High Court Declines To Hear Appeal Over Newspaper Ads

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The U.S. Supreme Court declined last week to hear the appeal of a Massachusetts father whose ads promoting sexual abstinence among teenagers were rejected by a high school newspaper and yearbook.

The court on June 1 turned away without comment the appeal of Douglas E. Yeo, who had sought to place the advertisements in the student publications of Lexington (Mass.) High School.

The case attracted widespread interest among school boards' associations and student-journalism groups. The central issue was whether the rejection of the ads by student editors of the publications amounted to government action, since the newspaper and yearbook are officially sponsored by Lexington High.

A federal appeals court ruled that it did not amount to state action, and thus did not represent unconstitutional "viewpoint" discrimination by the government.

The case was sparked by the Lexington school board's 1992 enactment of a policy to make condoms available at the high school without parental permission. Mr. Yeo, whose three children attended or are currently attending the school, was a leading opponent of the policy.

Out of Place

In the 1993-94 school year, he submitted ads promoting abstinence to the Lexington High yearbook and the student newspaper, The Musket. The yearbook staff rejected the ad because editors believed it was political advocacy and incompatible with the congratulatory tone of other ads.

The Musket editors told Mr. Yeo that they considered his ad a political statement and that they did not accept such ads.

Mr. Yeo sued the Lexington school board and various administrators in federal district court, alleging that the publications' refusal to print his ad violated his First Amendment right of free speech and his 14th Amendment right of equal protection under the law.

The district court ruled for the school board, holding that there was no state action in the student editors' decision. A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit ruled 2-1 for Mr. Yeo, finding that the publications were part of the school curriculum.

But the full 1st Circuit court, based in Boston, set aside that ruling and reheard the case. The court ruled for the school board last December.

"Here, the students' relationship to the public school officials in the exercise of their editorial judgment was certainly independent," the appeals court said. "The school officials gained nothing but a lawsuit from the students' decision, and the officials might themselves, as they told the students, have made a different decision."

In their appeal to the Supreme Court in Yeo v. Town of Lexington (Case No. 97-1462), Mr. Yeo's lawyers argued that adult supervision of the publications was so intertwined with the editors' decisions as to make the rejection of the abstinence ads a government action.

Agency-Fee Case

Separately last week, the high court declined an appeal from two affiliates of the National Education Association over the issue of compulsory arbitration for nonunion members who object to the cost of their service fees for collective bargaining.

The justices rejected without comment the appeal in Anchorage Education Association v. Patterson (No. 97-1454). The action was not a surprise, given the court's May 26 ruling in a similar labor case that nonunion workers may challenge their so-called agency fees in federal court without first going through an arbitration procedure favored by unions. ("Supreme Court Ruling Is a Defeat for Unions," June 3, 1998.)

The justices had been holding the agency-fee dispute from Alaska, which presented the same question, pending their ruling in the case of Air Line Pilots Association v. Miller.

Vol. 17, Issue 39, Page 23

Published in Print: June 10, 1998, as High Court Declines To Hear Appeal Over Newspaper Ads
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