Regis Jesuit’s Fight for Freedom of Speech

Amaya+Taylor+models+as+a+censored+journalist.

Photo by Mallory Sale

Amaya Taylor models as a censored journalist.

The one thing that journalists covet above all else is freedom of the press. When that right is violated in any way, it hurts more than one could imagine. Many Supreme Court cases dealing with freedom of speech have become famous: take Tinker v. Des Moines, in which high schooler Mary Beth Tinker won the right to silently protest the Vietnam War by wearing a black armband at school. Entwined by our art, journalists around the world fight for each other’s rights. The problem of a lack of freedom of speech seems antiquated: something that only happens in the history books or other parts of the world. However, journalists and student journalists continue to fight tooth and nail for their freedom of the press.

Regis Jesuit High School is a Catholic school located in Aurora, Colorado. The school’s news publication, Elevate Magazine, is well-known within the student journalism community: the magazine has earned many awards and endorsements, for both its design and its content. As a publication from a private Catholic school, Elevate Magazine faces restrictions and rules that Colorado public high school publications do not.

Before December 22, 2021, the magazine program was advised by Maria Lynch and Nicole Arduini, both of whom are highly regarded in the Colorado journalism community. “As a private school, Regis can set whatever guidelines it wants for its student media. But once it sets those policies in place, they have an obligation to support its faculty when they abide by them,” said Lynch. “Regis had adopted a limited open forum that only required administrator input on obituaries, crimes, and situations that are currently in the court of law, and termination of employees. In our feature stories, we tried to guide our students to multiple perspectives, including that of the Church, but our Catholic school identity never led to any censorship, to my knowledge, until this past December.”

These guidelines caused both Maria Lynch and Nicole Arduini to be fired on December 22, as well as an issue of Elevate Magazine to be rescinded in its entirety by the school administration. A freshman reporter had written and published an opinion article (meaning that the views discussed in the article in no way reflected on the school or the rest of the newspaper staff) about the pro-choice movement and abortion rights. As Catholicism strictly abides by a pro-life, anti-abortion viewpoint, the article went against the Catholic practices of the school and was therefore judged to have shed a bad light on the school’s devotion to Catholicism.

“Feature stories are written by the students in the Elevate Magazine club, where there is a lot of discussions, context setting, and guidance. For opinion pieces, the student editors would solicit pieces from the student body and email journalism teachers to see if any students have submitted ones they thought were well-written. The editorial policies written before my time as advisor forbade me from censoring or sending both feature stories and opinion pieces to the administration for prior review,” said Lynch.

Lynch went on to say that, “The pro-choice piece in question was recommended by another journalism teacher to the student editorial board, and they selected it. Again, the editorial policies forbade me from censoring or sending it to the administration for prior review. The principal initially thanked me and Nicole (email attached) for our efforts and said he thought the article would provoke good discussion. Six days later, I was fired via email after only one attempt to call me two hours before, and a day after that, the Archbishop released a two-page letter about the situation. We were offered a non-disparagement agreement, but I did not sign because it wouldn’t allow me to tell the truth if it was disparaging to Regis. I wanted to have the freedom to defend myself as a woman of faith, a pro-life advocate, and a devoted teacher.”

Regis Jesuit High School and the Catholic Church had no right to censor the pro-choice article, or any opinion article, for that matter. The RJ Media Editorial Policy strictly states that censorship is not allowed, especially for editorials, which the abortion article in question was categorized as. The policy states, “The student RJ Media Editorial Board will have final say in the content of the publications. The advisers advise. The students make the decisions. The publications advisers will not act as a censor or have final say in determining the content of the media. Rather, the advisers will teach journalistic skills and guide the students in making sound legal and ethical decisions. The publications advisers are the faculty members who teach the journalism courses and advise the RJ Media clubs. School officials, administration or faculty and staff, likewise, shall not practice prior review or to censor any student media, with the exception of material deemed to be legally obscene, libelous, substantially and materially disruptive.”

RJ Media itself states that it is a, “limited-open forum for student free expression” that serves as a “medium for student opinions and ideas [and] strives to produce objective, well-balanced and accurate reporting and content that features a range of students, their interests and their viewpoints.” Censoring the pro-choice article directly violates RJ Media’s Editorial Policy while openly attacking student journalists’ freedom of speech and freedom of press. The Tinker v. Des Moines precedent even states that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” Regardless of the private or public status of any school, the Constitutional right to speech and press should remain intact for each and every journalist and their opinion. By censoring the students in Elevate Magazine, the Regis Jesuit High School administration and the Catholic Church itself are violating students’ Constitutional rights. Students do not leave their rights behind at the school doors.

Going beyond press rights, students must have the opportunity to express their own opinions and be exposed to other perspectives in order to create a more well-rounded and unsheltered view of the world, which in turn can eliminate stereotypes, stigmas, and hatred for others. One thing that America needs to learn, especially in a divisive political climate such as the one we have been steeped in for so long, is the ability to share and discuss opinions and controversial topics, including abortion, while remaining civil and kind, even if it means leaving it at, “we agree to disagree.”

Democracy itself relies on that very idea: the freedom to share one’s opinion and views (so long as they don’t harm anyone else) without being persecuted. By shutting out others’ opinions, private school students will face a harsh reality after graduating, a reality where not everyone follows the same faith, political path, or belief system. Learning to accept that others have differing opinions and remain respectful towards them is the first step in reducing political and social tension. Regis Jesuit and the Catholic Church are actively depriving their students of this necessary learning experience.

“I want all students to be able to express their views in class and in writing, not because I agree with everything they say but because I think that’s the best way to address their questions and prepare them for both democracy and faith that seek truth,” said Lynch. “Student publications like Elevate are an important place for students to explore important issues, and I want Regis and the magazine to welcome doubt and discussion. I was really proud of our editorial policies as they were. Had administrators sought my input, I would have been open to editing them to require student journalists to interview a priest or administrator when covering issues related to Church teaching and/or have a statement about the Church’s stance accompany any editorial contradicting that teaching.”

Lynch was able to find employment soon after her firing. “I hope I can continue to help students use their voices to ask good questions, enter into dialogue, and amplify the voices of the marginalized,” said Lynch. “I have long considered my vocation Catholic education, and I am trying to figure out what my calling looks like in a place that so publicly questioned my commitment to my faith and its schools.”

Nicole Arduini and the Co-Editors-in-Chief of Elevate all declined to comment on the subject. The students involved have been prohibited from commenting for fear of facing “serious repercussions.”

Student journalism is important. We serve our purpose in society, and student publications should not be censored in any situation. Every student has the right to share their opinion and exercise their right to free speech and free press, and this principle does not change if a student attends a private religious school.

The original story, published by the anonymous author, pictured above. Photo originally published by the Colorado Sentinel.