What Are My Rights?


Woodgrove personal finance class participates in standing for the Pledge of Allegiance. Photo by Lorallye Partlow

Written by Hope Davison, Sarah Murtaugh, and Chris Tuttle

The First Amendment to the Constitution safeguards the right of all Americans to speak their minds freely, to worship without constraints, to assemble peacefully, to petition the government, and to establish a free press. These fundamental rights were added to the Constitution in the Bill of 1791 and the First Amendment has been a cornerstone of the American democracy for more than 200 years. Benjamin Franklin summed it up by writing, “Freedom of Speech is a principal pillar of a free government: When this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved.”

Do the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment protect students in American high schools? The answer is yes, but only to a certain degree. According to the Loudoun County Public Schools website, the school system recognizes that students have general rights in school but also acknowledges that there are some restrictions to these rights while in the school setting by stating, “The right to freedom of speech, for example, must be restricted to prevent one student from disrupting a class, monopolizing class time, or subjecting other students to verbal abuse.”

If I have freedom of speech, why can’t I wear and say whatever I want at school?

Freedom of speech means that Americans can express themselves without interference by the government, but there are many types of speech that are not offered protection. Fighting words, speech that incites hatred or violence, and speech that advocates illegal activity are both prohibited. Speech that contains obscenity or profanity can also be limited, along with false statements that can harm the reputation of another.

Why is my school allowed to punish those who walk out during school hours in protest of the government if we have freedom of petition?

Although citizens have a right to petition the government, there is a limit when it comes to school. Petition cannot encourage actions that will disrupt learning in school.

After the Parkland shootings on February 14, 2018, students organized a nationwide walkout to demonstrate the need for stricter gun-control laws. Although the walk outs were peaceful, administrators could prohibit and give punishment to those who participated because it disrupted class-time.

“Anytime we have a situation like that where students walk out, that disrupts the environment and it becomes a safety concern as well, because we are not quite sure what may happen, so there a lot of different variables that come into play,” says Principal Shipp.

Freedom of Press

Freedom of Press means that the news media are not subject to censorship by the government, and the government does not have the right to control or block things that are released by the press.

Recently, dispute over fake news media has created controversy over Freedom of Press. It has been argued that fake news outlets should be restricted or punished for being biased, but students like Sophomore Lucas Caccavo continue to support full Freedom of Press.

“I think that there should be more warning about these news sources and more promotion of the un-biased ones, but the right for them to publish what they want should not be taken away,” states Caccavo.

In high school newspapers and yearbooks, it is required that they are proof read by administrators before being published to make sure that there is no infringement of rules.

“My role when I go through the yearbook and newspaper, a lot of the time it’s more grammar type things, not necessarily content, so students can share their views whether it is a conservative viewpoint or liberal viewpoint,” says Principal Shipp.

Can public schools make us say the Pledge of Allegiance including the phrase “Under God”?

As the First Amendment states, the government cannot establish a state religion, therefore you are free to practice any faith you believe in without government interference. Most public schools do not require that students say the Pledge of Allegiance, so those who do not agree with the phrase “Under God” can choose not to recite it.

There have been cases that have tried to eliminate the phrase, these cases argue that this goes against the separation of church and state rule, as presented in the First Amendment. However, these cases have not been successful so far. The Supreme Court has refuted these arguments based on the fact that the pledge is optional and voluntary.

Junior Raven Case, who chooses not to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance, says, “I think it’s important to have the option to sit because it allows for individuality. Forced, blind patriotism seems counterproductive, so I’m glad that there is an option to sit. I’d rather pledge allegiance to morals, to the protection of the human race, and things like that. I’d rather think of the bigger picture, rather than swear to stand by what my nation does.”