The Supreme Court will hear a case addressing the issue in April.
Upcoming Supreme Court case could open the door for censoring off-campus speech
On April 28, the Supreme Court will hear arguments for B.L. v Mahanoy Area School District, a major First Amendment case affecting student speech. The Student Press Law Center filed an amicus brief arguing for the importance of protecting student off-campus speech.
The case began after a Pennsylvania high school punished a student for cursing the cheer team on Snapchat while off campus during the weekend. The Third Circuit Court ruled in favor of the student, a free speech win for students in that jurisdiction. But now, the Supreme Court will examine the question, and an unfavorable decision would affect students nationwide.
Why is this case so important?
Students' off-campus free speech rights are at stake. If the Court rules in the petitioner's favor, students could be punished by school officials for causing a "substantial disruption" even for speech off campus or work that wasn't published in a school sponsored outlet.
This is a major concern for whistleblowers like the students at North Paulding High School in Georgia whowere threatened with punishment for exposing COVID concerns via social media last year. For student journalists, it makes publishing censored stories independently — one of the most effective ways to get around censorship — much riskier.
A student at North Platte High School in Nebraska reported on racist incidents on campus, including harassment of Black students and flying of Confederate flags. She published the piece in a local newspaper after her principal spiked the story. In 2018, students at Herriman High School in Utah broke the story of a teacher who had been fired for inappropriate texting with a student. When their school censored the story, they created a new website and published it independently.
These stories need to be told. In our brief, SPLC argues that opening the door to schools censoring news stories and other student speech published off-campus is dangerous. In addition to allowing censorship of reported stories, it has the potential to chill student speech by convincing student journalists pursuing "controversial" stories in the first place isn't worth the risk.
The 2021 SPLC Summer Media Law & Policy Institute is a five-week online training institute which will explore the legal framework and emerging issues of law, ethics and policy surrounding media law and press freedom. The Institute will run online from June 15 to July 15 on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
Applications from current law students, 2021 law school graduates, and advanced undergraduates with a strong interest in law school will be considered. We are looking for students with a demonstrated interest in media law. Students from diverse backgrounds are strongly encouraged to apply.
Now a 1L at Emory University School of Law, Caitlin Oh talks about how participating in the Student Press Law Center's Summer Media Law & Policy institute in 2020 gave her hands on experience that she's applied in law school and while job hunting.
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