Right to protest assured, but when is the question
It was so long ago that I was in high school that I can only vaguely remember studying the amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
I went online last week to look them up and homed in on the first ten known as the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment is the pertinent one in regards to student protests around the country on the immigration issue.
To briefly summarize, Amendment I 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.”
It is unfortunate that the protection afforded there is invoked by some publications and a few segments of the electronic media in disseminating tasteless photos, stories or programs that citizens of good moral standards perceive as smut or perversion and are offensive to common decency. However, that is not the focal point of what follows.
The last four years of an adolescent’s basic education comes in high school. Successfully completing it lays the foundation for a better quality of life than the individual otherwise can expect if he or she drops out.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne cautioned students in late March against cutting classes before a planned April 10 protest of immigration policy.
“Protesting is a precious constitutional right, and participating in protests has great educational benefits for young people,” he stated in a news release. “However, this should be done after school hours.
“In recent weeks, we have seen a number of students cut class to join mass protests. They have the right to express their opinions. They also have a responsibility to take advantage of their opportunity for a classroom education.”
Last Nov. 2, a group of 10 students from Kingman High School cut classes to demonstrate their opposition to the continuing presence of U.S. forces in Iraq. They held up signs with such messages as “Bush lies,” “Your ignorance is their power,” and “War is a good business” in front of Smith’s supermarket on Stockton Hill Road that northbound motorists could not help but see.
Cutting classes made them subject to disciplinary action. They followed the dictates of their consciences, despite the consequences they faced later.
We received criticism from some people for covering the demonstration. But it was a news story.
Protests nearly always are newsworthy as people, whether adults or adolescents, carry picket signs, banners or whatever makeshift item they can create and show in public to draw attention to their cause.
I agree with Horne that students should not cut classes to protest whatever issue it is they are upset about.
However, what the superintendent failed to address in his release was the timing of any student protest. There is a distinction to draw between the student’s responsibility to get an education and his or her right to make a grievance known.
If you want to get a message out, it seems logical to me that you would do so when the largest number of people will be exposed to it. Are not more people out and about conducting business or running errands between say 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. weekdays than after 4 p.m. weekdays?
Saturdays would seem like the ideal time to carry signs of protest. More people are on leisure time then and more likely to pay closer attention to the message students are trying to get across than during the week when they have many other things on their minds.
Horne went on to say, “Since I took office, we have placed a renewed emphasis on academics and rigor. To succeed in today’s economy, muscle power is no longer sufficient. Academic brain power is now needed to obtain a decent job. Students must take their academic work seriously during the school day, and should participate in political life after school.”
Undoubtedly, some of the teenagers protesting different issues today will become our politicians in the future. What they do now will give them a better perspective of what the youth of today think and feel once they settle into an elected office to represent a group of constituents.
Yes, I am aware that teens do not yet have the right to vote. That makes some adults question why we should pay any attention to them.
I would ask them if they have considered the possibility that ignoring or criticizing teens for holding strong convictions and acting on them may be part of the reason some of them rebel against authority.
The First Amendment addressed basic rights for all Americans. Let’s argue the wisdom of granting 18-year-olds the right to vote under the 26th Amendment at some future time.