New Voices U.S.

Hazelwood Inspires Student’s Testimony

Shea Smith, SPLC Staff Writer

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When Hope Johnson was a freshman in high school, her journalism instructor taught her class the history of American journalism. But one lesson in history stuck out the most to her, and even struck a nerve.

The Hazelwood case.

It made me slightly angry, but mostly confused,” said Johnson. “I was under the impression that everyone had freedom of speech, but that apparently wasn’t the case for high school journalists. I couldn’t wrap my head around why the government would make the decision to limit student journalists in their production classes.”

And when her home state of Illinois had created their own bill to protect high school journalists, she was thrilled. But when they asked her to speak at the House Committee, she was speechless.

“Mr. Steele explained the hearing for the bill would take place in Springfield the following Wednesday,” said Johnson. “I immediately asked if we could go as a class, and Mr. Steele’s response was: ‘Actually, they want you to speak.’ My jaw dropped.”

In Illinois, only college students have the freedom to report without censorship not high school journalists. But, on Feb. 11, state Rep. Will Guzzardi introduced House Bill 5902. The bill aimed to protect the First Amendment rights of high school journalists.

Johnson wasn’t new to public speaking, but she was new to speaking about something she was passionate about.

It was the first time I spoke about something truly important,” said Johnson. “But I truly cared about this bill, and that made me all the more nervous.”

Johnson gave her testimony to the House Committee and on May 31, the bill was passed.

“Knowing that I played even a tiny role in changing this law is still hard for me to process, and I cannot tell you how much it means to me,” said Johnson.

She is “honored, shocked and overwhelmingly proud” and believes this is a huge step for the state of Illinois.

“I’m glad our voices are finally being heard,” she said. “Even though the bill came just in time for my high school graduation, I am thrilled that the high school journalists who come after me will truly be able to practice their First Amendment rights.”

Here is Hope Johnson’s Testimony.

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Hazelwood Inspires Student’s Testimony