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The Daily Tar Heel

Court Reverses KSU Censorship

In November 1994, KSU officials confiscated about 2,000 copies of the 1993-94 KSU student yearbook, "The Thorobred."

University officials objected to the the book's purple cover -- KSU's school colors are green and gold -- its "Destination Unknown" theme, the lack of captions under many of the photos, and the inclusion of current events unrelated to KSU. In November 1995, two KSU students filed suit against the KSU officials, claiming violation of their First and 14th Amendment rights and launching a legal battle that continues today.

But the ramifications of Friday's ruling could stretch beyond the confiscation of a few yearbooks at a small, public university. "This ruling will tell college officials nationwide that are inching towards censorship to stop in their tracks and consider what they are doing," said Mark Goodman, executive director of Student Press Law Center.

Goodman said many college officials feel that because they provide funding and space for many college publications that gives them a right to censor the publication. The ruling states that is not the case, Goodman said.

"College and university officials cannot affect content of student publications without violating the First Amendment," he said.

Goodman added that in recent years administrators and, in some cases, student governments have threatened to censor student publication by cutting their funding.

Bruce Orwin, attorney for the plaintiffs, said student newspapers have already been protected from censorship by administrators but that the law has been a little bit fuzzier for other types of publications.

"This ruling states that any student-led publication is subject to protection under the First Amendment," Orwin said.

If the ruling stands, the university will have to pay lawyer's fees for the plaintiffs, pay damages to the plaintiffs and redistribute the yearbook.

But an appeal could be in the works.

Guthrie True, attorney for KSU, said that he disagrees with the ruling because he said the evidence of the case showed that the "The Thorobred" is a nonpublic publication because it was under the wing of the university.

"The policy of the university makes it clear that the university ultimately wanted to have final control over the yearbook," True said.

True said he has not yet had a chance to speak with KSU President George Willis Reid to discuss whether to pursue an appeal. True would not comment whether he would recommend an appeal to Reid.

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