The free press should be free for all
In 1965, Mary Beth Tinker, a 13-year-old middle school student, along with some of her fellow classmates, walked into school wearing black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War. She was asked to remove the armband by school officials and upon refusal, was suspended along with Chris Eckhardt and her brother, John Tinker. This sparked a landmark court decision, which lasted four years. The case of Tinker v. Des Moines, which concluded in February of 1969, states that all students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”
This year marks the 50th anniversary of this milestone in U.S. history. It would be a blessing to say that the actions of the Tinkers, Eckhardt and their other classmates paved the way for a future of free expression and a grand welcoming of free speech throughout educational facilities, but in reality, their battle in the 1960s was only the beginning.
This year has also been declared the “Year of the Student Journalist,” by the Freedom Forum Institute, the Newseum in Washington, D.C. and the Student Press Law Center, symbolizing the impact that student journalists make on society, the challenges they face and honoring the battle that the Tinker family so tirelessly fought 50 years ago.
The New Voices Act is a nationwide campaign working to guarantee meaningful press freedoms for high school and college student journalists. Student journalists across the nation are not always afforded the same rights and protections as professionals. Pieces have the potential to be censored, changed or denied publication depending on what state you are in.
As a student journalist, it is a common observation that the pieces bringing the most backlash, stirring the most conversation and inspiring officials to try and censor written word, are the pieces that possess the most power to convey real change.
Journalism majors do not sit in classrooms all day, intern for little to no money and devote countless hours to student media organizations only to be censored and told that they cannot publish the truth. As journalists, we are taught to fight for the truth, no matter how hard it may be to find, no matter how many interviews it may take or sources it may require. We are taught from the beginning that our job is to deliver the facts and to be a voice for the voiceless – and in many cases that is what drives people to this field. How dare society try to hold us back from what we are called to do.
I encourage you to research the New Voices Act, particularly in your home state. Take a look at other states across the nation who are not granted the same privileges and protections. Take a look at the states where students work hours and hours on pieces meant to create change, only to be censored in a split second. Take a stand with students across the nation who are arguing with government officials to be granted the mere freedom to write, to express, to speak. These students are fighting for the freedoms that cover pages of our history books and are rooted in our nation’s foundation.
We live in a society plagued by “fake news.” We live in a world where journalists are in danger every day in their jobs. We are taught to read everything with a careful eye and to be wary of what we consider to be true. But consider this: Without a free press, there is no truth. Without brave voices like Mary Beth Tinker or the founders of the New Voices campaign, there is no freedom. Without student journalists who embrace this ever-present battle, there is no future.
I am thankful to live in a state that fights so I can express my beliefs. I am thankful I attend a university that allows for this amazing publication to be printed each week. I am thankful to have my voice and the ability to use my words. I am thankful to fight for the truth every single day alongside passionate professors and motivated classmates. I am thankful to be a student journalist.
The battle has only just begun.