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FAU allegedly attacks student’s free press rights, attorney says

Florida Atlantic University is under scrutiny after a student alleged that student government denied him an editor-in-chief position over his intentions to cover the Student Senate.

In an email sent to about 25 universities throughout the state of Florida on July 10, media law attorney Justin Hemlepp described what was allegedly “an attack on the First Amendment” after FAU senior Joseph Pye was elected to be editor-in-chief for the school newspaper, the University Press, and Student Government blocked the decision.

“The Senate’s decision appears to be based solely on the content my client intended to publish,” Hemlepp said. “Namely investigations of Student Government.”

Pye, who had advanced to the final process of the election phase, had to go before the Student Senate, which is responsible for finalizing position decisions, Hemlepp said.

According to Hemlepp, the Senate conducted a four-to-five-minute hearing in which they asked Pye what his coverage plans were for the newspaper. When Pye stated his plans consisted of covering Student Government, Hemlepp said the Student Senators “did not like it.”

After the hearing, Student Government reached a five to two decision, ultimately disqualifying Pye from the position.

Now Hemlepp aims to rectify the situation in what he says is threat to press’s rights.

“It’s as if the United States Congress got to choose the editor of the New York Times or Washington Post,” Justin said. “It’s completely inappropriate in the U.S. It’s the whole reason we have the First Amendment. The politicians don’t get to choose the journalists who cover them.”

Hemlepp hopes to settle the situation outside of court. However, his focus remains in attaining results for his client.

“There is a very simple solution,” Hemlepp said. “To untether the management and content from Student Senate. They don’t get to choose the content.  They don’t get to choose the staff.”

Check back with Eagle News as the story develops.

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