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After 25 Years, the Cure for ‘Hazelwood’ is Free Speech on Campus

By on January 11, 2013

According to a survey conducted by the Student Press Law Center (SPLC) and other press education groups at the National High School Journalism Convention last fall, more than 40 percent of student journalists and advisers said that “school officials had ordered them not to publish something.” On The Huffington Post yesterday, Adam Goldstein from the SPLC shares this shocking statistic and points to a culprit: the Supreme Court’s 1988 decision in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier. Adam’s piece laments the way Hazelwood has been used to censor an alarming (and growing) amount of student speech since it was handed down 25 years ago.

Although the defendants in Hazelwood were high school students, we at FIRE have seen how the Court’s reasoning has spilled over into cases involving adult college students, with disastrous consequences for free speech on campus. Earlier this week, FIRE’s Azhar Majeed highlighted Professor David Moshman’s similar take on how the Hazelwood decision has hurt higher education. Adam mentions this problem, too, citing the “four Federal circuits [which] have appliedHazelwood to colleges—permitting even government-run graduate schools to censor the speech of adults because the school didn’t like the messages.” Adam would likely agree with Moshman’s assessment that the students discussed in Greg Lukianoff’s recent book, Unlearning Liberty, may be “the progeny of Hazelwood.”

Adam’s piece also introduces SPLC’s new “Cure Hazelwood”  website, which offers advice and resources for students to “get tested” (i.e., to see if their state has an anti-Hazelwood law) and fight back.

“There are no known side effects to free speech,” the site claims, “making it the best antidote to Hazelwood.” I might amend that list to add one side effect: a better campus culture. And I believe that goal is worthy of a plastic bracelet campaign.