Last Friday, the North Dakota House of Representatives voted 92–0 in favor of the John Wall New Voices Act, which would protect freedom of the press in public high schools and colleges across the state.
As I explained last week here on The Torch, laws bolstering and clarifying student journalists’ First Amendment rights are sorely needed because of the Supreme Court’s decision in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier (1988) and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit’s ruling in Hosty v. Carter (2005), which opened the door for censorship of high school and college student newspapers, respectively.
Valley City State University assistant professor and student media director Steve Listopad has been fighting hard for the North Dakota bill, and the Student Press Law Center (SPLC) relayed his reasons for doing so:
The bill would allow student journalists to report on controversial issues without fear of censorship, Listopad said, adding that “we can’t teach journalism without using as much of the First Amendment as possible.”
While the legislation—House Bill 1471—originally contained provisions governing public high schools, public colleges, and private colleges, the section on private colleges was eliminated during the House Education Committee meeting on Tuesday. According to SPLC, “Another amendment clarifies that schools and colleges do not have jurisdiction to regulate students’ independent journalistic work outside of curricular school publications.”
With these amendments, the bill will now head to the State Senate.
It is encouraging to see such overwhelming support for this important bill, and its passage by the House on Friday stands as an appropriate end to FIRE’s Free Press Week.