A gay couple with school-age children is outraged over a Shawano High School newspaper column that cites Bible passages and calls homosexuality a sin punishable by death.So what do you think? Should the student newspaper be able to publish controversial opinions that may adversely affect some students? I'm pretty much a First Amendment purist, but the Supreme Court isn't when in comes to school papers. The court has said that school administrations can in fact censor school newspapers so long as they have a reasonable educational justification, as I learned to my displeasure as a high school newspaper editor! Preventing bullying, creating a non-discriminatory learning environment, should qualify as a reasonable educational justification for limiting hateful student speech in the newspaper, right? I don't think I would have bought that argument as a high schooler, opinionated on rights and the perogatives of journalists.
The column ran on the editorial page of Shawano High School's Hawks Post recently as part of an opinion package about gay families who adopt children. The other side said sexual orientation does not determine a person's ability to raise kids.
"This is why kids commit suicide," said Nick Uttecht, who is raising four children with his partner, Michael McNelly.
Uttecht told school district officials he thinks the piece opposing gays as parents is hateful and should not have run. He worries the strong language will hurt his children and could lead students to bully gay classmates.
School officials apologized and said they will review the process for editing and producing the paper.
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David Hudson, an expert for the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group First Amendment Center, said the column may be distasteful to some, but student journalists were practicing their constitutional right to free speech.
"Bullying is a serious concern, and I don't take it lightly. But I hope it doesn't lead to squashing different viewpoints. I do think (gay adoption) is an issue people are deeply divided about. Hopefully student journalists don't have to fear they'll be squashed if they take a controversial view."
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Although students have the right to voice their opinion, it doesn't mean they should say it in a school paper, said Christine Smith, assistant professor of psychology, human development and women's studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
"High school students are at a time in their life when they are developing intellectually and socially," she said. "To see something like this debated in the paper could be devastating. How would you feel if someone said your family is abnormal, is not acceptable, that your parents never should have been allowed to have you, that they're not suitable to raise you?
"Of course, it's got to be harmful. Kids this age are so worried about discovering who they are and what they are. To have them told their family is immoral and not suitable has to be devastating. To be told by your peers, people you see in the hallways, these people who clearly have passed judgment."
But as a parent? Maybe my desire to protect my children makes me a tad more sympathetic to the position of the school administration. I wouldn't want my kids to read stupid articles that opined on the inappropriateness of single parenting or transracial adoption or international adoption, or the inferiority of China or the like, and I would be worried that such an article would make other students more willing to bully my kids. But on the other hand, the articles here offered both arguments for and against, the audience was high school and not younger kids, and I guarantee that my kids would have already heard all the pro and con opinions folks harbor about our family structure before they ever saw such an article. But on the other other hand, should my kids have to deal with those obnoxious opinions in school, which should be a safe harbor?!