Opinion: First Amendment comes first

Feature Photo By: Izzy Honey- The flag outside of Rangeview High School stands tall as it flaps in the wind. This flag, to many, does not only represent one person, of one story, from one place. 

By: Dennae Pigford, Review Staff

The freedom to exercise one’s religion or to not have one. The freedom to speak your opinions and thoughts. The freedom to peacefully protest. The freedom to post or print your opinions and thoughts. All of these are things that we should keep in our back pockets at all times. If you go through a day at RHS thinking that they do not apply to you, then that’s just another day wasted.

When you type into the Google search bar: “Minors’ First Amendment Rights”, even before hitting enter, the most popular searches are “do minors have first amendment rights?”, “do minors have the same first amendment rights as adults?”,  and “do minors have first amendment rights in schools?”

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution 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.”

Yet somehow, teens and minors alike are thought to have no rights whatsoever by many adults who claim that we are either “too young” or “don’t do anything to need law protection”. But this is just not true.

As student journalists, we are well aware of the national laws that protect us, along with the state laws that protect us. In Colorado and eight other states, we have extra protections to have our voice heard. Here, there is something called the Colorado Student Free Expression Law. In summary, it states that, as long as there is no obscene or defamatory information being published, unlawful acts being promoted, school being disrupted, or a person’s privacy being invaded, administration can not censor or prohibit what a school media publication can post.

But what if you don’t know this? What if you have no idea what your rights are and take punishment on a silver platter because that is just how things have always been?

Well listen up, Rangeview: this minor is fed up with the adults and superiors of this world pretending like we are play things that they can do whatever with and no one will say anything.

This is an artist’s illustration of the five freedoms that are stated in the First Amendment in civics teacher Mrs. Walsh’s room. (Dennae Pigford)

In 1965, when Mary Beth Tinker was 13 years old, she wore a black armband to her junior high school to protest the Vietnam War. The school promptly suspended her, but her protest eventually led to a landmark Supreme Court case: Tinker v. Des Moines. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually ruled in favor of Tinker, making it clear that students absolutely do not lose their First Amendment rights at the school door.

But when we walk into RHS, how many of us have these rights respected? “Zero Tolerance” policies are set up in schools nationwide that punish kids for creative thinking or open and objective criticism. We have the freedom of speech and the right to protest. We are not some ignorant, ill-informed, complainers. We are people. We have opinions and we also have the right to be heard.

Do not preach to me that my voice matters when you muzzle me like a dog.

Minors should have their voice amplified in our school if we want to solve some of our major problems. I believe that we should be sought out for our opinions and ideas on topics that pertain directly to us: academic changes, household shifts, the Achievement Gap, school start time, dress code, standardized testing, Pledge of Allegiance policies, etc. Minors are people too. I have a hope that somewhere in my lifetime, minors and students will no longer question if the First Amendment pertains to them.

In conclusion, the idea that minors have anything less than equal rights of any other citizen amazes me. The fact that we could be told that our opinion is wrong simply based on age and an assumption of lack of experience, baffles me. The minute that we realize, just because my age starts with a one, that does not make me less of a person.

We can not be muted or held down just because we have not graduated — now is a time our society needs our voice more than ever.

Speak out, be heard, protest. Let it be known that you are here and that you have a voice. Discrimination is not only about race or sex. Age is a factor, people, and we need to wake up. So tell me, are you aware of your rights?  

 

Click the following link to read more about Colorado Student Free Expression Law and the Mary Beth Tinker case.

To read the partner editorial on the First Amendment in action, click here

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