ILLINOIS — For the first time a federal court has ruled thatIllinois college newspapers are protected from administrative censorship understate law.
The decision allows former Chicago State UniversityTempo editor George Providence II and adviser Gerian Moore to continue theirFirst Amendment lawsuit against the university.
“As the paper’seditor-in-chief, Providence was engaged in constitutionally-protectedexpression,” Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer wrote in the decision. “Providence allegesthat the University’s disruption of Tempo deprived him of his chosen forum forexpression. This is an actual injury that is contemplated by the FirstAmendment.”
The suit accuses the school of multiple activities tocensor and disrupt Tempo publication, leading to the cancellation ofmultiple issues. Providence alleges the school’s hostility led him to resignfrom his post as editor and ultimately drop out of school. He and Moore claimthe school harassed, censored and ultimately fired Moore due to his lack ofcontent censorship over the controversial paper, robbing the paper of itsadviser.
“The judge recognized they have a valid potential action,”SPLC attorney Adam Goldstein said. “If all is as they say, then their rightswere violated.”
The opinion provides an avenue of relief from the2005 Hosty v. Carter case, where the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appealsruled the same standard of censorship that applies to high schools applies tohigher education. Hosty would allow colleges to regulate school-fundednewspapers more heavily. Since that decision both Illinois and Oregon havecreated laws protecting collegiate student publications, but no other case hasinvoked their power.
While the case has not yet been decided — it may be six months to a year before that occurs — Pallmeyerruled today that case could continue to trial.
The judge also ruledthat because Providence retained the possibility and desire to attend the schoolat a later time, he retained standing, or the legal ability tosue.
“To rule otherwise would be to reward a defendant for chasingsomeone out of the area,” plaintiff attorney Roma Stewart said. “It would be atravesty.”
This principle could have major implications in studentpress law, enabling a student to drop out or transfer away from a harassingadministration while retaining the ability to fight the problem in court as longas he or she does not graduate. Often cases are dismissed due to studentgraduation during lengthy appeals.
“Students transfer morefrequently than in the past,” Goldstein said. “Now you don’t have to sitin the middle of a gunfight to vindicate your right not to beshot.”
The judge ruled in a partial summary judgment that theplaintiffs could not sue for money, but rather could seek an injunction forchange. Both Moore and Stewart are adamant about going forward with the casedespite the impossibility of monetary damages.
“Monetary damagesare not the all-important thing,” Moore said. “The question is if it’s the rightthing. There is a student involved and there is such thing as freedom of thepress.”
No one from the defense could be reached by presstime.