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First Amendment: Freedom of the Press and School Newspapers

This activity is on the First Amendment and freedom of the press. Exploring the landmark Supreme Court case Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260 (1988), students will examine the question: When school officials disallow the publishing of certain articles in the school newspaper are the student writers' free speech rights violated?

About These Resources

How to Use These Resources

This activity is a modified Oxford style debate.

  • To get started, have participants read the Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier facts and case summary.
  • Assign student attorneys to the issues listed in the talking points. They are suggested points– not a script–for the debate. Student attorneys are encouraged to add their own arguments.
  • All other students are jurors who deliberate (and may refer to these talking points) during the open floor debate. They debate among themselves in the large group or smaller groups and come to a verdict after the attorneys present closing arguments.

Background: Freedom of Press in the United States

Before the American Revolution, English authorities often censored the press in order to ensure that articles critical of the government were not widely circulated. The Founders knew that a free press was essential for the promotion of ideas, so this protection was built into the Constitution in the Bill of Rights as the First Amendment.

The Supreme Court of the United States has been highly critical of any attempt to impose a prior restraint on the press, i.e., prohibiting a paper from publishing a story. The Court has even made it harder for individuals to sue newspapers for libel and slander.

Today, suits involving freedom of the press are still prevalent in the courts. Some prominent issues are: (1) What constitutes "the press" in an age when many people can create their own blog on the Internet? (2) Must reporters reveal their sources when ordered to by legal authorities?