a pharmacy student scholarship program in 2006, the Kentucky Fairness Alliance filed a lawsuit along with two clergymen and the Jefferson County Teachers Association. The lawsuit contended that public appropriations to the private, religious school violated the Kentucky constitution by giving preference to a particular religion and excessively entangling government affairs with religion.

Special Judge Roger Crittenden of the Franklin Circuit Court did not directly address Johnson's claim of discrimination, but referring to the former student's case as an example, he said, "this is exactly the

Fall 2008, reports