In drafting United States Constitution, the Framers managed in one document, to not only create a new system of government, but recognize the rights afforded to all it’s citizens, not by man, but endowed by our creator. As such, these rights were recognized by the Framers as so endogenous, that only in situations requiring harsh punishment could they be curtailed.
Within this governmental blueprint, they established a division of powers that left the responsibility of safeguarding our rights to the Judicial Branch, and ultimately the United States Supreme Court. The high court’s most important function is to act as the stalwart defender of our rights against the abuses of an overzealous government.
“EQUAL JUSTICE UNDER LAW“-These words, written above the main entrance to the Supreme Court Building, express the ultimate responsibility of the Supreme Court of the United States. The Court is the highest tribunal in the Nation for all cases and controversies arising under the Constitution or the laws of the United States. As the final arbiter of the law, the Court is charged with ensuring the American people the promise of equal justice under law and, thereby, also functions as guardian and interpreter of the Constitution.
The very first of the enumerated rights defined in our Constitution, the 1st Amendment, is the most important of all the rights recognized by the Framers. They knew that the protection of expression, speech, the press, and religion was absolutely vital to the liberty we had fought a valiant and bloody war with England to obtain. A citizenry whose thoughts,ideas, expression, and criticisms are suppressed by the government can never truly be free.
As the ultimate arbiter of the People, it falls to the court to protect us from this suppression, and guarantee our liberty. This is a fundamental truth that is long established in our national DNA.
However, recent societal trends have produced challenges to free speech in America in places that have traditionally been held as bastions for free speech…our schools.
When I began hearing about first amendment controversies on college campuses, I was initially puzzled. Like so many others, I found it easy to blame liberal indoctrination” without having looked much further than our broken and failing public school system. Without a doubt, public education has a blood covered hand in this, but I now can say with confidence they aren’t the cause.
Even more culpable in this assault on our rights is the very institution charged with protecting our rights. You see, the problem may have manifested itself and come into full bloom in our colleges and universities,but it was planted and rooted much, much earlier.
It seems that “equal protection under the law” means nothing of the sort, at least, not within the hallowed Chambers of the Supreme Court. No, the Supreme Court has ruled time and again in favor of censorship and control over student expression by school districts. It’s been the opinion of the Court that school kids don’t enjoy the same protections under the First Amendment as adults.
In 1969, the Supreme Court handed down a landmark ruling that was, at the time, seen as a victory for first amendment rights. In the action of Tinker vs Des Moines Independent School District, it was decided that the suspension of a student for wearing an armband to protest the war in Vietnam was unconstitutional, and that the district had, in fact violated Ms Tinker’s rights. The opinion went on to say that her armband posed no “disorder or disobedience” at the school, and therefore was protected as “pure speech”. While the decision was indeed a victory for proponents of free speech,it’s language set into motion a wrecking ball that has been hammering away at the rights of students ever since.
In 1986, the Court once again had before it a first amendment challenge eminating from our school system. A highschool student delivered a speech that was deemed “vulgar or offensive” and subsequently, the student was punished by the school. The Supreme Court found that the First Amendment didn’t prevent schools from disciplining children for offensively lewd and indecent speech. As the court explained, society’s interest in teaching “the boundaries of socially appropriate behavior” outweighed the student’s right to express his views in a way that was highly offensive to many of his classmates. (Bethel School Dist. No. 403 v. Fraser, 478 U.S. 675 (1986).). Justice Burger’s remarks of the decision offer a grim view of the Supreme Court and it’s practice of “Equal Justice under the Law”. Burger wrote:
“Under the First Amendment, the use of an offensive form of expression may not be prohibited to adults making what the speaker considers a political point, but it does not follow that the same latitude must be permitted to children in a public school.”
In 1988, yet another challenge appeared before the Supreme Court. In 1988, the Court said in Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier that public high school officials could censor a student newspaper if needed. Justice Byron White opined that “a school need not tolerate student speech that is inconsistent with its basic educational mission, even though the government could not censor similar speech outside the school“. The “test” used to determine if speech is constitutionally protected is and has been deliberately narrow focussed to afford the most generous interpretation of free speech and in effect, granting the speaker the widest latitude possible to safeguard their rights. There are three criteria. The expression must not be inciting violence or true threats, libelous or fraudulent, or obscene. The courts have historically given wide latitude to the obscenity test because it is such a subjective test. As you can see, these criteria place strict limits on what can and cannot be censored by the State. In contrast, the test put to expression by students is very different. The courts grant school districts sweeping control over student expression if in the Districts view, the expression is
- Promoting illegal drug use
- Part of curriculum or school sponsored communication.
These vague criteria are used by school administrations to control speech and expression with no regard for students rights. This is how the “indoctrination” we keep hearing about began. While I’m certain that reasonable people can stipulate that “lewdness” is unnecessary in schools, and that disruptive behavior is undermining to the effort to teach, it’s the last bullet point I find most insideous.
Educators have the ability to censor ideas and expressions offered as part of a curriculum assignment or school sponsored communication such as school newspapers or yearbooks. “As part of curriculum and assignments” basically means that little Johnny can be censored and or punished for doing a composition that the teacher finds offensive. It also means that the student newspaper can be stifled if it publishes anything seditious to the schools administration.
The seriousness of this problem can best be illustrated by looking at it with the sharp lens of current social context. It’s certainly no secret that the teaching profession has for decades been largely a liberal leaning body. Liberal biased educators have been given carte blanche in their ability to advance their bias through systematic censorship and suppression of “offensive ideas” in the guise of making schools more tolerant and inclusive by eliminating the “offensive” expressions.
Elimination of contrary ideas in an effort to shield children from that which challenges or offends is a grave disservice. What the Supreme Court has done by posing a de facto age requirement on free speech has resulted in generations of young people that were never equipped or taught coping mechanisms to handle differing ideas, then when reaching the “age of free speech enlightenment”, have no sense of what free speech is. The tragic bi-product is evident in our colleges and universities where free speech was once voraciously defended, is now under constant challenge because someone is “offended”.
This is not a partisan issue. This problem affects our children across the board, regardless of political alignment. If we are to right the ship and safeguard our liberty for future generations, the courts must address it now.
They made this mess, and it’s time they clean it up.