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Blog12: Out of adversity, strength: Hazelwood leads to thoughtful passage of Iowa free expression law

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by Jack Kennedy

Hazelwood stories: Random thoughts about the Hazelwood decision:

  1. I was aware of this court case as it developed, unlike the Tinker case. I had been a high school sophomore when the protests in Des Moines were going on in December of 1963. I was 100 miles away, but may as well have been light years away, for all the knowledge I had of what Mary Beth and John and Charles were doing.25 years of Hazelwood art
  2. I was in the protected enclave of Iowa City, and by the late ‘80s the newspaper and yearbook were well-established as progressive voices for a progressive community. The threat from the Hazelwood decision was, for us, less visceral and more philosophical. Iowa City High School was unlikely to change its support of the Tinker standard, and we were blessed with administrators who trusted us to push the boundaries, but to ultimately be about the thinking and writing and coverage that the school had come to value.
  3. Freedom without limits leads to chaos (as we see in America’s love affair with the gun), and the Hazelwood decision led to numerous individual and class discussions about what those limits might be. It occurred to me even then that this decision produced more solid learning about rights and responsibilities, and the role of the student press in the community, than I had seen in years.
  4. I still marvel at how quickly state leaders such as Mary Arnold, then director of the Iowa High School Press Association, and Merle Dieleman, Ann Visser and other Iowa advisers, and an obscure state senator from Solon named Richard Varn not only adapted state statutes from California and Massachusetts and wrote an Iowa law, but pushed it through the legislative process so quickly that Iowa had a law signed by the Republican Governor, Terry Branstad (and yes, he’s back), in roughly one year.
  5. I had a small part in the writing and lobbying, and remember meeting the governor in Des Moines a few months after the law was signed and complimenting him on his support for student free expression. The look on his face was that of surprise that he had actually signed such a bill. I suppose he found himself in that difficult place some lawmakers experience, trying to balance his faith in freedom with his basic distrust of young people and with education in general. Back in 1989, he chose to side with freedom.
  6. Sure, that freedom has some limits, but we can live with those. After the law was passed, the Little Hawk prospered to such an extent that the paper won nine Pacemakers in 10 years. I suspect that the freedom to cover literally any issue, no matter how sensitive, contributed to that success.
  7. Out of adversity grew strength. I hated what Hazelwood represented, and still do, but it was a great reminder that the fight for freedom is never truly over. It needs to be cherished and struggled over, day after day and year after year.

 

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