From the hotline: what do I do when I’m censored?

Q: If I think I am being wrongly censored, what can I do?

From Attorney Advocate Adam Goldstein: I know how overwhelming it can feel when you’re being censored and you’re trying to figure out what to do. We spend a lot of time learning about how the First Amendment is supposed to work and very little time learning what to do when it doesn’t.

When you boil it down, there are three basic steps to fighting censorship:

  1. Appeal internally. That is, figure out who in the administration is censoring you; why they’re censoring you; and appeal that decision the way you would appeal any other decision–by asking for a meeting with that individual, and if that doesn’t work, his or her supervisor. At a public high school, this ends with the school board, and that’s the last stop for internal appeals. Private high schools and colleges might have a different setup, but there will eventually be a final decision from the institution.
  2. Appeal to the public. Every school, public or private, answers to the public in one way or another, whether it’s through the elected officials of a school board or the marketplace for tuition dollars. Going public can be an extremely powerful tool to convince schools to do the right thing and respect your expression rights.
  3. Appeal to a court. If you have a strong case and public pressure doesn’t do the trick, there’s the option to seek legal remedies, of course.

Here’s the thing: you aren’t obligated to do all of these things because you choose to do one of them, and you don’t have to have a case that would be a viable lawsuit in order to be in the right. You can still speak up and call out the school for doing the wrong thing, even if, at the end of the day, you don’t have the time or interest in making a federal case out of it.

But all of that said, please call us at (202) 785-5450 or contact us using the legal help form. We’ll be happy to discuss your specific problem. And most of all, remember that you’re not crazy for thinking you have the right to express yourself. You do. It’s the people who interfere with that right who need some educating.