STAFF ED: Show Me Free Speech
The Walter Cronkite New Voices Act would support free speech in Missouri.
January 31, 2018
Last March, high schoolers in Pittsburg, Kansas caused an uproar in their town after publishing an article in the school newspaper that accused the newly hired principal of harboring false credentials.
Threats of suspension and lawsuits were tossed at them like tomatoes on a bad comedian. The fact that they had openly questioned the authority of the school district, and specifically the decision of a beloved superintendent, was considered impudent, disrespectful, even libel.
What the article really was, however, was the execution of free speech to convey a buried truth.
All of this was possible due to Kansas law that prevents students from administrative censorship.
Most other states do not have the same luxury, as the enforcement of the First Amendment right to freedom of the press and speech for minors has long been a subject of great controversy, particularly since the Hazelwood vs. Kuhlmeier case, which, originating in Missouri, was sent to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In fact, it is almost 30 years ago from the day when the decision was announced. Under the Supreme Court Ruling, public schools have a legal right to censor the students, as they are not given the full protection of the 1st Amendment.
However, the fall of the just enforcement of the First Amendment has also seen the rise of agencies which protect student journalists, such as the Student Press Law Center, which launched the idea for a bill that guarantees students full protection against censorship at the state level.
This bill, known as the New Voices Act, has passed in different versions in 12 states: Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Arkansas, Colorado, Oregon, California, North Dakota, Maryland, Illinois, California, Washington and Pennsylvania.
Missouri passed the version of the bill called the “Walter Cronkite New Voices Act” in the House of Representatives, but has yet to push it through the Senate successfully.
As quoted directly from the language of Missouri House Bill 2058, “A student journalist has the right to exercise freedom of speech and of the press in school-sponsored media, regardless of whether the media is supported financially by the school district or by use of facilities of the school district or produced in conjunction with a class in which the student is enrolled.”
As such, the CHS Globe encourages readers to take action and let our legislators know that this is something we care about.
The Clayton School District and the Globe have an agreement defining the relationship in that the Globe cannot be censored by administration. A former superintendent suggested that the Board create an official policy giving student publications editorial freedom when a new principal tried to censor student publications.
Most other student journalists in Missouri are not offered this same protection, thus they are dependent on this bill.
Walter Cronkite, a beloved Missourian for whom the legislation is named, held at the core of his beliefs that “Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy.” At a time when the press has been labeled “the enemy of the people,” it is important to remember that without a free press, we are without a democracy.