What is the difference between prior restraint and prior review?

Every week, Student Press Law Center attorneys answer a frequently asked question about student media law in “Ask SPLC.”

Q: What is the difference between prior restraint and prior review? 

 Put simply, prior review can be legal (at the high school level) and prior restraint is limited by the First Amendment. 

Prior review is when your principal or another school official reads the content of your student publication before it is published and distributed. So, your principal may demand to read all stories and look at all photos and graphics in your student-run news outlet before any of it is printed or put online. This, in itself, is not illegal. 

Prior restraint is when a school official tells you that you can’t publish a story or takes any action to prevent you from doing so. Basically, prior restraint is censorship. 

Unless your school has a specific policy restricting or banning prior review (which is unlikely), there’s nothing in current law at the federal or state level that prohibits public high school officials from reviewing your work before it is published. However, the law does prohibit school administrators from prior restraint, especially if your publication has been established as a public forum for student expression or if you live in a state where a New Voices law has been enacted. 

Legal questions should be directed toward SPLC’s legal hotline. Ask SPLC questions will be selected based on trends in the legal hotline. The legal hotline is confidential and no identifying information will be used in the Ask SPLC segment.