Freedom of Expression and Sexual Orientation Discrimination in High School

Published 18 Aug 2016

Justice Wendell Philips once defined Freedom of Speech as “at once the instrument and guaranty and bright consummate flower of all liberty.” (W.Va. Board of Education v. Barnette, 219 US 624) This definition covers freedom of expression in general, which embraces a number of rights aimed at ensuring the free and effective communication of ideas from mind to mind. The other rights include the freedom of the press, freedom of petition, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, the right of association, the right to access to information on matters of public concern, and the right not to be detained solely by reason of one’s political beliefs and aspirations and even freedom to express one’s homosexuality or sexual orientation. This right is embodied in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, to wit: “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. (Melvin I. Urofsky) It must, however, be stressed that the freedom of expression is available only insofar as it is exercised for the discussion of matters affecting the public interest. Purely private matters do not come within the protection of the First Amendment.

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. This essay emphasizes on the exercise by the students of their freedom of expression. It would seem that the rights that are ordinarily accorded to individuals outside school campuses are not available to students while inside their campus. Are students not protected by the constitution while inside the school grounds? What is the main reason for the limitation of the rights of students? Is there a violation of the First Amendment by the school authorities if a certain article written by a student will not be published in the school paper?. These are the questions that this essay hopes to answer.

Importance of Freedom of Expression

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 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. Thus, this sovereignty of the people will be negated if the people will be denied the opportunity to participate in the shaping of public affairs through the arbitrary imposition upon them of silence because from the mass of various and varied ideas proposed, the people can, in their collective wisdom and after full deliberation, choose the best remedies to the difficulties they face.

The First Amendment is considered the foundation of democracy in the United States. It has helped in the establishment and creation of a free and open society in which the people have the ability to share and discuss differing opinions and beliefs. Thus, from the point of view of the government, decision-making must always be preceded by a sharing of views and discussion of any of the important affairs of the state. A decision made after adequate consultation is likely to be a better one which less imperfectly mirrors the opinions, interests, and needs of all concerned, than a decision taken with little or no consultation. (Dr. Mark Cooray, 1985) A government which is oblivious to what the people feel and think has a weak foundation.

It is worth noting that the ideas that may be expressed under the Freedom of Speech are not confined only to those that are traditional or acceptable to most people otherwise the Freedom of Expression would be without any meaning. For the Freedom of Expression to be really meaningful, it should permit the expression and articulation of even the least acceptable and most unorthodox view, though it is hostile to or derided by others. The Freedom of Speech and Expression is so important that it admits of views that may stir up anger to others and induce a condition of unrest. Thus, Voltaire once said that “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Further, the Freedom of Speech is so broad and encompassing that it includes the right to be silent. The Bill of Rights under the US Constitution not only guarantees the right and liberty to utter what is in one person’s mind but it also gives him the liberty not to utter what is not in his mind. Thus, not only a person cannot be prevented from speaking what is in his mind but he can also refuse to listen to a person.

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