School Walkouts and the Constitution

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Wednesday, March 28, 2018


The First Amendment lists a total of five rights protected for the people of the United States. Among these is “the right of the people peaceably to assemble,” a cornerstone of a free people’s ability to participate in the governmental process.

Every right listed in the constitution ensures freedom, which people can choose to use in a positive or a negative way. For example, within the right to free speech, its an obvious good that the government cannot prevent you from saying what you want to say, despite how controversial that may be. But the flip side to this coin is that ridiculous and sometimes hate fueled people can also say whatever they choose to say.

For instance in the 1943 Supreme Court case West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, Justice Robert Jackson stated in the majority opinion that “Symbols of State often convey political ideas, just as religious symbols come to convey theological ones… [a] person gets from a symbol the meaning he puts into it, and what is one man’s comfort and inspiration is another’s jest and scorn.” He would go on to conclude that school districts could not force students to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance or to salute the flag.

Another example of this arose in the later 1969 case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, in which the court ruled that students were allowed to wear armbands protesting the Vietnam War, to school. Writing the majority opinion, Justice Abe Fortas poignantly remarked, “In order for the State in the person of school officials to justify prohibition of a particular expression of opinion, it must be able to show that its action was caused by something more than a mere desire to avoid the discomfort and unpleasantness that always accompany an unpopular viewpoint.”

This principle of positive and negative freedom certainly holds true for freedom of assembly as well. Just as the government and its institutions cannot infringe on your right to hold an assembly, it also cannot force you to participate in an assembly if you choose not to.

All of this brings us to the walkouts of last week. In The Daily Wire, Ben Shapiro recently posted a collection of emails from students across the nation, many of whom felt they were being pressured to participate in a walkout with which they disagreed. Just as students have the right to participate in these walkouts, they also have the right to decline to participate without fear of consequences from school administration.

Going back to Justice Jackson’s words, students who disagree with the walkouts cannot be forced or coerced to participate. Justice Fortas’s majority opinion is that students’ freedom of speech is protected even if they could potentially cause a disturbance with that freedom. This idea applies to freedom of assembly as well, allowing students to avoid an assembly with which they disagree even if they cause a disturbance doing so. Even so, the only disturbances were caused by those wishing to walk out. The students who wished to continue with a disturbance-free class were denied their ability to do so by being denied their First Amendment right.

Jacob Ginn is a sophomore at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, majoring in political science and history. He is from Memphis, Tennessee, where he lived his entire life until college. Jacob enjoys both watching and playing pretty much any sport, especially soccer, as well as arguing philosophy with his friends at 2 in the morning when they should all be asleep

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.


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About Jacob Ginn

University of Alabama, Huntsville

Jacob Ginn is a sophomore at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, majoring in political science and history. He is from Memphis, Tennessee, where he lived his entire life until college. Jacob enjoys both watching and playing pretty much any sport, especially soccer, as well as arguing philosophy with his friends at 2 in the morning when they should all be asleep

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