Leave it to Byrne, I can hear some people saying, to come up with such a crazy post. But hear me out please.
I admire the spunk, energy, determination and organizational ability of the students in their National Student Walkout. I agree with restrictions on gun purchases that include a ban bump stocks, a longer wait to buy semi-automatic rifles and a minimum age of 21 for guns purchases. Some disagree, fine. But limited sales of firearms is reasonable and constitutional otherwise bazookas and howitzers would be legal.
My problem isn’t the students, but with the thousands of schools that obviously see no problem with using minors as pawns in a political dispute. Some will argue that it’s not political at all, as if calling for stricter gun laws is politically neutral speech. Organizers of the #Enough walkouts are the Women’s March Youth Empower, according to its website, in coalition with “PeaceFirst, Rise To Run, The Gathering For Justice, Rock the Vote and Teen Vogue. Women’s March Empower upholds the Unity Principles of the Women’s March platform.” Those principles are loaded with hot political positions, among them “reproductive rights” and “LGBTQIA rights.” They are clearly no friends of conservative positions.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with students supporting either side of those positions and vowing to get their platform enacted into law. The problem is public schools that rally behind those causes by devoting a part of the learning day to what amounts to a political rally.
Under the Constitution, students have a right to protest and speak their minds–a position that seemingly is getting more support from conservatives than liberals when it comes to free speech issues on college campuses. But the government sponsorship of political activities is, correctly, strictly forbidden.
Instead of plunging deep into legal and constitutional arguments, perhaps an illustration will best explain. Suppose your public school participated in organizing a student protest during school hours in support of President Donald Trumps wall? Or working with the Pro-Life Action League to stage a school-hour protest against abortion?
Well, you’d respond, those are ridiculous examples because who supports those issues? (Never mind that the answer is plenty of people do.) The response would be, “What public school would ever sponsor a pro-life or pro-wall march?”
Which is exactly the point. Minority voices have free speech protections. They should not be required to participate in speech they don’t agree with. They are not required to lend their physical presence to any political position if they don’t choose to. The response is that students were given an opportunity to not participate in the walkout, by among other things staying behind in the classroom or being sent to a classroom set aside for objectors. In other words, objectors will feel pressured to participate, to suffer embarrassment and ridicule. And that’s not allowed either.
Another analogy, although not perfect, might help explain. Some of my older readers will remember the political squabbles and court battles over school prayer. Advocates of praying in school said that students weren’t required to pray. They could stand or sit silently. The courts ruled against that option because even that was considered to be compelled speech.
How about the teachers? Are there strong Second Amendment supporters among the faculty who have objections to participating in a pro-gun control rally? Can they be ordered as part of their job to walk out with the students as supervisors? What are their job protections?
In short, students can walk out on their own if they choose, but they can be punished for it because the law says they are required to attend school. They can protest after school; they can had hand out posters and wear clothing to state their political positions. Also, private schools are free to do what they want because they are not public/government agencies.
In any case, another civil rights hornets nest has been opened. If, of course, the media choose to even discuss the complicated issues involved.