Saturday, May 28, 2011

Say What?

I have recently had occasion to do some research on the First Amendment. Specifically, does it apply to children or teenagers? Does the Constitution only kick in when you are an adult, or does it take effect from the minute you become a citizen? Are children considered citizens the minute they are born? Yes. Does the Constitution apply to children? That appears to be up for debate.

I started thinking about this when I was recently told that some parents had banned their daughter from writing in her journal after reading something that they didn't like. Personally I have issues with the fact that they read their daughter's journal. Your journal is a place for your personal, innermost thoughts and feelings. What you write in it is nobody's business. And a lot of times you process through anger and hurt feelings by writing it down, and you move past it.

What is worse though, is the fact that the parents said not to write in it anymore. I really don't feel that anyone should be telling anyone else how to feel, and I certainly do not believe that anyone has the right to tell anyone else that they can't write what they want. Haven't wars been fought over this? To me, that is a First Amendment issue.

One of the best things about living in the United States is that we have freedom of speech. If you think the current president is an idiot, you can say so without being worried you're going to be thrown in jail. At this point in the history of our nation, freedom of speech is often taken for granted because it's something that we have always had.

But does the First Amendment, or any of them for that matter, apply to children? There are several court cases that dealing with this topic, including a current case regarding the Fourth Amendment working its way through the Supreme Court. Should children be allowed to say what they want? Do they have freedom of religious expression? I agree that there are things that are inappropriate to be said or done in certain situations. I certainly don't think that it would be okay for a third grader to spray foul words on the side of the school building. I don't think people should stand up in church and yell profanities, even if legally they are allowed to. It's not appropriate.

But I personally don't believe that children are exempt from the First Amendment. I do not think that this set of parents was within their rights to tell their daughter to cease and desist writing in her own personal journal. We do not have laws in this country banning personal writing, regardless of age. Whether the child could take the parents to court over the matter is something I haven't been able to ascertain.

Overall, I couldn't really locate much information on any rights that children technically have. I assume they have a right to public education, and to necessary healthcare. According to Wikipedia, most scholars agree that to be healthy and free children need the right to freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom from fear, freedom of choice and the right to make decisions, and ownership of one's body. I am not saying that parents should not be allowed to make decisions for their children. Overall children would do a poor job of raising themselves if they were allowed to run free. But I do believe there are certain, inalienable rights that no one, including ones parents, have the ability to take away. No one should tell anyone else how to feel, how to think, or what to write in their personal journal.

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