Judge Rules Against Boy in Gun Photo Case

Citing the editors' First Amendment rights, a judge refused to delay publication of a high school yearbook while a student fights to include a photo showing him posing with a shotgun.

Londonderry High School (search) officials told Blake Douglass (search), an avid trap- and skeet-shooter, that the photo could appear in the yearbook's "community sports" section but not as his senior portrait.

Douglass filed suit, arguing the decision violated his freedom of speech and expression.

However, U.S. District Judge Steven McAuliffe ruled Monday that that Douglass was unlikely to win because the decision was made by the yearbook's student editors and not school administrators.

Because the students are private individuals, the judge said, Douglass doesn't have a valid claim that the state had violated his constitutional right to free speech.

Private decisions about what to publish and what to exclude, like those made by newspaper editors, are protected by the First Amendment, he said.

"Obviously, we're very pleased," Principal James Elefante said. "Our goal was to continue on and get the yearbook out for the kids."

He said that before announcing the decision to reject Douglass' photo, he consulted with the yearbook's editorial staff and its two advisers.

Douglass' lawyer, Penny Dean, said that until a hearing last month, the school had always said it was the administration, not the editors, who made the decision on the photo.

"Now they claim the students did," Dean said in a statement.