Rachel’s Rights: The Right to Assemble

By Rachel Owen

Photos by Alex Hays

Progressive change is nearly impossible to achieve without some form of disobedience. Whether it was the Boston Tea Party to combat unfair taxes or people fleeing to avoid being drafted into Vietnam, civil disobedience has always been prominent in United States history.

Provided by the First Amendment of the Constitution, we as Americans have the right to peacefully assemble and petition. The amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of… the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

This portion of the amendment has been emphasized recently as  more people have protested for their rights. Since the school shooting at Parkland High School in Florida, citizens have decided to band together in order to combat the lack of legislation regarding the protection and availability of guns in the United States.

Being students below the legal voting age, there is not much we can do individually in order to combat gun laws in this nation. Nevertheless, acts of civil disobedience such as school walkouts or writing letters to members of Congress, can show that we are dissatisfied with the way the government has been handling legislation for gun safety.

However, civil change cannot come without some form of pushback. Superintendent Curtis Rhodes of a school district in Needville, Texas said that he will suspend anyone that participates in school walkouts. Although this act is regarded as being highly irregular and overwhelmingly anti-progressive, it is technically legal. In 1969, the Supreme Court ruled in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District that although public school is an appropriate place to exercise free speech, some acts are more punishable than others. The case ruled that a school can punish students involved in protesters if it “materially and substantially disrupt[s] the work and discipline of the school.” Regardless of the technical legality of his acts, Rhodes is experiencing backlash from people all around the country for his declaration of a three day suspension as a consequence for anyone who participates in the walkouts. Lucky for the students, many colleges across the nation have agreed that this suspension will not reflect poorly on applicants.

Photo by Alex Hays

On Wednesday, March 15, thousands of students across the nation participated in a school walkout to protest gun violence. The walkout, lasting 17 minutes in honor of the 17 lives lost at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, was a major sign of progression in the movement for proper gun safety. Hundreds of students and faculty from Santa Rosa High School walked out to the front of the main building blaring their signs signifying the passion that is the core of our school. The words “No more silence! End gun violence!” roared through the crowd as people from all ends of the social spectrum joined together.

At the very basis of their purpose, protests show that people are unhappy. With the amount of civil disobedience and use of the First Amendment, the United States Federal Government must be getting wind of the civil unrest people of all ages and all different walks of life are experiencing. Regarding gun laws and gun safety, Congress needs to buckle down and make an informed decision. It has been 19 long years since the shooting at Columbine High School, yet the federal government has done nothing to protect its people, particularly its children, from gun violence. Enough is enough. To students, I ask that you use your First Amendment right to the full extent because you have a voice and deserve to have your opinions heard.

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