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Should the State Enact "Anti-Hazelwood" Legislation?

Background

The decision in Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier has made it much easier for principals and other school officials to censor student expression. In an effort to prevent this from happening, a number of states and localities have passed student free speech legislation. These laws limit the circumstances under which student publications can be censored and thus extend to student journalists greater protection than that which is afforded them under Hazelwood. States that have enacted these "anti-Hazelwood" laws include: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, and Massachusetts. Other states have tried to pass legislation but have failed. Some failed because they could not get a majority in the legislature and in other cases because the executive vetoed them.

Some people wonder how states can pass laws that seem to challenge decisions of the federal courts. Mike Hiestand, of the Student Press Law Center, explains this apparent contradiction in the following words:

"Hazelwood was a First Amendment case. Think of the First Amendment as establishing a "floor" of federal protection from government censorship. No government official-federal, state or local-may ever act in a way nor may lawmakers ever pass a law or policy that provides individuals with less free speech protection than that required by the First Amendment. That's why a public high school principal can't institute a policy, for example, that allows her to halt publication of any material she simply disagrees with. The First Amendment—and specifically Hazelwood—requires more than that.

Nothing, however, prevents lawmakers from passing a law (or school board members from enacting a local district policy) that requires school and government officials to provide student journalists with more free speech protection. In other words, Hazelwood and the First Amendment establish the ground floor of censorship protection - but anyone - where they believe the First Amendment provides insufficient protection against government censorship - can raise the ceiling and establish a higher floor. And that is precisely what state lawmakers and school board officials have done in passing student free expression laws and policies. [1]"

In other words, a state can pass a law or a school district can implement a policy that expands students' First Amendment rights by limiting the circumstances under which principals or school officials can censor student publications. In essence, this would give students the same free speech rights they had before the Hazelwood decision was made. If, on the other hand, a state tried to pass a law which placed further restrictions on students' free expression (i.e., greater restrictions than those found in the Hazelwood case, it would be unconstitutional.

[1] Mike Hiestand. Student Press Law Center. "Understanding 'Anti-Hazelwood' Laws." [Online] 7 August 2001.

Directions

Your state legislature has decided to consider the issue of adopting its own"Anti-Hazelwood" law. They have invited the public to an open forum to discuss this issue.

  1. Your teacher will assign you to one of the following groups:
    • Student journalists
    • Newspaper advisors
    • Concerned parents
    • Principals
    • Local school officials
  2. Brainstorm the pros and cons of anti-Hazelwood legislation with your group.
  3. Determine if your group is for or against the legislation.
  4. Work with your group to prepare comments to be delivered at the forum. Be sure to include the following in your comments:
    • What is your position on the legislation?
    • What are your reasons?
    • What would you like to see included or omitted from the policy?
  5. Present your findings to the "state legislature" that will be composed of students in the class. After hearing all of the arguments, they will debate and vote on the issue of anti-Hazelwood legislation.
For Extension

Now that you have explored this issue, you are ready to convince the state legislature to adopt your personal viewpoint. You may do this by appealing directly to the state legislature or by trying to convince other citizens to adopt your viewpoint.

  1. Create an outline. Identify your position and list arguments that support that viewpoint.
  2. Choose from the list below:
    • Write a letter to your state legislature.
    • Write a newspaper editorial.
    • Create a political cartoon.
    • Write a speech to be delivered to an audience. On a separate sheet of paper, write a paragraph in which you describe the target audience and the speech techniques used.
    • Create a brochure or print advertisement. Your brochure should contain visuals and text. On a separate sheet of paper, write a paragraph in which you explain the message, the target audience, and the propaganda techniques used.
    • Create a storyboard for a television commercial. On a separate sheet of paper, write a paragraph in which you explain the message, the target audience, the propaganda techniques, and the video and audio techniques used.
    • Create your own product. Be sure to have your teacher approve this before you begin.
  3. Use the information from your outline to help you create the product you have selected. In your product, clearly state and support your position.
Additional Resources
< Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier