High school students’ views on First Amendment rights contradictory, according to survey

IOWA — Three out of 10 students believe principalsshould be allowed to approve a school publication before it isdistributed, according to an Iowa High School Press Associationsurvey.

The survey, which was conducted to kick off National ScholasticJournalism Week from Feb. 18-24, polled students about their opinionson First Amendment rights.

Researchers asked 905 students who were chosen at random fromnine Iowa high schools about their beliefs on topics from censorshipto school prayer.

The survey shows that nearly 26 percent of students think publicschools should not allow the distribution of political flierson campus.

According to Steven Lyle, president of the IHSPA, studentsneed more education on their constitutional rights.

"Although the majority of students seem to support theconcepts in the Bill of Rights, the survey suggests that somestudents do not fully appreciate these fundamental freedoms,"Lyle said.

He added that many of the students’ views were contradictoryand pointed to the fact that 92 percent of students believe peopleshould be allowed to criticize the government, but only 27 percentbelieve they should be able to burn the U.S. flag as part of aprotest. In addition, the survey showed that only 31 percentof students think that groups such as the Ku Klux Klan shouldbe allowed to march.

"It concerns me that students who say that they believein free speech would censor the views of those whose views areobjectionable to them," Lyle said. "Just because youstrongly disagree with an idea does not give you a right to prohibitthose ideas."

He added, "Some students don’t understand this fundamentalprinciple of a democracy. I suppose they won’t value this rightuntil someday it is taken away from them."

Lyle said he believes the contradiction shows that studentsare willing to sacrifice their free speech rights in order to"achieve a safer, more just and ordered society." Accordingto Lyle, school environments play an important role in shapingthe views of the students.

"Students are used to the school regulating their behavior,"Lyle said. "They can’t even go to the restroom without ahall pass or wear certain clothing so why shouldn’t they needthe principal’s approval before publishing the school newspaper?"

Lyle added, however, that students should understand that administratorsshould not control a student publication.