By Justin Perrone
Freedom of speech is the most important right in the United States of America. It is why the Founding Fathers made it the First Amendment in the constitution. Now our most important right could be under attack and it starts in our schools. Imagine a student named John. John is pro-life and extremely passionate about abortions and the death penalty because he believes that no one should be able to take another human’s life. John is in the position to voice his passionate opinion, but cannot because his school deemed the topic “insensitive” or “disrespectful” to people that view otherwise. John claims that this is violating his right to free speech and says that he has the right to say his opinion. John has the right to voice his opinion and the school cannot stop him unless it interferes with discipline or schoolwork as supported by the Supreme Court’s Tinker decision. Let’s say, however, that John cannot voice his opinion and is faced with disciplinary actions for doing so. The question is, what else can the school filter and suppress? What is stopping them from filtering and dismissing any opinion they deem “insensitive” or “inappropriate?” I believe schools should never be able to stop you from using your right to free speech because it is fundamentally unamerican.
The Founding Fathers made The First Amendment free speech for a reason. They faced prosecution for voicing their “insensitive and “unpopular” opinions against the Crown. Free speech laws exist to protect unpopular views and thus schools are not exempt from limiting those rights. Scott Bomboy, who is the author of Public school student free speech: A primer wrote “Justice Abe Fortas said public school students don’t “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate”. (Bomboy 5) What Bomboy wrote is right and the argument of “teachers having to protect their students from potentially dangerous speech” (Free Speech 1) is just an excuse for them wanting to filter students and push their narrative. If you are being suppressed for “dangerous speech,” you should question that because it is your right to do so. If you do not ask critical questions now, would you do so when you are older?
The whole argument and debate for wanting to have broad, free speech in public schools are so important; because if you are conditioned to not speak out for what you believe in, you are less likely to do so when you are older. If you are taught to shut up and obey the rules with no questions asked, you are more likely going to do that when you are older. When institutions allow independent thought at a young age (especially in high school) then the world is more likely to see independent thought in adults. If we discontinue the harmful trend of silencing our youth, we will live in a society where people know how to voice their opinions in a better way. For example, take what happened at the Capitol on January 6th: rioters stormed the Capitol under the spell of a lie. They did so under the impression that the 2020 election was rigged. Now if these rioters were able to talk about their opinions without being shunned or thought of as crazy, there could have been debate and productive discussions. The debate of the subject with free speech and evidence would have led to a different outcome.
If you do not speak up to protect your right, then in the future you could possibly see harsh disciplinary actions for voicing your opinions outside of school. In Should Public Schools Students Have Broad Free Speech Rights the author writes “Many supporters have voiced concerns that students could be punished for views they express in outside writing projects, activities, or posting to their personal Websites or Web logs.(Supporters Argue 6)”. Instagram, Snapchat, and Tik Tok are all apps that a majority of students have. Imagine schools punishing you for voicing your passionate views on your private accounts. Where would you be safe to voice your opinion? When would the line in the sand be drawn? Would we the students wish we had fought harder for our right to free speech in schools? I hope we do not find out, but if we do not use our right to free speech, then it could be inevitable in the future.
Your voices and opinions are all different and unique. Do not let them be dismissed by anyone, especially in school, where you're supposed to learn and grow as a person. Question why your opinion is dismissed as “insensitive,” “toxic,”, or “disrespectful.” If we the people, allow ourselves to be filtered and censored by teachers and our schools then we deserve to be censored. If we can question and demand that our right to free speech is protected and respected, then this push to censor us across all media platforms in our lives will die before it can start. This is why our right to free speech is so important because it is not just about being censored in school, but allowing ourselves to be censored throughout the rest of our lives. Use your right to free speech to question what happens in your school, household, and country because it is your greatest defense and offense in life.
"Students' Free-Speech Rights: Should Public School Students Have Broad Free Speech Rights?." Issues & Controversies, Infobase, 27 Apr. 2007,icof.infobaselearning.com/recordurl.aspx?ID=2128. Accessed 10 Jan. 2021.
Bomboy, Scott. “Public School Student Free Speech: A Primer.” National Constitution Center – Constitutioncenter.org, Constitution Daily, 16 Mar. 2018, constitutioncenter.org/blog/public-school-student-free-speech-a-primer. Accessed 10 Jan. 2021