Dickey v. Alabama State Board of Education

In 1967, George Dickey, editor-in-chief of the Troy State College campus newspaper, asked the college president for permission to print an editorial that cast members of the Alabama state legislature in a negative light. The college president prohibited Dickey from publishing the article because it violated a college rule that stated the newspaper could not criticize the Alabama governor or legislature. Troy State was controlled and operated by the state of Alabama and as a consequence the state legislature determined the college’s funding. Dickey responded to the school president’s denial of his request by publishing the word “censored” diagonally across the space where the editorial criticizing the legislature would have run. The college suspended Dickey, classifying his action as “insubordination.” Upon receiving his suspension, Dickey brought claims against Troy State for violations of his constitutional rights.

The district court held that “[a] state cannot force a college student to forfeit his constitutionally protected right of freedom of expression as a condition of his attending a state-supported institution.” The court recognized that institutions of higher education have an interest in maintaining rules to ensure an effective learning environment, but ultimately found that the rule against criticizing the legislature did not further this objective. The court also found that allowing Dickey to return to school would not jeopardize school discipline. The court advised that the college did not need to have a newspaper at all and did not need to retain Dickey as editor, but because they had chosen to place Dickey in charge of the paper it could not stand in the way of his freedom of expression.

The court ordered that Dickey be allowed to continue his studies at Troy State and ordered that the college pay for the student’s attorneys fees.