Student Newspapers: Deserving of First Amendment Protection or Vehicles for Liberal Propaganda?

Student Newspapers:  Deserving of First Amendment Protection or Vehicles for Liberal Propaganda?
Rep. David Stringer
High school newspapers tend to be faithful chroniclers of the mundane, featuring blow-by-blow updates from the student council, detailed reports from the past weekend’s volleyball tournament, and earnest editorials against littering.

But Representative David Stringer, a Republican from Prescott, worries that they could become a tool for left-wing indoctrination.

"I think it's pretty common knowledge that in many of our schools there's a strong liberal bias," Stringer said Monday in a meeting of the House Education Committee.

"And I can foresee the unintended consequence of protecting faculty members who are influencing the students or perhaps expressing their own views and biases using public resources to propagandize their own liberal views through what purport to be student publications," he added.

Stringer’s comments were made in reference to SB 1384, which would prevent administrators from censoring student newspapers at publicly funded schools, including high schools, community colleges, and universities.

The bill would also prevent schools from retaliating against faculty advisers who stand up for students’ First Amendment rights.

SB 1384 is something of a pet project for Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Yee, a Republican from Phoenix.

As a student journalist at Greenway High School in the 1990s, she'd grown frustrated that administrators routinely pulled items from the campus paper because they might potentially shed a bad light on the school.

“It was interesting that I’d be sitting in my government class and learning about First Amendment rights and freedom of speech, and then going on to my next class in journalism and seeing I was not able to exercise those rights,” she said at an earlier committee hearing.

For the most part, the bill has gathered bipartisan support, passing unanimously through the Senate.

But Stringer seems to believe that shielding students from liberal propaganda outweighs the need to protect their First Amendment rights. 

He's not the first right-winger to suggest that public school teachers are "influencing" students with their "liberal bias."

In Colorado Springs, angry parents called for the newspaper adviser at Palmer Ridge High School to be fired after students published an editorial endorsing Hillary Clinton for president. In a move straight out of the Cold War, he was accused of being a "communist" and "socialist" who was indoctrinating students.

And before Stephen Miller became Trump's top policy adviser, he was writing essays with titles like "Political Indoctrination at My Public High School," in which he complained about how his school paper had published an article that criticized the United States' military response to 9/11.

Despite Stringer's objections, the bill is moving forward.

Henry Gorton, a student journalist at Sunnyslope High School, managed to win over committee members by bringing up another issue beloved by conservatives: political correctness run amok.

He testified that he’d wanted to publish a piece about Trump supporters’ views on illegal immigration in the school newspaper, but had been told that he couldn’t because undocumented students might feel threatened.

“That will get you some support here,” Representative Don Shooter, a Republican from Yuma, told him.

Shooter was right: The bill passed the House Education Committee 10-1, with only Stringer voting in opposition. It’s now up for a full vote in the House.

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Antonia Noori Farzan is a staff writer at New Times and an honors graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Before moving to Arizona, she worked for the New Times Broward-Palm Beach.