Know your civil liberties

Often overlooked and understressed in schools, our civil liberties are some of the most important rights that we as a free people have. As Constitution Day was officially observed on Wednesday, we must not forget the importance of the United States Constitution and the rights that are encompassed in its text. Although schools are required to teach about the U.S. Constitution on Constitution Day, a majority of high school students seem to be hardly aware of much of the basic information in the Bill of Rights. It is unfair to judge high school students as apathetic for this. MSNBC reports that “only one in four Americans can name more than one of the five freedoms in the First Amendment, but more than half can name at least two family members of ‘The Simpsons.’” The survey goes on to find that there were only “one in 1,000 people who could name all five First Amendment freedoms.” Only one in four Americans can name more than one, let alone all five freedoms? There is something wrong with society when freedoms such as speech, religion, press, assembly, and petition are not at the forefront of the minds of the people. Is it not important to Americans that one can change houses of worship without persecution? Do Americans think that it is worthless to be able to freely speak out against the government without being arrested? That is just the First Amendment, arguably the most famous part of the U.S. Constitution. Although many parts of our defining document are being abused and mutilated in the name of “security”, with the First Amendment being no exception, the liberty of privacy may be what is under the most fire. The Fourth Amendment, guarding Americans against unlawful searches and seizures, has recently been all but completely ignored in many schools. The Fourth Amendment is what makes it unlawful for a policeperson to randomly search someone’s car, someone’s handbag, or even a person in general. Recently, there has been pressure to ignore the rights that the Fourth Amendment gives to Americans, especially students. West Des Moines Valley High School decided to slaughter the rights of students last spring. The school was locked down and police dogs were brought in to search for drugs. Such searches have been found legal in our increasingly conservative court system. The precedent that this sets is dangerous. It teaches students to be complacent when their liberties are infringed upon. It makes a mockery of security and the ideals that America is built upon. Recently, there has been some pressure to do such a search at Ames High. Advocates for the searches say that the school must be proactive in the fight against drugs and alcohol. Although drugs and alcohol are certainly a problem among teenagers, the high school is not the place where this problem should be confronted with a search. Principal Mike McGrory has always felt uneasy about conducting such an infringement on the rights of AHS students. “Safety versus civil liberties is where I struggle with searches,” McGrory said. “Searches send the message that the administration does not trust the student body.” “Ames High can help fight the problem of drugs and alcohol use by students, but we cannot solve the problem,” McGrory said. “It is a community issue, not solely a school issue. Studies show that the majority of student substance abuse takes place in the home or at parties, not in schools.” Principal McGrory gives us hope that Ames will never have to put up with the embarrassing spectacle of a school-wide drug search, but we must still remain vigilant. Our rights are important; they are precious. The freedoms that we have are what make America a great nation. Treasure these freedoms and liberties, learn your rights, and learn what the government can and cannot do to you. We must not let our civil liberties slip away.