Nebraska State Sen. Adam Morfeld introduced the Student Journalism Protection Act on Monday, which would protect the First Amendment rights of students and related faculty.
This legislation will work to ensure student journalists their rights to free speech and freedom of the press, as well as protect them against retaliation from the school or administration, Morfeld said.
This protection will apply to all student media publications, whether they are produced using school resources or for a class assignment. According to Morfeld, it will also protect advisors involved in the publication.
If a school disagrees with an editorial written by a student publication, the advisor who gave their approval cannot be fired and is also protected from retaliation against the school.
While it is assumed students already maintain their right to free speech, similar to their professional counterparts, Morfeld said that has not always been the case.
In 1988, the Supreme Court ruled in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier that in universities and educational settings, regulation and censorship could be set in place on just about any basis, according to an article by The Chronicle of Higher Education.
While this court case was specifically about K-12 schools and did not address colleges and universities, the Hazelwood case has been applied to the rights of college students regarding their free speech.
Morfeld said the legislation’s introduction on Monday seemed to garner a positive response from senators, and the legislation is currently being assigned to a committee.
He explained after the committee hearing that it will be put to a vote and, if passed, there will be three rounds of debate.
Morfeld said he understands the potential plights of student journalists, and wants to make sure their rights are upheld. When he was a student, a publication he created got him into trouble with his school, and he was almost expelled.
“This is something I care very deeply about, and always did, even back in high school,” Morfeld said.