By Christopher Stowe
Next week thousands of students will ‘walk out’ for 17 minutes, for each of the 17 victims in the latest headline grabbing attack that took place recently in Florida. Are children allowed to do this? Is it too disruptive? What are the odds of this actually happening to any individual student? As many ask these questions as well as whether a generation of students who eat laundry detergent pods on YouTube are sophisticated enough to understand the issue (much like their parents, I imagine some are some aren’t), people keep missing the fundamental issue, does your or my opinion matter? We must separate the content of the argument from the right of these young men and women to make the argument at all.
Enshrined in the First Amendment,”…the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
This protest, or vigil, or moment of silence, whichever it is to each of these students, isn’t un-American. In fact, it’s fundamentally American, so much so, it’s in the First Amendment (yeah, number one).
This part isn’t a second amendment issue. It is not a question of maturity, nor appropriateness of timing, nor the sophistication of the protestor, nor the validity of the argument (whether real or imagined by paranoid parents). This is a question of American citizens exercising their First Amendment right. Many have brought up the disruptive aspect, the fact they’re walking out of class. That perhaps the school board should punish them, that the timing is inappropriate. It is my belief (and I believe the courts would agree) the school board has no such authority, first, as an agent of government to define when or where a student may exercise his or her First Amendment rights. How would these same people react if the school board to weigh in on appropriate timing on the exercise of the first bit of the same amendment, the part of restricting the free practice of religion? Were these same conservatives throwing their temper tantrums over the Good News Club v Milford Central School case? In the ruling the Supreme Court stated the religious club was allowed to use the schools facilities. That case ruled that when a government operates a “limited public forum,” it may not discriminate against speech that takes place within that forum on the basis of the viewpoint it expresses. In this instance, the students ability to exercise First Amendments freedom was doubtlessly lauded by conservatives everywhere.
In fact, a more troubling scenario would actually be if school boards and local government attempted to stifle free speech and free expression. What message would that send to tomorrow’s leaders? Your constitutional rights only kick in when we say so? In an age where authoritarianism seems ever looming, now is the time to send the message that peaceful protest is not only allowed, but encouraged, appropriate, and decidedly, patriotically American.
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”~ Evelyn Beatrice Hall