PRESS RELEASE: SPLC condemns Kansas State’s ‘bizarre’ interpretation of First Amendment

–For Immediate Release–

In a statement issued today, the Student Press Law Center condemned the position taken by officials at Kansas State University in their legal battle against student journalists over press freedom. SPLC Executive Director Mark Goodman described the university’s position as “unprecedented, bizarre and offensive to the First Amendment.”

In May, KSU officials removed student newspaper adviser Ron Johnson from his position, citing their dissatisfaction with the content of the publication. Student journalists and the ousted adviser filed a lawsuit against the school in July. Federal Judge Julie A. Robinson refused to grant a preliminary injunction against the school on July 14.

In documents filed with the court, Todd F. Simon, director of the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications, and Stephen E. White, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, justified using the content of the student publication as a basis for taking punitive action against it.

They claimed that the First Amendment protects only “substantive expressions.” If the censoring actions of school officials are based on objections to the “general quality” of the newspaper, the First Amendment provides no protection, their court filing said.

That argument is “simply wrong,” said Goodman, and “has been contradicted by courts across the country.”

“More importantly, this argument is offensive to the very notion of what the First Amendment was intended to protect, “said Goodman. “Under this analysis, the government could punish journalists and ban any speech it wanted as long as it claimed its actions were based on objections to the ‘general quality’ of the publication and not to individual stories.”

“What is most unfathomable about this situation is that a university frequently recognized as having one of the nation’s best schools of journalism would affirmatively take this position and argue it before a court of law,” said Goodman. “From this point on, the Student Press Law Center cannot in good conscience recommend that any student attend Kansas State University or that any faculty member choose to teach or advise there. If these are the lessons about the First Amendment they are teaching in the classroom, those who care about the Constitution would be well advised to go elsewhere.”

Goodman says that the position Kansas State University officials have taken could have implications for student news organizations around the country.

“This legal argument, if adopted by the courts, will overrule decades of court precedent and signal the beginning of the end of college press freedom as we know it today,” said Goodman. “The Student Press Law Center cannot imagine that Kansas State University officials want to have their names forever associated with the demise of the First Amendment on college campuses.”

Mark Goodman,Executive Director
Student Press Law Center
(703) 807-1904

Read the SPLC’s statement on Lane v. Simon.

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