Nebraska Sen. proposes bill to protect student journalists

Adam Sabes
Mississippi Senior Campus Correspondent

  • A Nebraska state senator has introduced legislation designed to protect student journalists and their faculty advisors against retaliation from administrators.
  • The legislation was made necessary by a 1988 Supreme Court ruling that deemed student publications to be “limited public forums” subject to censorship by the schools that sponsor them.
  • Democratic State Senator Adam Morfeld said he was inspired both by conversations with current students and professors, as well as his own experience being threatened with expulsion for starting an independent publication in high school.
  • Former Mizzou instructor Melissa Click calling for some "muscle" to help her remove a student journalist from campus during the 2015 protests.

    A Nebraska state senator has introduced legislation designed to protect student journalists and their faculty advisors against retaliation from administrators.

    The “Student Journalism Protection Act,” introduced Monday by Democratic State Senator Adam Morfeld, would clarify that student media publications, including those related to class assignments, are entitled to the same First Amendment protections afforded to professional journalists, according to The Daily Nebraskan.

    "Instilling the values of a free press at an early age is important to our democracy and civic education of our future journalists and civic leaders."   

    Specifically, the bill would protect student journalists from being disciplined by their school as result of their journalistic work, and would also prevent administrators from firing or otherwise retaliating against the faculty advisors of student publications for approving an article or editorial.

    [RELATED: Student newspaper chafes at censorship from admins]

    Morfeld told Campus Reform that the legislation was inspired in part by conversations with “students and professors who had come to me about concerns at their respective state colleges,” but also by his own experience as a high school student, when he “started an alternative publication and was threatened with expulsion in South Dakota.”

    In addition to protecting student journalists from retaliation, Morfeld also stressed the importance of teaching students about the First Amendment, saying that “instilling the values of a free press at an early age is important to our democracy and civic education of our future journalists and civic leaders.”

    David Moshman, a former professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who has previously written about academic freedom, told Campus Reform that legislation protecting student journalists first became necessary in 1988, when the Supreme Court ruled in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier that student publications are “limited public forums” subject to censorship by the schools that sponsor them.

    [RELATED: Missouri lawmaker introduces bill to protect student journalists]

    “The bill essentially protects freedom of the student press to the same extent that it was protected from 1969, when Tinker established student First Amendment rights, to 1988, when Hazelwood limited those rights,” Moshman explained.

    As an example of the type of situation the legislation is intended to prevent, Moshman cited the case of Max McElwain, a student newspaper advisor at Wayne State College in Nebraska who was dismissed from his position in 2016 after approving the publication of several articles that were critical of the administration.

    Morfeld said that he expects the legislation to receive bipartisan support when it comes up for consideration, though it must first be assigned to a committee and debated before it can be brought to the floor for a vote.

    Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @asabes10





    Adam Sabes

    Adam Sabes

    Mississippi Senior Campus Correspondent

    Adam Sabes is Mississippi Senior Campus Correspondent, and reports liberal bias and abuse on campus for Campus Reform. He is a junior at Mississippi State University, where he is majoring in Journalism. He also contributes to Red Alert Politics. 

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