Minor Grievances

America was founded on visions of freedom for all and hopes of improving the institution of government with the idea that everyone would be allowed to pursue their own personal form of happiness. However, it has been apparent on numerous occasions throughout our nation’s history that the freedoms our Founding Fathers so nobly dreamed of have not always been extended to everyone. In fact, in the years directly following our country’s beginnings, only white males fit the quota for many of the rights that everyone cherishes today. Like our Founding Fathers, I believe in the freedom of self-expression, whether it be speech, art, religion, or press, but more specifically, I believe in the extension of this freedom to all human beings. Unfortunately, I cannot say that I enjoy all the marvelous freedoms our country has to offer, and this is not because of my race, my religion, my sexual orientation, or even my personal and political views. It is because of my age. I am only 17 years old, and because of this fact, I face numerous situations every day in which I do not have the right to express myself in ways the Constitution normally protects for those who fit the government’s definition of an adult; i.e., someone who is 18 years of age or older. In fact, I spend the majority of my time in a place where authority figures dictate what I can wear, where I can be, what I can say, what items I can possess, what requirements I must meet to be deemed a successful member of society, and ultimately, what I have the right to do. On top of that, if I were to speak out against the authority figures or complain about their qualities in a manner that the authority figures were to find inappropriate, I could be punished in any way that they decide is suitable. No, I do not spend the majority of my time in the Soviet Union circa 1940. I do, however, attend high school. In a recent instance, I wanted to conduct a survey for the school newspaper regarding a topic in the upcoming issue. When I approached my instructor about this idea, he informed me that the survey would have to be approved by the administration. I was confused as to why I should need to get the approval of an authority figure to peaceable collect information and opinions from my peers, so I conducted the survey without obtaining permission, realizing that I could face consequences if the administration deemed this act to be disruptive. The idea that one could be potentially punished for something as simple and harmless as administering a newspaper survey continues to bewilder me. In the end, it is easy to make the argument that minors don’t have certain rights in places like school in the interest of societal order, but at what point does one draw the line? At what point are rules and guidelines a necessary evil, and at what point do they become overly restrictive and limiting? There is no doubt that this is a matter of personal opinion, but our country’s history would tend to point toward the idea that greater individual freedom accumulates as time progresses. After all, there was a time when it was not viewed as overly restrictive or limiting to enslave peoples based on their skin color. Maybe minors will gain more rights over time just like other groups, such as women and African Americans have. I would like to think that would be the case because not only do I believe in the freedom to openly express oneself and to pursue personal happiness, but I believe in the idea of progress for the greater good. Ben King received first place in the 2009 First Amendment Day Essay Contest, sponsored by the Iowa High School Press Association and the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University. Click here to learn more about First Amendment Day at Iowa State University.