Freedom of the college student press could be at risk

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By Staff Editorial

By Staff Editorial

RCC is currently considering a proposal that states: “The District’s commitment to the exercise of free speech and free expression is not intended to convert all of the facilities maintained and/or owned by the District into a public forum. As the owner of property, the District reserves the right to limit the use of its facilities for the exercise of free speech and free expression…”

The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech and the press In a recent court decision, journalism students at Governor’s State University in Illinois were forced to sue their college which censored its college newspaper, the Innovator. In 2001, Patricia Carter, dean of Student Affairs and Services at Governor’s, told the printers not to print newspaper until the faculty had checked it over and approved the content.

This attempt at censorship was challenged by students, and the case rose through the courts until recently, in a 7 to 6 judgment, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the Innovator was subject to censorship in the same way high schools were, justifying their decision from an earlier case in 1998, that held that most student newspapers, because they are publicly funded, were subject to censorship.

Viewpoints is a public forum newspaper, not currently subject to censorship, but this case could have far-reaching consequences for College newspapers everywhere.

If a college newspaper is conducted by an English department as a lab class instead of a public forum, the instructors, beholden to college administration, can shape the content of student stories with no First Amendment protection for student journalists. In the seventh circuit, which includes only Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, publicly funded newspapers can be censored at will.

What this means is that potentially, all school newspapers, including at colleges that receive public funding, will not have their opinions heard if they happen to disagree with college administration, and ideas that deviate from government-approved channels will be suppressed.

A free press is one of the most important parts of the Bill of Rights. It protects us from the theft of our other rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

If students are to be deprived of a voice in the one place where new ideas are encouraged, then this censorship could only erode the right to free speech out in the real world after graduation.

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