FIRE Files Brief Urging Supreme Court to Hear Student Newspaper Censorship Case

October 19, 2005

WASHINGTON, October 19, 2005—Today, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Supreme Court to hear an appeal of Hosty v. Carter, a Seventh Circuit decision that poses a grave threat to student press freedom.
“The Seventh Circuit’s decision in Hosty v. Carter has the potential to destroy freedom of the press on campus,” declared FIRE President David French. “We hope that the Supreme Court will intervene and undo this potentially disastrous opinion.”
FIRE’s brief was joined by a remarkable coalition of nonprofit groups including Accuracy in Academia, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, the Coalition for Student & Academic Rights, Feminists for Free Expression, the First Amendment Project, Ifeminists.net, the Individual Rights Foundation, the Leadership Institute, the National Association of Scholars, and Students for Academic Freedom.
In Hosty v. Carter, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals refused to hold liable a college administrator at Governors State University in Illinois who censored a student newspaper that was highly critical of the administration. Most disturbingly, the court chose to apply in the college context a Supreme Court decision that has been used to severely curtail the free speech rights of high school students—despite the fact that the vast majority of college students are adults, while high school students are not.  Furthermore, the Seventh Circuit directly contradicted two Supreme Court decisions by holding that a student paper or group could potentially be controlled by the university merely because it received funding from mandatory student fees that are rightfully considered to belong to the student body, not the university. (To learn more about student fees, please see FIRE’s Guide to Student Fees, Funding, and Legal Equality on Campus.)
The controversy began in 2000, when administrator Patricia Carter demanded the right to review the content of a student fee–supported newspaper, The Innovator, before it was published. Student editor Margaret Hosty and others sued, and both the federal district court and a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit found in their favor. But on June 20, 2005, the Seventh Circuit en banc reversed its earlier ruling, determining that Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, a Supreme Court decision allowing prior review of certain high school newspapers, should apply to student fee–funded college media as well. FIRE has released a statement explaining the case and why it was wrongly decided.
“The right for newspapers to be free from prior review of their content by agents of the state is the foundation of freedom of the press,” remarked Greg Lukianoff, FIRE’s director of legal and public advocacy. “Our amicus brief explains how the Hosty decision threatens this basic right, along with the independence of virtually any student group that wishes to communicate a message on campus.”
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at www.thefire-dev.wp.eresources.ws.
CONTACT:
David French, President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; david@www.thefire-dev.wp.eresources.ws
Greg Lukianoff, Director of Legal and Public Advocacy, FIRE: 215-717-3473; greg@www.thefire-dev.wp.eresources.ws

Schools: Governors State University Cases: Governors State University: Censorship of Student Newspaper