This 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.