Opinions

The Caldron Bans the R-Word

The Caldron Editorial Board

Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are two fundamental principles that we enjoy each and every day as Americans.  The First Amendment to the United States Constitution asserts that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  This means that the government cannot prevent citizens from using their own voices for whatever they want, nor can it prohibit the press from publishing whatever it wants.  Being able to publish without censorship is not a privilege that citizens earn, it is a right guaranteed to all Americans by the Constitution.  Public institutions over the years have tried time and time again to erode this right of the citizenry.

That being said, there have been many accomplishments of our free press.  In 1971, The New York Times published a set of classified documents of the Department of Defense, commonly referred to as the Pentagon Papers.  These documents held embarrassing information about the US government’s military role in Vietnam, and were given to the Times by an employee of the Pentagon.  More recently, in 2012, Edward Snowden, former contractor for the National Security Agency, leaked information to The Guardian and The Washington Post about surveillance tactics employed by the US government.

Freedom of the press very much applies to student journalism as well.  Last year, student editors of The Playwickian, the student newspaper for Neshaminy High School in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, decided that the paper would ban the word “Redskins,” which happens to be their school’s mascot.  The debate over the “R-word” has garnered national attention from the controversy over the Washington, D.C. NFL team of the same name.  The term is obviously degrading towards Native Americans, and as the editorial team of The Playwickian points out, the dictionary lists the term as “disparaging and offensive” as well as “outdated,” the same adjectives attributed to the “N-word.”

In response, the school principal reversed the students’ decision, telling the school community that the paper would indeed continue to use the word.  The students appealed, and an agreement was worked out that the word could be banned from sports and news articles, but not opinions articles, or letters to the editor.  The students agreed to this at the time.  When a letter to the editor was written later in the school year, using the “R-word,” the students made the editorial decision to replace the word with “R——-.”  The principal then suspended the Editor-in-Chief from managerial duties on the newspaper until the end of September.  The principal also suspended the faculty advisor to The Playwickian without pay for two days in an attempt to prove his point.  In the most shocking move of retaliation against students, the principal, Robert McGee, deducted $1,200 from The Playwickian’s school account.

This is a story that is sweeping the nation.  In fact, the editorial board of The Washington Post, a national publication which has also banned the word, recently published an op-ed criticizing the Neshaminy School District, while praising students for their stance.  It is completely unacceptable for school administration to take such actions against students and faculty for taking an editorial stance on a topic that has garnered national attention.  The “R-word” is considered by many people to be a racial slur, and that view is shared by the majority of the editorial board of The Caldron.  For that reason, The Caldron will no longer use the word “Redskins” in any article, and any submission that contains the word will be appropriately edited.  We stand with the students of Neshaminy High School, and we will continue to stand by our decision.  We cite our own editorial policy, below, as well as Caldwell-West Caldwell Board of Education Policy 2432 on School Sponsored Publications, which states in part that, “No school sponsored publication may contain materials that… Are grossly prejudicial to an ethnic, national, religious, or racial group or to either gender…” as justification of this decision.

 

EDITORIAL POLICY: All opinion articles and commentaries are the expressed opinion of the author but not of The Caldron, its editorial board, or its advisors. Unsigned editorials are confidential and anonymous. They are written by the editors-in-chief in consultation with the opinions editor and the advisors. Furthermore, the opinions conveyed are not those of the Caldwell/West Caldwell school district, faculty, or Board of Education.


The Caldron is a public forum and welcomes letters to the editor from both the general public and the student body. The editorial board reserves the right to edit letters for clarity and space limitations. Anonymous letters will not be accepted; however, names can be withheld upon request.