As Americans we are proud and thankful for a country whose Founding Fathers established a Constitution and a Bill of Rights that protects the freedom of its people. While many people see the Bill of Rights as a list of absolute rights what many people do not know is that there are limitations to each of these rights.
Freedom of the press is one of the components of the First. However, that does not mean that just anything can be published in public newspapers. In 1988, there was a Supreme Court case over this specific issue. Cathy Kuhlmeier, a student at Hazelwood East High School and two other students had written two articles to be published in their school newspaper about teenage pregnancy and divorce. When submitted to the school principle for review, the principle eliminated these stories because he was concerned about protecting the identity of the pregnant students and he felt that in the divorce story (in which the student’s real name was used) “the father was not given an opportunity to respond to his daughter’s criticism.” Kuhlmeier brought Hazelwood to court “claiming that the school went against the First Amendment’s freedom of speech and press and that their principal did not have the right to censor their articles”.
This court case spurred much debate over what is and is not protected under our First Amendment right to freedom of the press. The court stated that the “First Amendment rights of students in the public schools are not automatically coextensive with the rights of adults in other settings, and must be applied in light of the special characteristics of the school environment. A school need not tolerate student speech that is inconsistent with its basic educational mission, even though the government could not censor similar speech outside the school”.
While the court decided in favor of Hazelwood the controversy over freedom of speech and press is an on going debate. The constraints placed on the newspaper industry (though not as strict as school newspapers) are still limiting. To some people the government’s censorship of the press may seem in violation of our first amendment rights, but by placing limits on what sensitive subject material can and cannot be printed we are protecting all audiences.
Helpful links: http://www.bc.edu/bc_org/avp/cas/comm/free_speech/hazelwood.html