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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Essay on Civil Liberties - the Freedom of Religion

Essay on Civil Liberties - the Freedom of Religion

1.         One of the most fundamental rights protected under the US Constitution is the First Amendment.  It states 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.” (First Amendment)
            As one of the landmarks of democracy, the First Amendment is considered to be the single most important guarantor of the rights of Americans and the key to successful democratic government.  The importance of Freedom of Speech and Expression is easily appreciated by every citizen.  It is said that in every democratic society, every individual is a particle of sovereignty.  He is as much a component in the running of the affairs of the country as his Senators and Representatives.  As such every citizen has the right to offer his views and suggestions in the discussion of the common problems of the community or the nation.  It must be stressed that this is not only a right but a solemn duty of every citizen.
            The First Amendment explicitly empowered each of us to speak up and be heard.  It applied, generally speaking to everyone.  Nowhere in the First Amendment did the framers say that this provision did not apply to certain individuals – most particularly the students.  The most disappointing part however is that Freedom of Expression seems not to have application among students while they are inside the university or college campus.  Though the exercise of freedom of expression by students in freedom parks and in other public areas is well-settled, there is however much debate insofar as the exercise of freedom of expression by students while inside the campus.  It seems that the students are not protected from constitutional violations of the school administrators, principals and teachers whenever they step inside their own campus. 

2.A  Arguments in Favor of Restricting the Exercise of Freedom of Expression.
            One of the justifications for restricting the exercise of Freedom of Expression while inside the school campus is the concept of in loco parentis.   This means that the school administrators and teachers have special parental authority over their students and pupils while they are within the custody of the school.  This special parental authority imposes upon them liabilities for any harm that may befall upon their students while they are within the control of the school officials.  As such they are authorized to restrict certain conducts which violate school policy. 
            Another justification for restricting the exercise of Freedom of Expression is its responsibility to promote an environment that is conducive to learning.  A university or college is an institution of learning.  The school may not be able to perform its function of transmitting knowledge and giving birth to new ideas if the students are distracted by acts and conducts which interferes with learning.  Thus, it becomes the responsibility of the school to suppress and limit certain conduct so that the administrators are able to promote learning. 
            The third justification for restricting the exercise of Freedom of Expression is that the schools’ obligation to protect the minority in its campus.  Because of the diversity of cultures, races, sexual preferences and orientations of the students in the school, personality clashes are bound to arise. Though these students may not actually inflict physical harm against the minority students, their personality clashes may cross the line of simple diversity and may actually result to one group of students inflicting verbal assaults and hateful language or even violence.   As a result one group of student belonging to a particular race or culture may actually be harassed by the others.  Thus, school administrators have the duty not only to promote an atmosphere of learning for the students, but also to promote respect amidst these diversity. 

2B.  Reasons why Exercise of Freedom of Expression should be Upheld
            Freedom of thought and expression are essential to any educational institutions.  As Socrates, the Greek Philosopher once said, educational institutions exist not only to transmit to their students established and existing knowledge but they must also help their students expand these established knowledge or give birth to new ideas and knowledge.   Though the regulation of the freedom of expression my at first sight seem laudable, careful consideration of the consequences of restriction on the students’ right to express themselves will reveal that it may cause more harm than good.  Schools are just like societies they are composed of people having different opinions and ideas who would like to “sell their ideas” in the “market”. Schools serve as a training ground for students to market their ideas. (“The Road to Democracy Starts at the Schoolhouse Door; Teaching our Children Beyond the "Three Rs")  It is the only way by which the truth of their ideas will be tested.  If these ideas will be restricted and curtailed then the quality of ideas that we have for our society will remain stagnant.  Also, the kinds of citizens that our country will have will be similar to automated robots who do not know how to think for themselves.  We cannot risk the future of our society to ideas that have not withstood the tests of time and the test of competition in the market of ideas. 

3.  It is sad that the highest court of the land, the Supreme Court, does not seem to have a clear stand on this issue.  In some cases, the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled in favor of the students thereby upholding their First Amendment right.  On the other hand, in some cases the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the school officials thereby restricting their First Amendment rights.   
            One example is the case of “Tinker et al. v. Des Moines Independent Community School District et al.” (393 U.S. 503).  In this case, three students wore their armband to school as an expression if their objection to the hostility in Vietnam and their support for a truce.  They were however suspended by the school officials.  According to the Supreme Court, the wearing of an armband for the purpose of expressing certain views and opinions is the type of symbolic act that is covered by the protection of the First Amendment.  It is foolhardy to believe that the students and teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression once they enter their school campus.   It affirmed the students’ right as the act did not pertain to the manner of dressing or the type of clothing or hairstyle of the students, neither does this act pertain to any aggressive or disruptive action or even group demonstrations.  There was also no indication that the students who wore armband disrupted the class.  The argument therefore by the school authorities that their act was reasonable based on their fear of a disturbance that the act may create from the wearing of armband is untenable. 
            On the other hand, the Supreme Court took a different position in the case of Hazelwood School District v. Huhlmeier (484 US 260), the students included in the school newspaper an interview with three Hazelwood students’ experiences with pregnancy and discussed the topic of divorce.  The principal however objected and wanted these parts removed.  According to the Supreme Court, though the students do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of expression at the schoolhouse gate, it must however be emphasized that the First Amendment rights of students in public school are not automatically the same with the rights of adults in other settings and must be applied in the light of the special characteristics of the school environment.  A school need not tolerate student speech that is inconsistent with its basic educational mission even though the government could not censor similar speech outside the school.  In this case, there was the need to protect the privacy of individuals whose most intimate concerns are revealed in the newspaper and there was violation of the legal, moral and ethical restriction imposed upon journalists within the school community.  Thus, the school principal acted reasonably in requiring the deletion of the pregnancy article, the divorce article and other articles in the newspaper.  

4.  I think the court should uphold the right of the students to the exercise of Freedom of Speech and Expression.  If there is an arena where the people should be allowed greater latitude in their exercise of freedom of expression, it should be the arena educational institution.  It is only here where the veracity and efficacy of ideas are truly examined.  It is here where ideas of students are examined in their barest.  In the corporate world, employees’ ideas are more often than not overshadowed by those in the management level.  There is no employer-employee relationship in schools.  Inside the house, the child will more often than not have to obey the authoritative figure of his father.  There is no father–son relationship to be worried about in school.  If we truly want a society of people who are open-minded and who are willing to stand up to what is right, we must start at school campuses.  

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