Bazaar v. Fortune

The University of Mississippi held up the binding and distribution of the campus literary magazine called Images in the Spring of 1972 because the publication contained two short stories that the University found it to be in “bad taste.” The stories centered on the topics of interracial love and black pride, and the University took issue with the stories’ inclusion of profanity. Student authors from Images took the case to federal district court, claiming that the University’s censorship of their publication violated their First Amendment rights. The district court ruled in favor of the students and prohibited the University from “interfering with the publication and distribution” of Images. On appeal, the University presented two arguments to support its censorship of the publication and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rejected both. First, the University argued that it should be permitted to censor Images because the magazine was published with the advice of a faculty member from the school’s English department and English department funds fueled the publication. This relationship, the University claimed, gave the school the status of a private publisher that could choose what to print. The court found this argument uncompelling because precedent indicated that funding a publication does not give the school control over that publication. In addition, the court found there was no evidence that other publications the University admitted it could not censor — such as the campus newspaper — did not have faculty advisers. The University also argued that Images could be censored due to special circumstances. These special circumstances were that the profanity used in the stories was too tasteless and inappropriate to be connected with the University and could damage the University’s public image. The court found that the four-letter words used in the stories, including “the word which has historically been viewed as the ‘worst’ obscenity,” were already associated with the university in other ways. Profanity such as that used in Images could be found in conversation on campus, in other publications sold at campus bookstores, and in some required reading for classes. Further the court found that the potential for damage to a University’s public image could only support censorship of student publications in extreme circumstances and the censorship of Images did not fit the bill for an extreme circumstance.For all these reasons, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the decision of the district court, finding in favor of the students and permitting the publication of the stories in Images.