Freedom of Speech (So long as…)

ImageThis week, as we’ve been learning about civil liberties and rights, I’ve done a lot of thinking about one of the most important rights of Americans: The freedom of speech. This right is the reason the revolutionaries of the eighteenth century were able to justify criticizing the king of England, an integral part in the establishment of the United States. To this day, all Americans are perfectly free to criticize our government. However, a commonly asked question is: how do these rights apply to minors? The Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence don’t mention how rights apply to legal minors.

During our research on different court cases, I learned the details of the case Tinker v Des Moines School District (1968). This case explored the rights of minors to free speech in public schools. Essentially, the students in the case wore black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War, and were suspended from school until the protest ended. In the ruling, the Supreme Court classified the armbands as freedom of expression, and since they weren’t disruptive to the running of the school, it was within the rights of the students to wear them. This ruling set a precedence of freedom of speech for minors. Judging by later limitations set on the case ruling, it has been established that minors have the rights to free speech and expression so long as they are not indecent or disruptive during school functions.

So what about other rights? Are minors entitled to freedom of press? According to another case, not quite. Schools have the right over students to censor newspaper publications, screening for appropriate topics and the like. This case makes it clear that no, minors do not have the true freedom of press the way the Bill of Rights outlines it. And despite Tinker v Des Moines, minors don’t have the full freedom of speech. It appears that the rights of the American citizen do not apply to minors, and are instead limited by higher authority (such as school officials and guardians).


My thought is that minors need to know their rights. There are various protective acts that outline things that can’t be done to minors, or what can be done in certain situations concerning minors. I propose that an amendment, law, or act be created with the purpose of outlining the individual rights of minors in regards to the rights of an American citizen. Not many average high school students will be able to reference Tinker v Des Moines when faced with their school principal. IF all that minors have to go by are court cases, then how are they supposed to know their rights? This law, amendment, or act would provide a comparison of full adult rights to those of minors, letting everyone know what minors can and can’t do. The benefits of such an outline would be great. It would provide schools and parents with a concept of laws as they apply to children, and it would give minors knowledge of the full extent of their power.

As of right now, I’m still not sure what rights I am entitled to as a minor. Am I granted the right to petition? Am I granted the right to assembly? I’m not even sure what the proceedings are for search warrants granting search and seizure rights to the police. It’s a little scary, knowing the freedoms that are granted to Americans but not knowing how many of them you hold. So my thought is that minors should be educated in their government classes not only about how government was established and how it works, but also about what that means for them before they are adult citizens of the United States.

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.



  1. Hi Catherine!!!
    Thank you so much for your post… I found it quite engrossing, especially as it applies to us as minors. I know that I personally have so much to say about the world and my opinions of it… however how am I supposed to express those opinions without full knowledge of my speech rights as a minor? It’s actually kind of scary to think that my rights could be so infringed upon, just because I’m underage! Can you perhaps think of any topics that you specifically would be wary of speaking out on? I’m not sure if I yet can, but your post has definitely got me thinking! Thank you again!



    • Hey Mi! I agree with you that it’s scary not knowing what our rights are in regards to freedoms such as that of speech. Personally, I think that I would be wary–as a minor–of criticizing the government. This is one of our fundamental rights and responsibilities in our country, but I fear a minor would be censored perhaps. As I look into the novel publishing world with my writing, I see a lot of censorship of books with controversial topics. If people are censoring what minors can see, who’s to say they won’t censor what minors can read?
      Thanks for your comment! You definitely made me think some more on the topic!
      – Cat


  2. Hey Cat!
    I definitely thought this was interesting; I never really thought about a lot of this! It brings up interesting questions, though. I used to go to public school, and we had to wear a uniform. Is forcing students to wear a uniform technically a breach of freedom of expression? Does that right even apply to minors? Could students potentially sue the school and be granted free dress? In a private school, there is more leeway to decide what students should wear, but in public school it is less clear.
    I have thought for a while that some sort of government education class should be mandatory at high schools. Teaching students at least about their rights and the rights they will have as adults can go a long way, and it can’t always be guaranteed that officials, police officers, bosses, etc. won’t try to infringe on protected rights, so people really should know what they are!
    Great post!
    – Jane


    • Well, Jane, your response calls to mind a few things I’ve read lately. In the case of Tinker v Des Moines–which I mentioned in the post–the students were asserting their freedom of expression in a public school. This may or may not apply to uniforms in public school, and I know this is already a rather controversial debate. I agree with you that government education classes should definitely be taught more frequently and more in depth than they already are. There was an essay I ready for my English class that talked about how the concentration on science and math has stressed teachers’ curriculums so much that they can no longer emphasize US Government. At my school, in particular, only a semester credit of US Government is required for graduation. This class, which I began the school year in, is very basic and doesn’t cover much of our rights and responsibilities as citizens. I’ve found this AP class much more informative in the short time we’ve been taking it.
      Thank you for the thoughtful comment!
      – Cat


