Syracuse honors courage against persecution of free speech in Mexico … and in North Dakota?

The staff of West Fargo High School’s newspaper the Packer and former adviser Jeremy Murphy received an honorable mention in the Tully Center for Free Speech Awards, given annually to a journalist who has faced obstacles to free speech. The award, announced this week by Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, is one of many awards Murphy and the Packer staff have received.As a “reward” for the paper’s success, Murphy was removed from his position as adviser in June 2009.

Murphy told the SPLC in June that administrators voiced concerns about the newspaper’s content on several occasions — and that he felt he had been removed from the position because school officials objected to columns, editorials and articles that appeared in the award-winning paper. His suspicion was confirmed by a trail of e-mails released under North Dakota’s open-records act, which documented the link between his removal and administrators’ displeasure over the negative portrayal of the school in the Packer.

“Students, parents, teachers and teachers’ union officials protested the decision, saying Murphy inspires leadership and commitment to free press,” the Tully Center’s announcement said.

The top Tully Free Speech Award went to Mexican journalist and author Lydia Cacho, who has publicized human-rights abuses despite suffering torture and imprisonment — which puts Murphy in some elite and courageous company. The award will be presented at a February 16 ceremony at the Syracuse campus.