Our View

Many don’t realize 1st Amendment’s effect

A recent $1 million study done by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation found that most high school students do not always approve of the First Amendment in issues of news publication, flag burning, Internet content and other, admittedly highly-contested, views. The study covered over 100,000 students, nearly 8,000 teachers and over 500 high school administrators.

It is unfortunate that these students feel as such. The First Amendment is the premier doctrine of our land, with an essence that permeates everything and everyone. These high school students need to learn this, but their current ignorance is understandable given their age and lack of experience.

The First Amendment permits the freedom of speech, press, religion, assembly and petition. It prevents the government from infringing upon the general public’s rights. Most importantly, it serves as the principle from which dialogue about how life, liberty and country should be engaged. Therefore, it is necessary to preserve it, at all costs, in order to permit even the opportunity to converse about differences.

With this said, it is bewildering why students would desire to limit this, possibly the greatest idea of humanity ever. But a minor understanding of free speech and the battle it creates provides a better understanding of these students’ feelings.

At the root of almost any free speech debate is a battle between decency and freedom. Before either side of the debate gets too flippant about the opposing view, it is important to remember that both parties benefit from one another. For those desiring decency, they still need the freedom to make and campaign for those desires. Meanwhile, those desiring freedom of speech would quickly find a society with no decency a wretched place to live (imagine being able to say whatever you like, but if you’re punched in the nose for it, there is no rule prohibiting that).

Therefore, the debate is complex, and it is out of this complexity that these high school students speak.

When in high school, one is still under the rules and regulations of many. However, once one is no longer a minor, there are fewer regulations. Thus, these high school students are conditioned to lean toward more regulation than not, for it is more regulation they find in their life. And while average high school students probably have times when they wish they could say what they please, if their lives are not horrible with the restrictions, then they won’t see any need to lift those restrictions.

However, there comes a point in every person’s life when he or she feels the need to express something that he or she holds to be very dear and true to his or her own experience. It is in these moments that the First Amendment shines its very brightest. It is also in these moments that one becomes implicitly aware of the personal value of the First Amendment, regardless of what it may cost them in decency. Ultimately, the freedom to speak means the freedom to speak well or to speak poorly. It is too subjective of a judgment to decide what is “well” and what is “poor;” therefore, we permit all in the hopes that the best words win out.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.