Staff Ed: The New Voices Minnesota Bill must be passed

As journalists at Benilde-St. Margaret’s, we are very fortunate to have supportive advisors and administrators who allow us to express ourselves freely in our publications. As a private, Catholic institution, we are extremely grateful that our administration trusts us to decide what to publish. Many students in the state of Minnesota are not so fortunate. What students are allowed to publish and say in their work has fluctuated significantly, varying from Supreme Court decisions supporting a nearly free student press (Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 1969) to guaranteeing only minimal rights to student journalists (Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 1998).

According to the most recent Supreme Court ruling in Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, public schools across the country do not have to allow student speech if it is inconsistent with the school’s educational mission. In a country that prides itself on a free press, withholding this right for students is highly disappointing.

A campaign called New Voices Minnesota submitted a bill to the state House of Representatives that aims to bring more constitutional rights back to student journalists, expanding their rights at public colleges and high schools to align with the Tinker v. Des Moines Supreme Court decision. This encouraging proposal will guarantee the right for students to report without being censored, ultimately improving the quality of student journalism across the state by giving students the legal protection they deserve.

If signed into law, the New Voices Minnesota bill will open doors for thousands of young journalists; however, its provisions won’t extend to journalists at private schools, like BSM. Student journalists at over 600 private schools in Minnesota, including this publication, will still have no legal protection nor any guaranteed First Amendment rights. We believe that private school students have just as much a constitutional right to expression as their public school counterparts, and although the Knight Errant has never explicitly been censored, the same cannot be said for many student publications.

Student journalism has an important impact on our nation, preparing thousands of students to explore, research, and work in a team. Although this activity builds character more than any other sport or extra curricular, some argue that there is too much freedom for students, and therefore laws should be passed to stop it.

We believe that a free, non-censored journalism program is not a burden, but a standard for any institution aiming to educate the next generation of Americans. Just as schools are required to have extracurricular activities and basic math, English, and science classes, we believe that free student journalism is so vital to education that it should viewed in the same light.

Student voices are an invaluable asset to education, and without legal protection those voices may be threatened. The Knight Errant editorial staff fully supports the New Voices of Minnesota Act, and will continue to support increased rights for student journalists in both public and private schools across the state and the nation.