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Report: Free speech awareness rises in 2012, support for off-campus speech rights about the same

(07/17/12 5:35pm)

Fifty-seven percent of Americans believe that public schools should not be able to punish students for posting “offensive” content on social media, according to the latest installment of the First Amendment Center’s State of the First Amendment report. The 2012 report was released Tuesday, and while some of its findings continue to paint a grim picture for appreciation and knowledge of the First Amendment — 27 percent of Americans were unable to name any of its five freedoms, fairly consistent with last year’s results — a few responses are more optimistic for the future of the First Amendment inside and outside the schoolhouse gates. Just 13 percent of respondents believed the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees, the lowest total in the past decade. National awareness of freedom of speech as a First Amendment-protected right jumped from previous years; 65 percent of those responding were able to volunteer "speech" as a protected right.

Free speech zone at University of Cincinnati struck down – permanently

(08/22/12 7:41pm)

A federal judge permanently struck down free speech policies at the University of Cincinnati on Wednesday, upholding a previous ruling that found the policy unconstitutional and vague. Judge Timothy Black issued a preliminary injunction in June in the lawsuit brought by the school's Young Americans for Liberty chapter after group members tried to circulate a petition across campus and were confined to a "Free Speech Area" consisting of about 10,000 square feet. Black's decision Wednesday makes that ruling permanent, ending policies that required students to give between five to 15 days prior notice of protests and demonstrations, in addition to confining them to the free speech area.

Memphis journalist and College Press Freedom Award winner tells her story

(11/06/12 1:55pm)

Saturday afternoon the SPLC had the privilege of honoring The Daily Helmsman and its editor-in-chief, Chelsea Boozer, who are this year's College Press Freedom Award winners. Over the last few months, Boozer and Helmsman managing editor Christopher Whitten endured repeated harassment by campus police at the University of Memphis for the paper's reporting about campus rapes and their criticism of the police department's failure to notify students in a timely manner. Then, the paper successfully fought back an attempt by a student fee committee to cut the paper's budget by 33 percent — disproportionate with cuts to student organizations, and in response to some committee members' dislike of the paper's coverage.

Connecticut school board reprimands member for writing letters to the editor about positive school news

(11/15/12 2:48pm)

It's not unusual to hear of students being censored. But school board members? According to The Register Citizen in Connecticut, the Torrington Board of Education met in closed session to order a fellow school board member to stop writing letters to the editor. What sparked the school board's crackdown has apparently been traced back to the weekly letters written by board member Vincent Merola, who wanted to share positive stories about the school district. That's right: Merola wanted more attention for positive stories about the school district. According to reports in the Register, the board used a sketchy justification to call the closed session related to Merola's conduct.

Hazelwood turns 25: Five simple ways you can make sure it never turns 50

(01/06/13 2:13pm)

A movie of trained fighting dogs ripping each other to pieces. Ten million dollars from an undisclosed source dumped into a special-interest ad campaign to sway the outcome of an election. A padded resumé falsely claiming credit for military heroism. A video game in which players tear the limbs off their opponents, then beat them to death with the blood-soaked stumps. "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" hate-speech signs waved outside of a military funeral. A newspaper editorial advocating the defeat of a school board candidate who supports banning books. The Supreme Court thinks one of these is unprotected by the First Amendment. If you guessed it was the editorial, then you are likely either (a) a federal judge or (b) a victim of Hazelwood justice. This coming Sunday marks 25 years since the Supreme Court confined America's young people to a constitutional underclass in Hazelwood School District v.

Supreme Court justices' papers give some hints about how Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier came to be

(01/09/13 6:25pm)

Education Week's Mark Walsh, a veteran Supreme Court reporter who deeply understands education law, is just out with a fascinating look behind the scenes at how the high court arrived at the First Amendment legal standard that governs much of the speech taking place in schools (and, increasingly, in colleges). The entire piece is well worth reading, but it's particularly enlightening for the nuggets Walsh was able to unearth from the papers of Justices Byron White, author of the majority opinion in Hazelwood School District v.

