New Voices Act Will Uncensor Student Media in Missouri, Giving Them More First Amendment Rights


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Senior Isaiah Bryant speaks to the House Committee of Education on Jan. 19. Bryant along with senior Taylor Sheridan and teacher Aaron Manfull went to Jefferson City to speak on behalf of the New Voices Act. “My favorite part was getting the opportunity to speak for students who don’t have the same privileges as I do,” Bryant said.

By Sophie Carite

The House of Representatives passed the New Voices Act with a majority vote of 129-20 on Feb. 19. The bill will be moved along to the Missouri Senate, and if approved by both the Senate and the governor, will set a record for the most successful attempt to pass a bill related to student journalist rights in Missouri.

New Voices legislation is currently pending in five other states, and the bill has been successfully passed in 13 other states, including North Dakota and Kansas- two states in which the current Missouri version of the legislation is modeled. According to Robert Bergland, college journalism adviser at Missouri Western and New Voices advocate, New Voices aims to give First Amendment protections to students and to undo the U.S. Supreme Court case Hazelwood vs. Kuhlmeier. Hazelwood gave school administration the right to decide what is permissible in terms of their school’s newspaper and what isn’t. Bergland describes Hazelwood as a “terrible case” and voices the opinion that this issue should be important to every student, not just journalists.

“I think this is all about student rights,” Bergland said. “Students have a voice that’s so important to the conversation. Students need these rights, especially with everything going on in the world now.”

In the case of FHN, administration at the school does not exercise their right to oversee or interfere with student media. According to head principal Andy Downs, this is because the journalism department is already very conscious of the content they put out and the impact it will have on the school. Administrators want to encourage students to learn for themselves, ask questions, use their voices and make decisions as to what they feel is appropriate to publish.

“We know what’s going on but our attitude is that this is a learning environment, and we want our students to have an authentic experience in terms of what they can and cannot publish,” Downs said.

Though New Voices does loosen the restraints put on student journalists, there are still exceptions as to what is legally considered acceptable. Not all forms of speech are protected by the First Amendment. Freedom of the press does not include published content that is libelous, that promotes illegal or disruptive activity or that violates the rights of others. Senior Isaiah Bryant believes that this is important because journalism, particularly at FHN, gives students the opportunity to be responsible as well as creative.

“It allows us to make serious adult decisions,” Bryant said. “To get to make mistakes and learn from them. Also, it’s just our right.”