Haskell Indian Nations University in Kansas has been accused of violating the First Amendment rights of a student journalist in a federal lawsuit submitted on Tuesday by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
FIRE filed the suit on behalf of Jared Nally, the editor-in-chief of The Indian Leader, who claimed that the university unjustly silenced him for 90 days for performing standard reporting procedures while also withholding the publication’s funding.
Back in October, Haskell President Ronald Graham sent a “directive” that prohibited routine news gathering and threatened disciplinary action after Nally requested government agencies to provide information regarding a staff member’s death. Graham also warned Nally about publishing articles that critique Haskell, considering it “great disrespect” to community members.
This is a portion of a "directive" sent to the editor of the student newspaper at Haskell Indian Nations University by the university president.
The EIC feels his First Amendment rights are being violated, and groups like @najournalists agree.
— Lauren Fox (@bylaurenfox) October 26, 2020
This incident further fueled conflict between the publication and the university. School leaders reportedly ignored Nally’s requests for The Indian Leader to be officially recognized as a student organization, withholding more than $10,000 in funds without explanation, according to FIRE.
FIRE, along with the Native American Journalists Association and the Student Press Law Center, responded to the directive with a letter stating that Haskell “will not interfere in the affairs of the student newspaper or impede the free expression rights of individual students in the future.”
However, the lawsuit stated, they did not receive a timely response, which forced Nally and The Indian Leader to review and censor all content that cast the university in a bad light for fear of disciplinary action.
“Haskell is making it very clear that they put institutional reputation above student rights. We’re not only defending Jared’s constitutional rights, but the rights of all Haskell students, and student reporters across the country. In doing so, we’re showing public institutions that the First Amendment is non-negotiable,” said FIRE attorney Katlyn Patton.
Nally shared that joining his university’s student newspaper gave him a voice. “Unfortunately it’s going to take a lawsuit for the university to listen to it,” he said. “It’s important for student journalists to not only know our rights, but also our role. We exist to hold our university accountable and to inform our fellow students and community. We have a right to press freedom and to share these stories.”