What good is free speech if no one can hear it?

March 13, 2018

When Cape High students recently asked for permission to express their view that change is needed to create safer schools, the principal quickly agreed to allow a walkout at the school March 14.

The student-planned event will mark one month since a 19-year-old former student opened fire at a Parkland, Fla. high school, killing 17 people.

Cape's principal was among the first to affirm the students' right to free speech. But days later, on March 8, the district notified the Cape Gazette that media would be barred from school grounds during the walkout. A district spokesperson later said the media would be excluded "for safety reasons."

Cape officials appear to understand students do not give up their First Amendment rights when they go to school.

They appear less clear that the same First Amendment also guarantees freedom of the press. Cape is a public high school built with public tax dollars, and Cape Gazette reporters cover events on school grounds nearly every day.

How is it that we are welcome to cover sports, music and theater, robotics and all kinds of other competitions, but when it comes to listening to students express their views on gun violence - during a school-approved event – access to school grounds is suddenly in question?

As a nation, we want schools to be the safe places we once believed them to be, before Columbine, before Sandy Hook and before Parkland – and before all the other shootings in school buildings.

It is the high school students themselves who must face the danger of gun violence as they go to school each day. We owe it to students on all sides to listen and hear their ideas about making their schools and their lives safer. Precautions can be taken to ensure all students remain safe. The reporters who cover hundreds of school events will not endanger them.

Make no mistake. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press to report that speech lie at the very heart of what it means to live in a free society.

There is no free speech if no one can hear it, and no one is safe when our most basic rights are abridged.


  • Editorials are considered by the editorial board and written by Laura Ritter, news editor, and Dennis Forney, publisher, with occasional contributions from other board members: Trish Vernon, editor; Dave Frederick, sports editor emeritus; Jen Ellingsworth, associate editor; Nick Roth, sports editor; and Chris Rausch, associate publisher.