First Amendment Rights in Public Schools

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In 1789, James Madison first proposed a set of documents that gave certain inalienable rights to Americans. On December 15, 1791 the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution were ratified and became known as the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment of the Constitution is the most sacred to Americans. It says that, “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”. If we didn’t have these freedoms then America would not be what it is today. It is important that these freedoms are preserved and protected so that future generations can thrive and lead this country. In the following law review article, the issue of freedom of speech in the classroom is examined. This is an important topic because if the freedom of speech or expression is taken away from students, aren’t we taking away the chance for students to learn?

The author then gives the following hypothetical: “A student named Christina attends a public high school in small town West Virginia. She practices atheism as her belief system along with both students and adults. Never afraid to assert her First Amendment rights in any given context, Christina actively participates in local organizations that share her views and she writes for an online journal concerning the lifestyles of teenage atheists. One day in school, her history teacher gives an assignment asking the students to write an essay about what they would do to change the current landscape of American government. Although the teacher does not give any specific instructions about writing the paper, the general consensus is that the students must implement governmental theories learned in class within their respective essays. The best essays will be presented at a school-sponsored function to students and various faculty members. Christina decides to write about the principles of atheism, arguing that all governmental leaders should disregard organized religion entirely and become atheists. Christina's teacher, not one to deny craftsmanship, gives her a superior grade on the assignment but refuses to allow Christina to speak at the function. When she complains to the school principal about the situation, the principal takes the side of the teacher and agrees that Christina's speech would be inappropriate at this particular function. After explaining the situation to her parents, Christina files suit against the school for violating her freedom of speech by discriminating against her viewpoint without offering an independent reason to support the restriction. The school argues that it did not discriminate based upon Christina's viewpoint, but instead denied her access to the forum because it interfered with the school's legitimate pedagogical concerns. Based upon these facts, who should prevail? Unfortunately, no clear answer is apparent in First Amendment jurisprudence, and a current circuit split exists as to whether public schools may discriminate based upon a viewpoint or whether they must remain viewpoint-neutral at all times when making restrictions.” This hypothetical will be revisited in the conclusion where the author ties in all the following arguments. One of the most important places that the first amendment should protect is the rights students have in public schools. The government has the responsibility to educate children and prepare them for society through public education. There are two schools of thought that differ on the amount of control a teacher should have over their students. The first is that schools exist as a “marketplace of ideas” and that students should share and learn all viewpoints in order to fully develop their minds. The opposing view is one that is “old fashioned” to say the least. It states that students are young and we send...
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