Seventh Circuit Decision Threatens Student Press Freedom

September 19, 2005

PHILADELPHIA, September 19, 2005—The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is rallying opposition to Hosty v. Carter, a recent Seventh Circuit decision that could be used to severely restrict student speech.  On Friday, the plaintiffs’ attorney filed the formal petition to the United States Supreme Court to reverse the ruling, and today FIRE releases its policy statement condemning the opinion.  FIRE also plans to file an amicus brief and is seeking to forge a broad coalition opposing the decision.
Hosty is a grave threat to liberty on campus,” declared FIRE President David French.  “The decision stands against a long line of precedent regarding the free student press and casts doubt on the independence and rights of virtually any college student group.”
In Hosty, the court refused to hold liable a college administrator who censored a student newspaper that was highly critical of her administration.  Most disturbingly, the court chose to apply in the college context a 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 and high school students are not.
Attorney Lee Levine of Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, L.L.P., in Washington, D.C., filed a petition for certiorari on Friday, September 16, asking the Supreme Court to review Hosty.  FIRE and the Student Press Law Center (SPLC) are seeking other concerned organizations to join their planned amicus brief opposing both the holding and the rationale of the Hosty opinion.  Organizations interested in joining the coalition should contact hosty@www.thefire-dev.wp.eresources.ws for more information.
The controversy began in 2000, with The Innovator student newspaper at Governors State University in Illinois, which was primarily supported by student fees.  Patricia Carter, the university’s dean of student affairs and services, was unhappy with the content and viewpoint of the paper.  She called the paper’s printer and demanded to be allowed to review the content of the paper before it was published, despite the fact that GSU policy clearly stated that the student staff of The Innovator “will determine content and format of [the paper] without censorship or advance approval.”
Student editor Margaret Hosty and others sued, and both the district court and a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit found in Hosty’s favor.  FIRE and a host of other groups joined an amicus brief that the judge who wrote the Seventh Circuit opinion described as “superb.”  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’s statement explains more about the case and why it was wrongly decided.
“This opinion is disastrous for free speech,” remarked Greg Lukianoff, FIRE’s director of legal and public advocacy.  “Any group that supports student rights should join FIRE and the SPLC in trying to convince the Supreme Court to review and ultimately overturn this dangerous decision.”
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