The U.S. Supreme Court's decision restricting rights of high school journalists strengthens the authority of public school administrators, a Salt Lake attorney says.
Randall A. Mackey was one of three panaelists participating in a Law Day luncheon sponsored by the Utah State Bar Association and the Utah Society of Professional Journalists.
Other speakers on the panel, moderated by KUTV news reporter Rod Decker, were Robyn E. Blumner, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, and Amy Reitsch, sports editor of the Brighton High School Barb. Blumner and Reitsch both oppose the high court rulling.
In his presentation, Mackey, of the law firm of Fabian and Cledenin and a University of Utah adjunct professor, supported the high court's 5-3 decision of Jan. 13. The ruling held that high school students do not enjoy the same First Amendment protections as adults and overturned a decision by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that held in favor of a group of students from Louis County, Mo., school district. The students had sought to print articles in their high shool newspaper about pregnancy and divorce.
Commenting before the luncheon began, Mackey said the Supreme Court ruling provides that public school officials have broad powers to censor school newspapers, plays and other school-sponsored activities. He said the decision continues a recent trend in which the court has limited the constitutional rights of public school students.
Mackey said the Jan. 13 decision reafirms that boards of education have authority to establish curricula in schools. The arthority of boards of education would have been threatened if the case had been lost, he said.
Blumner argued that the Supreme Court ruling destroys the notion in students' minds that freedom of the press actually exists.
"What the court has done in Hazelwood is to destroy that notion and more importantly, to teach students that the reponse to distasteful ideas is censorship," she said.
Prior court rulings, she noted, recognize the importance of a robust debate about political and religious ideas. "What difference does it make if those ideas are spoken of written?"
Blumner said the argument that production of a school newspaper is a school-sponsored activity and should be regulated is invalid. There are a multitude of activites, which if once permitted, can't be fully regulated. For example, if a school decides to allow after-school clubs to use its facilities it cannot then place restrictions on certain organizations, she said.
Reitsch said the Planned Parenthood organization sought to publish an advertisement about its services and locations where they could be obtained in the Brighton High Barb.
A senior at the Jordan District school, Reitsch said the school gave permission to run the ad, but a district policy forbade it.
"That bugged me so I wrote an editorial. I didn't ask if I could do it," she said, noting that the editorial was published along with a Planned Parenthood picture of a teenage girl and boy and the caption, "If your girlfriend gets pregnant, so do you."
Reitsch told the Deseret News she was surprised the editorial was not censored when the ad was not permitted. She said the editorial contained statements from students saying they couldn't understand why the ad was not permitted when teenage pregnancy is such a widespread problem.
The student said she believes the Supreme Court ruling is an infringement on students' constitutional rights. "Not being able to run the ad is ridiculous."
Mackey said he believes that fears of a wave of school administrator repression are greatly exaggerated. He said the First Amendment still prevents an administrator from silencing certain kinds of student expression not deemed to be disruptive of a school's operation.