SPLC Responds to the Mahanoy v. B.L. Ruling

On June 23, the Supreme Court handed down their decision in the hugely important student speech case Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L. The Court ruled in the student’s favor, but declined to set a new standard or test for when schools can restrict off-campus speech.

The Student Press Law Center welcomes the strong support of free speech for students in today’s decision, and the recognition that schools are the “nurseries of democracy.” But we note that today’s decision underscores the hypocrisy of the court in carving out exceptions for the ability of student journalists to exercise those rights.

The Mahanoy opinion says “[S]chools have a strong interest in ensuring that future generations understand the workings in practice of the well-known aphorism, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”’ But day-to-day, schools are relying heavily on another Supreme Court precedent [Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier (1988)] to do the opposite: they both disapprove of what student journalists may say, and also deny their right to say it.

We stand by the rights of student journalists to report and publish freely and hope that this decision will help to bolster the efforts of New Voices activists across the country to adopt state-based student press freedom legislation.

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