The First Amendment and Its Effects on Students Inside Schools
According to the US Constitution, “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.”
The 1st Amendment, written by James Madison in 1788, establishes the American stance on freedom and security to all US citizens, regardless of race, gender, religion, or beliefs. However, there is another category of people using the 1st Amendment to fight prejudice and disservice that many people fail to mention– students.
“Students do not shed their Constitutional rights to freedom of speech and expression at the schoolhouse gate,” The Supreme Court of the United States released in 1969 during the Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District case.
The Supreme Court has acknowledged that the government is obligated to provide all rights promised to all citizens to students as well. Nonetheless, the courts have permitted school officials to limit the rights of students under some circumstances. The Tinker test, also known as the “substantial disruption” test, is used by courts to determine whether a school’s interest to prevent disruption infringes upon students’ First Amendment rights. If courts find there is no disruption, students’ rights are protected.
“Our rights are selective, at the end of the day we are given ‘choices’ but are only allowed to choose one option. It’s almost as though they have us make a decision, but take it away when they do not agree. Constitutional law should never be selectional. Opinions and safe choices cannot be berated because they are not completely within school suggestions,” explained Cassie Condo, a sophomore at LaPorte High School.
To suggest that First Amendment rights are circumstantial to students is to assume their freedoms are in the hands of their educators. There is no amendment on situational rights. The Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District case in 1969 shows a situational case where their educators were wrong. However, in 1980, the Fraser vs. Bethel’s case came to the Supreme Court, and the Courts decided the students’ speech was much too obscene and vulgar. Fraser later faced expulsion. Both cases dealt with the actions of a student, with circumstantial opinion weighing the outcome of their educational careers.
“These court cases were decided in this nature to try to educate students, younger people, on when is appropriate to say what and how it should be used. If it is super vulgar, super obscene, I get that; However, I am a big proponent that the 1st Amendment is the 1st Amendment, and everybody has their beliefs whether I like that or don’t like it. We should be able to express ourselves. That’s the bedrock of this country. That’s what makes America a place that people want to come to. I have a hard time when students can’t express themselves in a manner that isn’t hurting anybody or isn’t crazy obscene. I believe we need to teach the younger generation to use their voice, and the way to express themselves that empowers them and helps move our country along,” Erin Parker, a Journalism Teacher at LaPorte High School, said.
School policies are a way of ensuring students are protected, but to also promise students are treated fairly as people. Students should be reminded they have a voice, and can fight for their rights, even if the school disagrees.