Protect our rights as student journalists

Nebraska’s 2018 legislative session opened Jan. 3 facing significant budget concerns that are sure to dominate, rightfully so, the legislative agenda.
But one bill – LB886, the Student Journalism Protection Act – is perhaps equally vital to the future of Nebraska as any financial legislation, and it won’t cost taxpayers one cent.
Introduced Jan. 8 by Sen. Adam Morfeld, District 46, Lincoln, LB886 aims to protect the First Amendment rights of Nebraska’s high school and college journalism students who participate in school-sponsored media. In reality, it protects all students.
For high school students, the bill provides student journalists the same First Amendment protections most American college students and all media professionals enjoy.
That’s nothing new. For 199 years, from when Bill of Rights was adopted in 1789 until the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1988 Hazelwood decision (Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier), high school students enjoyed those protections. And the country survived just fine.
In Hazelwood, the court gave high school administrators the right to censor school-sponsored student media, unless state legislation prevented it. Colleges were immune to Hazelwood until 2005 when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, encompassing Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, rendered its Hosty decision (Hosty v. Carter). There, the court applied Hazelwood to colleges and universities within the Seventh Circuit only.
In 1989, Iowa adopted legislation similar to Nebraska’s proposed LB886. Kansas followed in 1992. Over the years other states followed suit, including Colorado and California. Recently North Dakota, 2015; Illinois and Maryland, 2016; Rhodes Island, Vermont and Nevada, 2017.
At the college level LB886 is purely preventative, and important to all, not just journalism students.
It’s intended to ensure that the long history of free press and expression students have enjoyed at Chadron State, and on college campuses across Nebraska, remains intact.
As student journalists, it is important that we continue our education under that freedom as we prepare for the real world. Without question, we are grateful CSC administrators, now and in the past, have understood and respected our rights. It is vital that all students remain uncensored in thought and expression, but that those expressions be exchanged civilly. It also is important that student journalists continue uncensored to report and comment on stories and issues important to our primary readers – fellow students. But we also must exercise those rights in the highest professional and ethical manner.
It is important to note that the proposed bill also recognizes that we are still students and that we are still being directed down the path of professionalism. The bill does not protect students who publish libelous material; engage in unwarranted invasions of privacy; commit unlawful acts; or “so incites students as to create a clear and present danger of the commission an unlawful act; a violation of institutional policies, or the material and substantial disruption of the orderly operation of such institution.”
By adopting LB886, the legislature will ensure that we all continue to enjoy our First Amendment rights, no matter what the future brings.

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