Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Writer's Guide to the First Amendment: A School for Thought?

Because most readers of this blog are writers, some may have been on the staff of their school newspapers. And those who were in high school or college after 1988 may be aware of Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260 (1988).

In Hazelwood, the school principal pulled two articles from the student newspaper before it went to press. One article talked about the pregnancy experiences of three female students, and, although their names were changed, the principal was concerned that enough details remained to make them identifiable. He was also concerned that some of the discussion in the article was inappropriate for younger students. The second article talked about divorce and included a comment by a named student disparaging her father, who had not been given the opportunity to respond. Since the school year was nearing its close, the principal didn’t believe there was time to remedy the problems with either article. As a result, he simply pulled them.

The Supreme Court ruled that the principal did not violate the student journalists’ First Amendment rights. The newspaper was funded by the school and operated as part of the school’s educational activities. The Court held that “educators do not offend the First Amendment by exercising editorial control over the style and content of student speech in school-sponsored expressive activities so long as their actions are reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.” And most of us would agree that journalistic integrity is a legitimate pedagogical concern.

The test is different when dealing with individual student speech that happens to occur on school premises or at school activities. Students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” Tinker v. Des Moines School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969). Nonetheless, a school is a special setting, and administrators can prohibit some behavior that would be covered by the First Amendment in a different context. In particular, the administration can discipline behavior that materially disrupts learning, interferes with the rights of other students, uses lewd or offensive language, or advocates criminal behavior.

Tinker shows one end of the spectrum—the one where the First Amendment trumps school action. In that case, the school warned and then suspended five students who wore black armbands to protest the Vietnam War. Although the armbands made some students uncomfortable, they did not interfere with schoolwork, disrupt classes, or produce any violence. The Supreme Court held that the administration’s actions violated the students’ First Amendment rights.

There are cases on the other end of the spectrum as well. In Bethel School District v. Fraser, 478 U.S. 675 (1986), the Court held that a school could discipline a student who used sexual innuendos during a school assembly. And in Morse v. Frederick, 551 U.S. 393 (2007), the Court upheld an action suspending a student for displaying a banner that could have been interpreted as advocating illegal drug use. What Morse added to Bethel was the context. Fraser made his comments on school grounds, while Frederick’s conduct occurred during a school outing.

The line is fuzzy, but one thing is clear. Students don’t lose all their First Amendment rights when they go to school, but they do lose some.

But you may be thinking, “What about all those cases involving religious activities in the schools. Why didn’t she mention them?”

Since this is a blog for writers, these monthly posts concentrate on the speech clauses of the First Amendment. Most of the school religion cases were decided under the religion clauses.

Still, there are cases in which the speech clauses intersect with the religion clauses. We’ll discuss that topic next month.


Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer. Her most recent book, Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal (KP/PK Publishing 2013), is a Kirkus’ Indie Books of the Month Selection. Kathryn is also the author of In God We Trust: How the Supreme Court’s First Amendment Decisions Affect Organized Religion (FaithWalk Publishing 2006) and numerous articles. You can learn more about Kathryn at

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Revision versus Editing (Part 2)

                                                       By Kelly Bridgewater

Last month, I suggested some blanket revision techniques to help the process of revising your final manuscript. This month, I want to help you with the Editing part of your final manuscript.

Editing means looking closely at the format and the grammatical errors in your manuscript. Now, I know, some of you will hate this, while others look forward to finding grammatical errors in anything. (I enjoy finding grammatical errors.)
-Make sure your manuscript has one-inch margins and written in 12 point font with Times New Roman.
-Double space your entire document.
-Header should be Last Name/ BOOK TITLE/ Word Count
-One space after every sentence.
-Past tense. Your manuscript major verbs should be in past tense.
-No head hopping. This means, don’t start a section of the chapter in the heroine’s head, but then skip into the hero’s head because he would have more emotion during a certain incident. Maybe reevaluate why the chapter should be in the heroine’s head if you believe the hero would have more of an emotional response. Switch the perspective of the chapter. Quick fix.
-Don’t use explaination points! Unless having someone yell in a direct dialogue. (This bothers literary agent, Chip MacGregor.See “What Drives an Editor Crazy” by Chip MacGregor, April 9, 2013)
-Use the correct format of the word: Your (possession: your car, your house, etc); You’re (Contraction: You are)
-Use the correct format of the word: There (a place: go over there, the house over there); Their (possession: their car, their house, etc); They’re (contraction: they are).
 -One of my biggest pet peeves that I remind my students over and over: Don’t rely on your spell checker and grammar checker. They don’t find everything. Plus, I have found the grammar checker wrong on more than one occasion.
-Print out your manuscript. If every first word is the same, then you need to revise the wording. My biggest problem is I usually start every paragraph with a dependent clause, such as Starting the car, Walking to the store. I try to go back and fix this.
-Change your weak verbs, such as, was, were to more active verbs like clinched, stoked, loved, etc….

Of course, there are many more suggestions to fix the appearance and words of your manuscript, these are just a couple of suggestions.

Please share any suggestions you have that work. I would love to learn different strategies to apply to my writing. 

Kelly Bridgewater holds a B.S. in English and a M.A. in Writing from Indiana State University on the completion of a creative thesis titled Fleeting Impressions, which consisted of six original short stories. She has been published in the Indiana State University Literary Journal, Allusions, with her stories titled “Moving On” and “Life Changing Second.” In fall 2011, she presented her essay, Northanger Abbey: Structurally a Gothic Novel, at the Midwestern American Society of 18th Century Studies Conference. Kelly’s writing explores the ideas of good prevailing over evil in suspense. Kelly and her husband reside with their three boys and two dogs.