Maryland New Voices press freedom bill signed into law

MARYLAND — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed into law Tuesday a bill designed to protect the free-speech rights of high school and college journalists.

READ THE LAW: Maryland New Voices Act (2016)

The new law, which goes into effect on October 1, will grant high school and college student journalists the ability to exercise freedom of speech and of the press in school-sponsored media, regardless of whether the school financially supports the media or if the publication is produced as part of a class. The legislation will also protect student journalists from prior restraint by school officials and student media advisers from retaliatory punishment, making it one of only three states nationwide that expressly protects journalism educators in this way.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Jamie Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat who teaches constitutional law at American University and has written a book, “We The Students,” about constitutional rights in schools. The bill had strong support from the Journalism Education Association of Maryland as well as from the American Association of University Professors and the Society of Professional Journalists.

Rebecca Snyder, the executive director of the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association, said she was pleased to see what she considered to be a “workforce development issue” being addressed.

“When promising young journalists are consistently censored, it creates a ripple effect in how they interact with news sources that can follow them into their professional careers,” Snyder said. “It is my hope that with New Voices now as law here in the state, more journalism programs will take risks and discuss substantive issues without the fear of retribution or censorship. This law will protect teachers from retaliation for teaching and playing out the tenets of journalism. It’s a good day!”

Maryland is the ninth state to pass legislation reinforcing high school students’ right to free speech, following Arkansas, California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Oregon and North Dakota, and the first to do so this year. Oregon, California, and Illinois have laws protecting college students’ speech.

Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said that he hopes “Maryland’s bipartisan vote of confidence will resonate nationally and make it that much easier to finish the job in Illinois, Missouri and other states where New Voices bills are now pending,” which also include Rhode Island, Minnesota, Michigan, Nebraska and Alabama.

“Maryland has made a resounding statement today that candid student journalism is essential to a healthy campus community. It’s incredibly exciting to see the momentum that started last year in North Dakota continuing to build, in Maryland and across the country,” LoMonte said. “Every student and teacher in the state is indebted to Senator Raskin and Governor Hogan for their leadership and foresight in recognizing the irreplaceable civic value of journalism in our schools and colleges.”

Gary Clites, president of the Maryland-DC Scholastic Press Association and a journalism and film teacher at Northern High School, encourages those in other states who are considering joining the New Voices movement to capitalize on Maryland’s success.

“Get involved now. Seek out friendly legislators to sponsor your bill,” Clites said. “Contact the SPLC and the professional press organizations in your state for support and just get started. The effort in Maryland started with a few emails nearly a year ago and ended today with the signing of our bill into law. It just takes one person to start things moving.”