For immediate release: December 22, 2021
For more information: Andrew Benson | firstname.lastname@example.org
Student Press Law Center commends New Jersey and Gov. Phil Murphy for codifying student press freedom
WASHINGTON — The Student Press Law Center (SPLC) commends the State of New Jersey and Gov. Phil Murphy for their recent passage and yesterday’s signing of S108, “New Voices” legislation to restore and protect the press freedom of New Jersey’s student journalists. New Jersey is the 15th state to adopt such legislation.
The bill, which was first introduced in 2015 and passed the legislature unanimously earlier this year, prohibits the censorship of student journalists except in narrow circumstances. It will also protect student media advisers from retaliation when they refuse to illegally censor their students. The bill takes effect immediately.
The adoption of New Voices is critical to reversing the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1988 Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier decision which created an intentionally vague and problematic standard for censorship of student-produced work. It is commonly used by school administrators to censor student journalists for vague and subjective reasons often related to the reaction of adults to student media rather than the quality of the media itself. In New Jersey this has included suppression of articles critical of a school superintendent, discussing the smoking of students in school bathrooms, and even an article about the censorship of student media. Today’s action by Governor Murphy ensures student journalists can pursue quality journalism on the issues of importance to their schools and their communities.
“Congratulations to New Jersey for becoming the 15th state to codify student press freedom through New Voices legislation,” SPLC executive director Hadar Harris said. “Signing S108 is an important step but it is only the beginning. We need robust implementation of the new law and need administrators, students and advisors to understand it. SPLC will remain vigilant and be a vital resource to student journalists and their advisers in New Jersey. When censorship happens, we’ll be there standing up for the rights of student journalists.”
The Student Press Law Center noted, however, that edits made to the bill after its initial passage raise considerable constitutional concerns. Harris noted, “While Supreme Court precedent allows the restriction of obscenity as unprotected speech, we strongly disagree with including profanity in the list of unprotected speech. Profanity, particularly at the college level, is expressly protected under the First Amendment. By including a ban on profanity in student media, especially for college students, the Governor has inadvertently encouraged school administrators to unconstitutionally restrict the use of profane speech when it is newsworthy. We urge the New Jersey legislature to revisit this bill to delete the prohibition on profanity as soon as is practicable.”
The Student Press Law Center along with New Voices advocates will work to ensure every New Jersey school understands how the new law impacts the rights of student journalists. We’ll need your support to do so. Anyone interested in joining the implementation efforts — particularly students and advisers — should contact Hillary Davis at email@example.com.
Student Press Law Center: Since 1974, the Student Press Law Center has worked to support, promote and defend the First Amendment and freedom of expression rights of student journalists at the high school and college level, and the advisers who support them. Working at the intersection of law, journalism and education, SPLC runs the nation’s only free legal hotline for student journalists. We also provide training, educational resources and support the grassroots non-partisan New Voices movement, seeking state-based legislative support for student press freedom. The SPLC is an independent, non-profit 501c(3) organization based in Washington, D.C.