Former Famuan editors start "underground" online publication, Ink and Fangs

(01/14/13 1:15pm)

This weekend, former editors of The Famuan at Florida A&M University launched an underground website,, to distribute news during a suspension of the paper's publishing by the journalism school's dean. Karl Etters, who had been serving as editor-in-chief of The Famuan before being told last week that he would have to reapply for his job, said the staff of about 10 made the decision to create the site because they feel it's important to continue covering the campus. The Famuan's first issue of the semester was to have been published today, but staff learned last week that journalism dean Ann Kimbrough was suspending publication until staff completed training.

N.C. ruling sets back college athletes' ability to challenge removal from teams

(01/16/13 5:06pm)

There's an intriguing new ruling out from North Carolina's Court of Appeals that, while not directly related to free expression, portends difficulty for the inevitable legal challenge as more college athletes are punished for what they say on social media. The court of appeals decided Tuesday that a former Tar Heels football player has no claim against either the University of North Carolina or the NCAA for the loss of earnings he believes he suffered when he was barred from the team for his senior season, leaving him to enter the NFL as an undrafted free agent receiving the league's minimum salary. Michael McAdoo was kicked off the team after being accused of accepting inappropriate help from a tutor in completing a term paper for (yes, really) his Swahili class, leading the NCAA to declare him ineligible to play. On top of the NCAA disqualification, UNC suspended McAdoo for a semester and put him on academic probation, but did not take away his athletic scholarship entirely. It's worth perusing the entire opinion, but the bottom line is that, in the view of the three-judge panel in North Carolina, McAdoo has no case because he lost only playing time, not his scholarship, housing and other tangible university benefits.

Appeals court finalizes legal victory for conservative newspaper at Oregon State

(01/27/13 8:01pm)

A federal appeals court has declined a request from Oregon State University administrators to reconsider an October 2012 ruling that kept alive a First Amendment challenge brought by publishers of a conservative newspaper whose distribution racks were seized. In a brief order issued Friday, the Ninth Circuit U.S.

Court cites Hazelwood to defend school's removal of religious reference

(02/13/13 7:17pm)

As co-president of the Taconic Hills Middle School student council, an eighth grade student had a warm message to share with her classmates at the school’s annual “Moving Up” ceremony in June 2009. “As we say our goodbyes and leave middle school behind, I say to you, may the LORD bless you and keep you; make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace." But a decision issued last month from the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York defended the New York school district’s right to remove that very closing line from the unnamed student’s speech.

Arizona legislators propose constitutional "loyalty oath" to graduate high school

(02/19/13 2:02pm)

“I, ______, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge these duties; so help me God.” High school students in the state of Arizona would be required to recite the above oath before graduating if a proposed bill is passed. The bill is an effort to “encourage our high school students to take an active interest in what our Constitution is,” bill co-sponsor Rep.

"Harlem Shake" parodies in Alabama, Pennsylvania land students in trouble

(02/20/13 7:47pm)

On Monday, students at the University of Alabama who tried to film a Harlem Shake video on the school's quad learned they couldn't gather without a permit from the university, according to reports in The Crimson White, Alabama's student newspaper. The school requires all groups to apply for a grounds use permit for events, speeches, rallies or protests on campus, and it can take up to 10 days for the school to approve permits. The large crowd that gathered was told by campus police to disperse, and the student who organized the event was given a ticket, The Crimson White reports.

The Bill of Rights: Not just for the big kids anymore. (At least in three states.)

(03/22/13 7:57pm)

Students in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware are fortunate to live within the boundaries of the federal Third Circuit, one of the last remaining provinces in America that honors the promise of the First Amendment to all citizens, even the youngest. Three judges on the Third Circuit U.S.

Google never forgets: Seventh Circuit finds no right to force search engines to block access to embarrassing public records

(03/23/13 3:54pm)

The ability of search engines to dredge up unflattering facts has provoked global debate over whether people should have a legal "right to be forgotten" -- that is, a right to demand that embarrassing personal details be taken offline.

Nation's leading journalism educators say there's nothing "legitimate" or "educational" in Hazelwood censorship

(04/03/13 4:09pm)

Twenty-five years after the U.S. Supreme Court told public schools they could lawfully censor students for any reason "reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns," the nation's leading journalism educators are calling for an end to the misuse of that legal authority to stifle discussion of controversial topics. In a resolution unanimously approved by its board, the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) urges K-12 schools to refrain from abusing the Supreme Court's 1988 ruling, Hazelwood School District v.