Why Care About the First Amendment?

Dec 2nd, 2016 • Category: Nation & World

INTRODUCTION
By LILY KUZMINSKI, age 12

The First Amendment is one of the 10 amendments in the Bill of Rights, which opens the U.S. Constitution. The First Amendment gives you the right to speak your mind, regardless of whether the situation is controversial (freedom of speech); the right to submit texts with your desired opinion for publication (freedom of the press); the right to practice any religion that you believe in (freedom of religion); the right to come together and express and defend your ideas (freedom of assembly); and the right to collect signatures to prove your opinion (freedom of petition). What has having First Amendment rights meant for those fighting for social justice, and for young people?

In December 1965, 13-year-old Mary Beth Tinker, left , and her brother John wore black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam war and were suspended for weeks. Their court case reached the Supreme Court and paved the way for students to have First Amendment Rights. Illustration by Ivette Salom
In December 1965, 13-year-old Mary Beth Tinker, left , and her brother John wore black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam war and were suspended for weeks. Their court case reached the Supreme Court and paved the way for students to have First Amendment Rights. Illustration by Ivette Salom

DO KIDS HAVE FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS AT SCHOOL?
By BARON BAUTISTA, age 9

On December 16, 1965, 13-year-old Mary Beth Tinker and several other students in Des Moines, IA, wore black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam War. They were suspended from school, and the Tinker family received hate mail.

Tinker took her fight against the suspension to the Supreme Court after two lower courts ruled against her. The American Civil Liberties Union represented Tinker in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community Schools and won. The court ruled that students are persons who deserve First Amendment rights.

“I started having the idea that standing up for what you believe in is really important,” Tinker told The Findlay Courier. “Yes, it’s going to have some risks, but it’s worth it.”

The ruling has been cited over 9,000 times in other cases. The court’s decision created the substantial disruption test, also known as the “Tinker test,” which says schools must meet certain guidelines before restricting the right to free speech.

“Young people have always been there to move us forward, away from injustice, away from inequality,” Tinker told a group of students in Iowa this May.

KNEELING DOWN TO STAND UP FOR BLACK LIVES
By LANYIE RHODES, age 10

At the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, African American gold and silver-medal runners Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in a Black Power salute to the U.S. national anthem as a form of protest. From a mural in Brisbane, Australia. Image by Rae Allen
At the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, African American gold and silver-medal runners Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in a Black Power salute to the U.S. national anthem as a form of protest. From a mural in Brisbane, Australia. Image by Rae Allen

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been kneeling during the national anthem at NFL games since August. He told NFL Media, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag and a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

Skyla Madria, 10, agrees with Kaepernick. She knew about the forgotten third verse to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which suggests that African Americans should be in a grave. The fifth-grader feels the Pledge of Allegiance honors a country with an anthem that is racist. That is why she refuses to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance at her school in Pearland, TX.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects freedom of expression. While many people across the country have praised Kaepernick, others have criticized his actions as unpatriotic. Still, his First Amendment rights have been honored. However, Madria’s principal challenged her rights by requiring her to get her parents’ permission in order to protest.

“[A coach] told me you should respect my flag, and respect my nation, and you should stand up for this pledge,” said Madria. “He sent me to the principal. The principal called my mother and called me disgusting for not standing up.”

ARE JOURNALISTS PROTECTED UNDER THE FIRST AMENDMENT?
By PERRY TRAN, age 14

Native communities and allies protesting the Dakota Access pipeline at Standing Rock continue to face resistance from police trying to clear the protest. Police have used military equipment and rubber bullets against water protectors. Photo by Raglan Egeloff
Native communities and allies protesting the Dakota Access pipeline at Standing Rock continue to face resistance from police trying to clear the protest. Police have used military equipment and rubber bullets against water protectors. Photo by Raglan Egeloff

An arrest warrant was issued in September for Amy Goodman, a Democracy Now! journalist reporting on Dakota Access pipeline protests in North Dakota.

Tens of thousands of Native Americans banded together under 300 tribal nation flags to protest the oil pipeline, claiming it contaminates the local water sources and runs through Native tribes’ sacred burial grounds. On September 3, security guards attacked the protesters with dogs and pepper spray. Goodman recorded these attacks.

Goodman was charged with criminal trespass, a misdemeanor offense, before the charges were changed to engaging in a riot. The charges were rejected by a judge on October 17.

“The Democracy Now! team and I were there to report, to document what was happening on the ground. These charges are simply a threat to all journalists around the country: Do not come to North Dakota,” Goodman said in a Facebook video.

Since Goodman’s arrest warrant was issued, journalists and citizens have been arguing that this violates the First Amendment, which ensures freedom of the press and freedom of speech.

“This is clearly … an attempt to repress this important political movement by silencing media coverage,” Center for Constitutional Rights Legal Director Baher Azmy told Democracy Now!

WHEN BOOKS GET BANNED
By NICOLE MONTALVO, age 10

Parents in schools in Florida and New York state have called  for Nasreen’s Secret School to be banned. The book is about a girl in Afghanistan whose grandmother sends her to a secret school for girls. Image courtesy Beach Lane Books
Parents in schools in Florida and New York state have called for Nasreen’s Secret School to be banned. The book is about a girl in Afghanistan whose grandmother sends her to a secret school for girls. Image courtesy Beach Lane Books

How would you feel if you walked into San Francisco Elementary School and didn’t find any Harry Potter books? The Harry Potter series was banned there because religious groups disliked its magic and witchcraft.

In 1982, high school students in Long Island, NY, sued the school board for banning 12 books, including Slaughterhouse-Five and Laughing Boy, and won. According to the Supreme Court, “If the party’s intention is to deny students access to ideas with which the party disagrees, it is a violation of the First Amendment.”

The American Library Association says nine out of 10 books that parents and school boards banned most in 2015 are “by and about people of color, LGBT people and/or disabled people.” Some examples include Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan and Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out.

“Without the authentic stories of immigrants, women, LGBT people, Muslims, etc., people will become more entrenched in their view of those groups as the Other,” warns Jessica Herthel, co-author of the third most banned book, I Am Jazz. “What we need now is more information, more voices and more speech.”

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