Student newspaper cannot run political ads, school board says

NEW YORK –After an anti-military ad ran in Warwick Valley High School’s studentnewspaper, the school board voted to limit ads to those selling a product, not apolitical idea.

According to a new rule adopted in February by theWarwick Valley Board of Education, advertisements appearing in the studentnewspaper, The Survey, ”must belimited to products and services.”

While it does not state itspecifically, the new rule would bar ads from anti-war groups, militaryrecruiters, Planned Parenthood, Right to Life and any student or communitymember campaigning for office.

Board president Michael Meinhardtstressed those rules could change, but said the board felt something needed tobe done after the controversial ad ran in October.

The ad was afull-page photo of tombstones with the bold, white message: ”Youcan’t be all you can be if you’re dead. There are other ways toserve your country. There are other ways to get money for college. There areother ways to be all you can be. Think about it before you sign your lifeaway.”

According to an October 2005 article by the Times Herald-Record, a local newspaper,the ad was paid for and created by a Warwick High School student who is a memberof the Bruderhof community, a Christian-based communal order whose members donot serve in the military of any country.

Meinhardt said the responseto the ad was mixed: Some were glad to see such a bold statement in the paper,but others thought it was ”distasteful and out of line.”

After some debate, the board voted in February to tack on the extrastipulation to the existing ”school newspaper” policy that wouldprohibit any person or group from buying an ad if they are not selling aspecific product.

It is not clear how much money the newspaper couldlose from rejecting ads from the military as well as other national and localorganizations.

Newspaper adviser Denise Markt decline to comment forthis story and said, ”I’m not supposed to talk to reporters withoutthe principal’s permission.”

Warwick Principal RandyBarbarash did not return phone messages from the Student Press Law Center, buttold the Times Herald-Record that heapproved the ad before it ran. He was quoted saying, ”I knew the ad wouldbe controversial, but we felt it had a place in our publication as a matter offree speech.”

Passing the restrictive ad policy is notinfringing on students’ First Amendment rights, Meinhardtsaid.

”Freedom of speech has been protected, just outside thevenue of paid advertising,” he said.

In fact, this protects thefree speech rights of people who cannot afford to shell out hundreds of dollarsfor a full-page ad, Meinhardt said. According to the

Times Record-Herald, the ad cost $50and was part of a year-long purchase totaling $450.

Meinhardt saidthe new rule, ”protects freedom of speech foreveryone.”

”As a student who doesn’t have $5 in mypocket, is my opinion any less valuable?” he said.

AdamGoldstein, legal fellow at the Student Press Law Center, said Warwick’spolicy flies in the face of the First Amendment.

”The FirstAmendment doesn’t care whether the speech is free or paid for, it’s the corevalue of American democracy,” Goldstein said. ”At its core, this ispart of the government saying no one can pay to criticize the government.Obviously, there’s a constitutional problem withthat.”

Meinhardt said the policy is not set in stone and couldbe changed if the board decides it is not working.

”Wedon’t know if this is perfect,” Meinhardt said. ”It happenedthis year and we realized we didn’t have any policy. It’s not aclear-cut thing.”