In case you missed it, here is the text of our own Ben Brown’s Constitution Day Essay, which won a state-wide essay contest and was printed in last Wednesday’s Keene Sentinel!
Posted: Wednesday, November 11, 2015 12:00 pm
Government buildings such as schools should be able to put limitations on what students can wear. Although students have the right to express their opinions, they don’t have the right to distract learning. The point of going to school is to get an education. If an article of clothing keeps students from learning, the student should have to change. However, it is important that before an administrator requires a student to change, they analyze the situation closely to determine if the article of clothing is actually the cause of the problem.
When students are on school grounds their First Amendment rights should not be taken away. In the case of Tinker v. Des Moines, three students decided to wear armbands to school that showed their opinion on the war in Vietnam. They disagreed with the fighting in Vietnam and wanted to peacefully protest against it. The Des Moines school district put a ban on armbands because they heard of the students’ plan. The students did not follow the new rule and wore the armbands to school anyway. This case was taken to the Supreme Court and the students won. Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas said: Any word spoken, in class, in the lunchroom, or on the campus, that deviates from the views of another person may start an argument or cause a disturbance. But our Constitution says we must take that risk.” This ruling means that according to the Constitution of the United States, what we say might be offensive to others, but we still have the right to say it.
What’s great about the United States is that people can choose to make a statement about their beliefs through their clothing, which is a freedom that they don’t have in other countries. The Constitution gives us freedom of speech but schools have the right to make rules that go against it because of in loco parentis, which means “in place of a parent.” In loca parentis gives the school legal responsibility of its students and assigns it duty to do something about a problem. In the case of Tinker v. Des Moines, the Supreme Court said that “conduct by the student, in class or out of it, which for any reason … materially disrupts classwork or involves substantial disorder or invasion of the rights of others is, of course, not (protected) by the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech.” This would allow schools to limit what students wear as long as they can prove it is disrupting the learning process.
In conclusion, the point of this argument is simple. Students shouldn’t be asked by school staff or administrators to forfeit their First Amendment rights (freedom of speech), but the right to express themselves will never take the place of someone else’s right to learn.