  3. Hi Catherine,
    Thanks for writing such an interesting and thought provoking post!
    I have been thinking a lot about freedom of speech recently, as well. I mostly looked at freedom of speech as it applies to the internet, which was extremely intriguing and yielded many exciting ideas.
    But, to get back to the topic of your post, I think that your proposal of a law ensuring that all US minors are aware of their rights as US citizens is an interesting idea. How do you think educators could go about teaching minors what their rights are?
    In a way, I don’t think educators, or even the government itself, completely knows what minors’ rights are. Because the Constitution, Bill of Rights, etc are sometimes pretty vague (or at least, they leave a lot up to interpretation), there is some ambiguity about American rights. Even the fundamental rights that adults are granted are sometimes kind of hazy. Take the example of the anti-Islam video that was published by an American man recently and that (apparently) fueled riots and killings in Islamic countries. Is this acceptable because Americans have the right to free speech? Or is it a violation, because it goes out of the bounds of “reasonable”?
    What I am trying to say is that, yes, many minors may not know what their rights are, but do adult Americans even know what theirs are?
    What do you think?
    Thanks again, and well done!


    • Hello Clare. You make a lot of excellent points that are thought provoking as well! I agree, not many adults are completely sure of their full rights. However, I think what I meant to say was that this law should be passed in regards to the specific rights that we are aware of. Of course, you go on to point out that freedom of speech is somewhat hazy in certain situations–and your example is great; I’m not really sure what to think of that case–as are all amendment rights. Despite this haziness, I still think that an amendment should outline things such as: Minors have the right to bear arms after this age, and with these restrictions. Or such as: Minors in public school have the freedoms of speech and expression so long as they are within these guidelines. I hope this clears some of this up for you! Thank you for commenting!

      – Cat


  4. Hi Catherine,

    I was very interested about your post. I had never really thought about how human rights apply to minors before. It would be interesting to see what would be the answer. I feel that minors are surprisingly often overlooked in issues such as this, which is odd seeing that we are the future. If we are to protect our way of life or possibly improve it, one would want to start with the youth. This was a great, thought provoking post! It’s great to learn about interesting ideas such as this.



  5. Hello Martin; it is definitely surprising that minors are so overlooked. I would love to see an answer to this question, as well, especially if that answer came in the form of an amendment or law.
    Thank you for your comment!
    – Cat


  6. Freedom of Speech (So long as…)

    I was interested in the title. As I read on, I was looking for one detail in particular and found it in this statement…
    “…minors have the rights to free speech and expression so long as they are not indecent or disruptive during school functions.”

    Whenever we consider rights, we must also consider responsibilities accompanying those rights. In Australia as well as the US, we are provided with freedom of speech and freedom of the press but our responsibility comes in how we apply such freedoms. For a society to function effectively, members of society have to surrender some individual rights for the betterment of all.

    We cannot incite people to violence or riot. We can’t racially vilify nor preach hatred of minorities. My point is there are restrictions at any age. Total freedom could lead to anarchy.

    A problem arises. Who decides where freedom begins or ends?

    In totalitarian societies, decisions on freedom are made by the very few. If we consider a democracy, there must be a process in place so any citizen has the right to be heard and considered. By “any”, I would consider that right should also extend to minors providing they are capable of doing so.

    “…minors should be educated in their government classes not only about how government was established and how it works, but also about what that means for them before they are adult citizens of the United States.”

    scientia potentia est – knowledge is power

    Provide people with knowledge of their rights and responsibilities. Teach them the skills needed to positively apply that knowledge. Give them the right to be heard and considered regardless of age, gender, race or religion and we enrich all society.

    Teacher (retired), N.S.W., Australia

    **Just another opinion from someone not an expert in any field.


    • Hi Ross. Thank you for your insight. I’m not well versed in Australia’s laws concerning freedom of speech in any manner, but I do know that in the US, freedom of speech does include such speech that includes racial slurs and such, despite the fact that these things should not be used. Discriminatory speech, so long as it is not acted upon and listeners are not made fearful for their safety, is not against the law. There have been cases recently where a popular comedian has targeted female members of the audience. He makes them uncomfortable to the point that they leave for fear of their own safety, but he has had no actions taken against him because no harm has actually come to these women. So, regardless of the morality of such speech, it is legal. My main point in this post was the true extent of freedom of speech for minors, considering that there is no real way to know what the freedoms of minors are.
      Thank you!
      – Cat


      • Hi again,

        This is where there is a difference in law between countries. There are laws covering racial vilification and discrimination covering some aspects in Australian society as well as some concerning inciting people to violence. Speech is not quite as free even though these laws are seldom used and don’t apply to people speaking casually. They are aimed at the more extreme published comments, either in print or on video.

        Recently, you may be aware, there have been demonstrations, sometimes violent, around the world over a minor film. In Australia, such a film would not be banned nor would those who chose to demonstrate against it in Sydney. Prosecution only followed when some chose to use violence. What was most significant was the number of Muslim community leaders speaking out against such violence as not having a place in Australian society. Not by law but by social influence and their right to speak out, the one incident wasn’t repeated and some involved publicly apologised for their actions.

        I understand the need for something to be set down explaining the rights and freedoms of minors. Such a statement or guideline would allow the more able to defend their rights to free speech and express themselves knowing they have such a right. Your post was thought provoking.



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