FIRE Continues to Fight for Press Freedom at Johns Hopkins University

August 15, 2006

In June, FIRE reported that Johns Hopkins University had ignored the theft of The Carrollton Record (TCR), banned the distribution of the conservative paper in campus dormitories, and entertained the possibility of investigating “harassment” complaints against the paper’s editors. All of this came after the paper ran a story about a campus visit by a pornographic film director, complete with a front page picture of the speaker with members of the sponsoring student group, the Diverse Sexuality and Gender Alliance (DSAGA).

JHU officials told TCR that the disappearance of their newspaper did not actually constitute theft, and then used a flyer-posting policy to ban TCR from dorms, even though other papers like the liberal Donkey retained full distribution rights in dorms. In addition, members of DSAGA filed harassment complaints against members of the TCR.

FIRE wrote to JHU in objection to the school’s many abuses. JHU counsel Frederick Savage responded to FIRE by defending JHU’s prohibition of TCR’s distribution as “long standing policy” and by reasserting that taking large quantities of a free publication does not constitute theft—an assertion that stands in direct contradiction to current Maryland state law.

Last Thursday, FIRE wrote to the JHU Board of Trustees to once again express concerns about the deplorable state of freedom of the press at JHU. FIRE again called on JHU to condemn the theft of TCR and rescind the ban on its distribution in dormitories. FIRE wrote:

JHU must understand that the suppression of TCR’s freedom of the press degrades the institution’s commitment to an environment conducive to “the free and open exchange of ideas.” JHU’s actions also send a chilling message to all students that their First Amendment rights are not protected and that they cannot be trusted to decide for themselves which newspapers to read. JHU has charted a dangerous course in choosing to censor controversial works rather than promote an atmosphere where different points of view can be addressed and openly, responsibly discussed.

The most chilling and dangerous threat of all is the harassment complaint against members of TCR. As FIRE wrote, “True harassment is a serious offense; publishing a newspaper disagreeing with certain students’ opinions is not.” It is imperative that JHU immediately drop the investigation into the harassment complaints against members of TCR. Students must be free to express controversial views without fear of reprisal.

FIRE will keep up the fight at JHU to protect freedom of the press for TCR and publications like it. When the semester begins next month, TCR should have all the rights and privileges that other publications at JHU enjoy.

Schools:  Johns Hopkins University