Indiana High School Press Association plans First Amendment symposium

INDIANA — The Indiana High School Press Association is holding a First Amendment Symposium March 6 at the Indiana State House with speakers including Gov. Mitch Daniels, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and Rep. Mike Pence (R-Columbus), congressional supporters of a recent federal shield bill to protect journalists from being compelled to reveal anonymous sources.

IHSPA Executive Director Diana Hadley said this first-time program is an effort to “bring the stakeholders together” to discuss the importance of the First Amendment and free student press by all parties.

“We don’t think advisers and principals should be opposing each other; we’re all on the same team,” Hadley said.

IHSPA President Ryan Gunterman said his organization felt it was important to organize this kind of event to “educate and support those who are working with the First Amendment on a daily basis.”

As part of the program, Hadley said four selected former high school students will read their essays based on their core values of truth, integrity, courage and freedom as part of an essay contest modeled after National Public Radio’s “This I Believe” program.

“At the end of the day, some people may not agree with everything the kids said, but they’ll know that these kids know how to think,” Hadley said.

In describing the symposium, Hadley used three objectives: education to attendees, celebration of the diversity of groups participating and inspiration for those people to take what they learned and apply it in their communities and across the state. Hadley also said she hopes to inspire interest in a student press freedom bill.

“Clearly we hope to create a base where we’ll help people who are in crisis with First Amendment issues and head off trouble before it hits, and begin to discuss whether we need to push for a bill or not,” Hadley said. “We’re testing the waters, finding out what kind of support we could have. It takes a village to move forward on something like that.”

In 1992, a student press bill was introduced, passed the state House of Representatives by a large majority, but ran out of time in the state Senate.

Other participants include college and high school students, student publications advisers and 2006 Indiana High School Journalist of the Year Luke Beasely. Gunterman said that students will also be taking part in a student press panel that also involves school administrators.

“It will be great because there are students sitting up there in the state house in front of their legislators, participating in a panel with adults and holding their own,” Gunterman said. “[Viewers] are not going to come away thinking their just high school students. They’re going to treat them with just as much weight as a principal or superintendent.”

By Erica Hudock, SPLC staff writer