TEXAS — Baylor University’s student judicial board issued a no-contact order to members of the student newspaper on Thursday — an attempt to limit coverage of a student disciplinary case.
But Linda Wilkins, the editor in chief of The Baylor Lariat, said the order violates the student journalists’ right to free speech by attempting to restrict their communications.
“Sources have the option of declining an interview, but it is our right to contact them for the interview in the first place,” she said. “To tell us that we can’t do that does violate a right.”
Junior Cody Coll, who was confirmed as the Baylor University Student Court court’s chief justice last week, said the order is within his jurisdiction, though he was “unsure” if prior chief justices have issued similar orders to student publications in the past.
“It’s within the purview of the chief justice to instruct the justices to not communicate with the media,” he said. “It’s also within the jurisdiction of the court to issue an order such as the one that was issued yesterday.”
The order disallows “contact with any member of the Court” regarding a recent student case except for procedural and substantive questions. According to the order, newspaper staffers’ violation “may result in the party being held in contempt of court” and referred to the dean for judicial affairs for further proceedings.
While student government sources have declined student reporters’ interview requests in the past, Wilkins said Lariat reporters have always been allowed to reach out to contacts without fear of retribution.
“It doesn’t seem to actually fall under his jurisdiction,” Wilkins said. “That’s something I’m still looking into, but it doesn’t seem right that he would be able to order members of the press — even though we are students — to not contact someone.”
The Baylor Student Court includes seven student justices, and, Coll said, serves as the sole interpreter of the student body constitution.
Holding students in contempt of court “is not a frequent occurrence but not unprecedented,” he said. “The sanctions that the court is able to impose are broad, but for contempt of court, we would recommend to the university judicial affairs that the person be considered for disciplinary action by the university.”
The case in question, McCahill, Hardy v. Kinghorn, is Coll’s first case as chief justice, though he served as deputy chief justice during the 2014 calendar year. Two student senators filed the suit against Baylor junior Lawren Kinghorn earlier this year, according The Lariat. The student senators allege Kinghorn failed to uphold her duties as president of the Student Senate and as internal vice president and vice president of the Senate Executive Council.
The court must reach a resolution within five days of the end of the hearings.
Wilkins, who met directly with Coll this afternoon, said Coll insisted the no-contact order was for the protection of The Lariat’s reporters should there be a mistrial. Wilkins, however, said she believes the order might be a direct response to an article the newspaper published on Thursday about the case.
“The same day the article ran, we ended up with this order, so I would say it was probably based on the fact that we had already published a story about it,” she said.
On Thursday, news editor Jonathan Platt wrote an opinion piece for The Lariat, condemning the student court’s “gag order.”
“Here’s my ‘intentional contact’ to all who attempt to silence journalists, at Baylor and abroad: My pursuit to report is constitutionally protected and intimidation will not stop me,” he wrote. “Try, but I’ll be dead before I stop this work.”
Contact SPLC staff writer Elaina Koros by email or at (202) 974-6317.