Education, Government & Law

Individual Rights/Freedoms vs. Those of Society

May 14, 2018

A week or so ago there was a news report about a young school age boy who wore a t-shirt that expressed support for guns to school.  He was not allowed to wear it to school .  He and his parents complained that this was a violation of his first amendment rights.  Here is a clear case of constitutionally guaranteed individual rights versus those of society.

Society’s rights are not enshrined in the constitution.  Rather, the constitution defines a society that is ruled by laws.  Laws that are conceived and enacted by our publicly elected representatives.  Among other things, these laws guarantee public safety and public education for everyone.

In the case in point we balance an individual right to free speech and the legal right of the greater school body to an effective delivery of an education.  Guns are certainly a controversial topic in todays society and the incidence of gun violence on school campuses has tragically been on the increase.  This violence disrupts the education process and has long lasting effects.  Given the controversy, the polarization of opinions, and the shear fear instilled in young students about the prospect of gun violence, wearing a t-shirt promoting guns is very likely to be disruptive to an environment conducive to education.  It is this logic, I believe, that supports a dress code for the school environment that prohibits such t-shirts.  Another way to look at this is that the school environment is not true public space where free speech rights cannot be constrained.  It is a special environment built to deliver the publicly mandated education. 

Have a different thought?  Please comment.

Photo by Strelka Institute photo

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