It's the law: New Voices of Maryland now protects college, high school journalists' independence

It’s Independence Day in Maryland, where as of Oct. 1, student journalists and journalism educators have statutory protection against institutional censorship and retaliation.

Senate Bill 764 passed the Maryland legislature overwhelmingly and with bipartisan support, and was signed into law April 26 by Gov. Larry Hogan. Its prime sponsor, Sen. Jamie Raskin, is a constitutional law professor at American University. 

Nine other states limit school censorship authority by statute, while Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia protect students’ rights by way of state board of education regulation. 

“It’s an exciting moment for press freedom in Maryland. For the first time in decades, students will have the freedom to control the content of their own media,” said teacher Gary Clites, president of the Maryland-D.C. Scholastic Press Association, who testified in support of the bill and helped secure its passage. 

I have seen the dedication high school journalists display in their work, and I am pleased that now they’ll have the freedom to do that work without fear.

The measure had strong support from the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association, the state chapter of the American Association of University Professors, and editorial boards throughout Maryland. 

The statute blunts the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1988 ruling, Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, which greatly reduced the burden for public schools to justify censoring speech in school-affiliated curricular publications. 

Certain categories of journalistic speech remain unprotected and, at the high school level, can legally be removed from student publications, including material that is libelous, invades privacy, incites students to break the law or violate school board regulations, or that is harassing, threatening, vulgar, lewd or obscene. The law protects students and educators only at public institutions. 

Maryland is the third state in the past two years, joining Illinois and North Dakota, to enact a statute outlawing image-based censorship of student media as part of the national New Voices campaign. 

At least some schools are entering the new world of press freedom with trepidation. An superintendent in the Carroll County schools, Steven Johnson, told the Carroll County Times, “I’m going into this with great caution,” fretting that students will use their newfound freedom to stir up controversy unnecessarily. 

If you’re a Maryland student or educator encountering press-freedom issues — or you want a speaker to make a presentation about what the new press freedom law means to your campus — contact the Student Press Law Center by email, or through this online form: