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Q: Should Schools Be Allowed to Censor Student Journalists?


“When considering this question, it’s important that we understand what “censorship” is, and what “student journalists” are. The position that I will affirm is that schools should have the ability to censor student journalists in limited circumstances, and should have broader power when the student journalism is funded by the school. First, censorship is defined by Oxford as “the suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security.” Denying schools the ability to censor student journalists at any time would mean that even obscene publications and publications that create a security threat would be permitted. Secondly, “student journalist” can refer both to a student who runs an independent publication, or a student taking a journalism class that is run by the school. Students who fund and operate their own independent news publications ought to have significantly broader protections than students who are part of a journalism class. When the government funds a publication, it has the inherent right to dictate what messages it promotes through that publication. This is because the right to free speech does not entail a right to taxpayer funding of that speech, and this view was upheld by the Supreme Court in Rust v. Sullivan (1991). Prohibiting public schools from exercising editorial control over publications created in school-sponsored journalism classes is constitutionally unnecessary and would impede education. However, what about when a student decides, of their own accord, to create and distribute their own publication? Public schools are government agencies, and as such, their right to restrict speech is limited by the Constitution. Nevertheless, the right to free speech is not absolute, and does not include distributing obscene material or material that, by its nature, causes an imminent breach of the peace. In the context of a public school, an independent student journalist can and should only be censored if their publications are either obscene or result in a material and substantial disruption to the orderly operation of the school. (Tinker v. Des Moines, 1969). Censorship is, in most cases, unconstitutional and dangerous. However, government “self-censorship” through editorial control of taxpayer-funded programs and publications (such as school newspapers) is not unconstitutional, and is necessary to promote a school’s objective of education. Additionally, the right to free speech is not absolute, and should be limited within a public school setting only if the speech is obscene or creates a breach of the peace within the school. It is important to note that these standards, based on Supreme Court First Amendment precedent, would not permit schools to censor unpopular or controversial opinions in independent student publications, and would still require viewpoint neutrality. However, because restrictions are necessary and legitimate in limited circumstances, schools should be allowed to censor student journalists.”

Don from Virginia


“The United States, since its formation, has shown an emphasis on freedom. The freedoms presented to citizens are deemed as the most integral parts of the Constitution. The First Amendment — which outlines the freedom of religion, assembly, petition, press, and speech — was not even originally part of the Constitution. It took months and months of debate for the Bill of Rights to be added to the Constitution and ultimately ratified. Even after ratification, American men and women have had to continue fighting to keep these rights intact. Because of the sacrifice that has been put forth for these liberties, opening the door to censorship undermines a core principle of the United States. The ability to speak freely, without worry of government displeasure, is as American as hot dogs on the Fourth of July. The First Amendment aims to protect citizens from unnecessary government intervention in personal freedoms. Because of the decision in Gitlow v. New York (1925), parts of the First Amendment were incorporated to apply to all states in the United States. State governments are not allowed to infringe on freedom of speech and press because of this case. School journalists, as in the case of Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier (1988), have been told that their speech and publications are limited if it is deemed “inappropriate.” However, public schools and their officials are under the jurisdiction of the state government; they are employees of the state. Thus, schools suppressing speech and press would ultimately undermine free speech that the states and their employees are supposed to uphold. However, even though student speech and press should be mostly unregulated, individuals are still responsible to deal with possible consequences. It has been well established that libel, obscenity, and fighting words are not protected forms of speech: prior restraint is only allowed in these extreme circumstances. Even so, Near v. Minnesota (1931) determined that prior restraint is rarely justifiable, meaning that the government cannot stop something from being published. The Hazelwood School District, almost 60 years later, did exactly that: stopped students from publishing stories about teen pregnancy and divorce. As an employee of the state government, the principal of Hazelwood East High School disregarded the words of the Constitution. There was little basis and constitutional backing to justify his prior restraint. A story on teen pregnancy does not pose a clear threat by any means. In order to determine the constitutionality of certain speech, the clear and present danger test should have been sed, but that still would have shown that the students speech was proper. This test for the safety of speech was developed in response to the case of Schenck v. United States (1919) for yelling fire in public. Holistically, the Hazelwood decision failed to address that public schools are government entities that must adhere to the Constitution by not interfering in the press or speech of individuals except for in extreme cases. The decision did not focus on previous precedent and established vague standards with little constitutional backing. Student journalists, in the grand scheme of free speech/press decisions, have every right to be free from censorship.”

Alexandra from North Carolina

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– President John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961