Officials at Benilde-St. Margaret, a Catholic school in St. Louis Park, have removed two articles from the school newspaper’s Web site critical of the Archdiocese’s DVD mailing against same-sex marriage.
Dr. Sue Skinner, the principal, posted this on the Web site:
The administration is asking that the staff editorial entitled “Staff Finds DVD unsubstantiated” , and the opinion piece titled “Life as a Gay Teenager” be immediately removed from the Knight Errant website along with the online comments for each piece. The reason is that while lively debate and discussion clearly has its place in a Catholic school, this particular discussion is not appropriate because the level of intensity has created an unsafe environment for students. As importantly, the articles and ensuing online postings have created confusion about Church teaching. The administration will be following up with the staff of the Knight Errant to review and discuss the protocol for what is appropriate content.
Is it a violation of the First Amendment? Probably not, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in a case of a public school (Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier) that authorities have the right to censor school newspapers.
“A school need not tolerate student speech that is inconsistent with its basic educational mission, even though the government could not censor similar speech outside the school,” it wrote.
In that case, a principal had barred printing of articles about one student’s pregnancy and another student’s thoughts about his/her parents’ divorce.
But that was then. Now, the articles that were banned today can easily be distributed if the students at Benilde-St. Margaret want to push it that far. Any number of Web sites — including this one, I suspect — would post the offending articles, or the students could distribute it themselves using any number of social networks or blogs.
The ability to censor anything inevitably depends on the willingness of journalists to risk the consequences of opposing it.