Censored high school columnist takes case to court

CALIFORNIA – After failing to reach an agreement during court-mandated mediation, a high school student whose opinion column was banned from the student newspaper will face his school district in court over claims of First Amendment violations.

Andrew Smith, a former student at Novato High School sued the school in 2002 after administrators censored his column on immigration. Smith wrote the column, “Reverse Racism,” as a follow-up when a previous column of his angered some students and parents and led to the principal imposing a policy of prior review.

The original column opposed illegal immigration and resulted in a 150-student protest and a written letter of apology to parents from the principal and superintendent. Smith claims he received a death threat after that column ran.

In their letter to parents, Novato High School’s principal and superintendent said the original column should not have been printed because it violates the school district’s policy regarding student publications. The policy states that such publications “shall be limited only as allowed by law in order to maintain an orderly school environment and to protect the rights, health, and safety of all members of the school community.”

School officials also said in the letter that the article violated the district’s Human Relations and Respect Mission Statement, which says, “…all individuals including students, staff, parents and community members shall be treated with dignity, respect and fairness.”

“I’ll even bet that if I took a stroll through the Canal district in San Rafael that I would find a lot of people that would answer a question of mine with ‘Que?’”then-senior Smith wrote in his first column. “The only reason why they can’t speak English is because they are illegal.”

Smith urged in the column that government officials take action to stem illegal immigration “before our country rots from within.”

In the follow-up column that was spiked, Smith did not specifically address the immigration opinion article but instead talked about instances of reverse discrimination.

“History has dealt certain races a crummy hand, but it doesn’t help when people try to fix discrimination with reverse discrimination,” he wrote. “Just remember, hate everyone equally and don’t discriminate.”

The Marin County Supreme Court ordered the parties to try mediation, which Smith’s lawyer Arthur Mark said failed.

“We certainly thought there was room to find some common ground,” Mark said about the mediation, which was confidential. “We were disappointed. Hopefully we’ll have a good outcome at trial.”

The 10-day trial has been set for March 10, 2005.

Read previous coverage:

  • Students at Calif. school battle principal to publish paper again News Flash, 1/8/2002