From the hotline: can I be punished for fighting censorship?

Q: What negative consequences could ensue if I try to fight censorship? Can I be removed from my editorial position or expelled from my school?

Attorney Advocate Adam Goldstein: The short answer is that, unless you break any rules or laws in how you choose to oppose censorship, it would be unlawful for an administrator (high school, college, or otherwise) to punish you for speaking out. 

That said, in most of the cases I’ve seen, the censorship was unlawful to begin with. So there’s a risk that your administrators will choose to break the law again and try to punish you for speaking out. Those cases are extremely rare, but they do happen, from time to time. And if that happens, you fight it as another form of censorship. It certainly makes for a better court case.

If you break a rule in how you choose to protest censorship, you can be punished for breaking that rule. For example, if you plan a walk-out to protest your high school’s censorship of your newspaper, you could be punished for failing to return to class or for creating a physical event that prevented the normal operation of school. But don’t worry–you don’t really need those strategies. Packing a school board meeting with students is more effective than a bunch of students standing outside in the middle of the day, anyway. 

That said, don’t let fear of consequences stop you from standing up for what’s right. If your administrators are lawbreakers, there are lawyers and courts for that. Don’t let anyone silence you out of fear. I’ve never met a student who regrets fighting censorship.