I have finally gotten around to doing a post about something I’ve been wondering about for awhile. How do the rights that American citizens get simply by being American citizens apply to minors?
First, some background information:
The First Amendment:
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.
In simpler terms, the 1st Amendment protects the people’s right to practice religion, to speak freely, to assemble (meet), to address the government and of the press to publish.
The 26th Amendment:
The right of citizens of the United States, who are 18 years of age or older, to vote, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of age.
In simpler terms, any US citizen who is over 18 can vote as long as they haven’t committed a crime that was bad enough to get that taken away.
The Preamble to the United States Constitution:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America
Teeny Excerpt from the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
One of the great things about being American is freedom. Every citizen, which, by the definition in the 14th amendment, is someone born or naturalized in the US, is granted these rights. That means that even a four minute old newborn born in the US is technically granted the same rights as a 47 year old man born in Peru who became a citizen when he was fifteen, who is granted the same rights as your 35 year old English teacher who was born and raised in Wyoming, who is granted the same rights as President Obama, who is granted the same rights as a 13 year old from NYC. Technically.
But is that really the case? By law, it is. As you can see in the 26th amendment, currently easily accesible by scrolling up on your computer a tiny bit, the one main restriction of a right for minors is voting. Unless you count other things like drinking, driving, (never at the same time– always illegal) working, and going into the military as rights, which aren’t really rights, that’s the only real rights restriction by law that I could find. (Please post a comment if you can think of another one.)
There have been lots of court cases arguing about the rights of children.
In the case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503, 506 (1969), a high school banned students from wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam war. This case was taken to the Supreme court, which ruled that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” One ruling in favor of minors’ rights.
However, in another case, Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260 (1988), the Supreme Court ruled that schools are allowed to censor a school newspaper that’s a part of the school curriculum. In case you’re curious, the articles that caused the dispute were about divorce and teenage pregnancy. At the same time, many school newspapers have a lot more freedom of press than a lot of other newspapers. It can depend on the staff at the school.
Not all children’s rights questions have been taken to the Supreme Court. Here are a few of my questions:
- If we as American Citizens have freedom of speech, why can kids get into trouble for saying something deemed “disrespectful” or “backtalk?”
- What if a minor is an atheist and the parents are religious? Can the minor legally be made to go to church or celebrate a religious holiday?
- The Declaration of Independence made “the pursuit of happiness” a right. If a minor is doing something legal that makes them happy or happier, but their parents/guardians disapprove, who is in the right?
- If a minor wants to attend a legal rally (see 1st amendment) but their parents/guardians don’t like the cause, but the minor disobeys them, who is in the right?
- It has been accepted that women are included in the statement “all men are created equal.” How many people believe that children are included in this? Minors are usually not considered “equals” to their authority figures, but is that an infringement of our rights as American Citizens?
After doing some research, I have done my best to answer them in both personal and legal views. If there are any lawyers/government people/opinionated people willing to comment their ideas, I would love to read them!
For my first question, I believe that the answer isn’t a one word thing. I think that the authority figures want to help teach people the correct way to talk to someone. I think that our society and legal system views children secondary to adults, which can be good and bad. The good is that a minor isn’t usually put in an adult prison and expected to have the same responsibilities as an adult. The 1/2 way good, 1/2 way bad is that parents have the right to punish their kids however they think is necessary (as long as it isn’t abusive, of course.) The full on bad is that it’s often sort of hurtful to kids to be viewed as unequal.
For my second question, I think that the answer would be no. Freedom of religion is openly allowed, as long as the religion does not believe in harmful things. If a minor does not want to attend a religious service, they should have the freedom to opt out as long as they are responsible and old enough to be left alone or not supervised by their parents. Not all parents would agree with this, but I think that both in my opinion that not letting a minor have any choice in religion is a violation of freedom of religion. Legally, however, the Supreme Court has consistently upheld the right for parents and guardians to chose how they raise their child and where and how the child is educated. I would be curious to know whether religion would be considered in how parents raise their children.
I’m not totally sure on the answer of the third one. I think that if this was a court case, the parents/guardians would probably be granted the right to control what their child does. However, I think on a moral standpoint, there should be a balance. If someone’s mom loves gymnastics and really really want’s her daughter to take gymnastics, but the daughter really really loves basketball, the mom should let the daughter do what she loves.
For my fourth question, I think that the parent is in the right. As I pointed out in my explanation of the answer to my second question, the Supreme Court supports the right of parents to raise their children how they see fit. There is no law that I could find that says that a child has to obey their parents, but I think we all know that that is a very important thing, regardless of the law.
For my last question, I have actually made two polls to see what people’s opinions are. If you have a different opinion, please share! (Note: Equal Rights means equal rights except for voting.)
Here’s what I think: I think that minors are included in the statement “all men are created equal.” To me, that statement does not mean that everyone is the same, it just means that everyone has the same rights and no one is above another person or above the law. Some people have more power than others, but nobody is a better or worse person because of their role in society, their money, their age, their race, their religion, their gender, their sexual orientation, their national origin, and their physical appearance. (I think I covered everything.) A 50 year old successful, groundbreaking brain surgeon has equal rights and should get equal treatment to a 50 year old struggling lunch lady in a high school cafeteria.
Of course, people will admire the brain surgeon more. She has done amazing things and saved hundreds of lives through her research and work. But she is not above the lunch lady. Both women have the same rights and should be treated with respect and dignity, no matter how “important” one or the other seems.
This is similar to the rights of an adult and a minor. A minor has the same rights as an adult, with the exception of voting. The adult is not treated the same as the minor, but they both have the same rights and deserve respect and dignity. Respecting an adult is different than respecting a minor, but both the adult and the minor deserve the respect that is appropriate to their age and responsibility.
Here’s something else to think about. There is a proposed amendment that hasn’t been passed yet called the parental rights amendment. It looks like this:
The liberty of parents to direct the upbringing, education, and care of their children is a fundamental right.
The parental right to direct education includes the right to choose public, private, religious, or home schools, and the right to make reasonable choices within public schools for one’s child.
Neither the United States nor any State shall infringe these rights without demonstrating that its governmental interest as applied to the person is of the highest order and not otherwise served.
This article shall not be construed to apply to a parental action or decision that would end life.
No treaty may be adopted nor shall any source of international law be employed to supersede, modify, interpret, or apply to the rights guaranteed by this article.
This is not an amendment yet, so it has no legal power. If it was put into action, it would clarify some of the court rulings. I’m not sure whether I support it or not. It would mean that parents have the legal right to control exactly how they raise their kids. Honestly, I don’t think it wouldn’t really change any of the answers to my 5 questions. I just wanted to put it out there because it’s related to this topic.
After looking at a lot of government, US history, legal, and petition websites, I finally came to a conclusion that makes sense to me. (I would be curious to know whether you agree or disagree with this statement.)
As someone grows and matures, the ways that they exercise and need their rights change, but the rights themselves do not change.
A five year old does not have the same understanding, comprehension, and need to use rights as a 45 year old. This does not mean that the 5 year old is not entitled to the same rights as the 45 year old if the need should come up.
As I finish this post and read back over it, I finally understand why people say I would be a good lawyer. I have had the argumentative, persistent, stubborn part down since I could talk, and now I just wrote a 2,035 word thing on laws. If school wasn’t out already, I would totally see if I could get extra credit from writing something with that much research involved.
I probably could have kept going for a long time on this subject, but since this is a blog and not a book, (which I could totally turn it into one day) I’ll keep it to this size.
Thanks for reading this and please feel free to comment your opinions!