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New Voices Act takes effect in Maryland

The free press became a little freer this week in Maryland.

On October 1, Maryland’s New Voices Act, which provides statutory protection to public high school and college journalists, took effect. Under this new law, which was sponsored by State Senator and American University law professor Jamie Raskin and signed into law by Governor Larry Hogan in April, student journalists can generally no longer be subject to prior restraint from school administrators.

The section of the new law which covers student journalists in college, as edited for readability, states:

(B) (1) Subject to subsection (D) of this section, a student journalist may exercise freedom of speech and freedom of the press in school-sponsored media.

(2) Paragraph (1) of this subsection may not be construed to be limited by the fact that the school-sponsored media is:

(I) Supported financially by the public institution of higher education or by use of facilities owned by the institution; or

(II) Produced in conjunction with a class in which the student journalist is enrolled.

(C) (1) Subject to subsection (D) of this section, a student journalist is responsible for determining the news, opinion, feature, and advertising content of school-sponsored media.

Section D, referenced above, makes clear that the bill does not authorize student journalists to publish material that would not be protected under the First Amendment—for example, speech that is libelous or slanderous.

One key provision in the new law protects student media advisors who defend their students’ rights under the bill from retaliation. Unfortunately, retaliating against student media advisors as a tactic to censor student press has been a persistent, longstanding problem that FIRE has combated for more than a decade, so this particular section of the new law is a welcome development.

Statutory protection for the student press is sorely needed. As I explained back in January:

Legislation protecting student journalists from censorship was made necessary by two legal decisions. In the 1988 case Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, the Supreme Court of the United States held that high school students’ First Amendment rights were not violated by the school exercising control over the content of a newspaper produced as part of a journalism course, “so long as [the school’s] actions are reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit made matters much worse when it applied Hazelwood to college students in Hosty v. Carter (2005), allowing institutions of higher education in that circuit to censor adult journalists entitled to full First Amendment rights and regulate their reporting as though they were children.

As reported by the Student Press Law Center, in passing this legislation, Maryland has become the 10th state to take legislative action to reverse the harm caused by the Hazelwood and Hosty decisions. Next year, we expect other states to introduce similar bills. Hopefully, they’ll enjoy similar success.

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