Staff editorial: Understand the First Amendment

Every student should know their First Amendment rights in order to better society and democracy

JagWire staff

Every student at Mill Valley has taken or will take a Civics class, but how many of us have retained our knowledge of our own basic rights? Out of 228 students surveyed, 21 percent were unable to name any of the rights guaranteed to us by the First Amendment (freedom of religion, speech, press and the rights to petition and to assemble). Now more than ever, it is critical to be informed and educated about your rights. Knowing your rights not only helps you defend your stances; it also helps you exercise them more confidently because you know the limitations to your protection.

The importance of the First Amendment is demonstrated every day. Every aspect of our country is based on these five rights, from exercising our freedom of speech on Twitter to the JagWire staff writing this very article.

There have been countless controversies regarding our First Amendment rights. One recent is the NFL kneeling issue: is kneeling covered under the First Amendment? Suddenly, people become advocates for the freedoms or start analyzing small details about how far the protection goes. But how can we analyze these situations if only 28 percent of us are able to list all five of the rights?

Kneeling utilizes the right to free speech by allowing NFL players to receive acknowledgement of their viewpoints. It also showcases petition and peaceful assembly as a way of voicing their opinions. However, because the NFL is a private institution, the players may be able to escape government persecution, but they can be fired for kneeling with minimal repercussions to the owners.

Due to the wave of “fake news,” press rights are being questioned heavily. However, these rights can be found in different pieces of legislation; the JagWire is protected by the Kansas Student Publications Act. Similarly, freedom of religion is being questioned more and more. Ten percent of students surveyed believe that Muslim Americans don’t have any of the rights guaranteed under the Constitution.

The idea that we shouldn’t just be a herd of sheep cluelessly following around a great leader and instead should be informed citizens has been around since the founding of the U.S.. All of us should help serve the document that protects our rights. There are numerous ways to do so, from staying aware of current legislation to volunteering with a political campaign.

While the freedoms afforded to us by the First Amendment are basic parts of our day to day lives, they are still important. We cannot take them for granted. As a citizen of the U.S., it is your responsibility to be active and engaged in the workings of government around us. Exercise your ability to speak up.

As University of Kansas Constitutional Law professor, Stephen McAllister, said, “Being knowledgeable about the Constitution helps all of us be more constructive and engaged citizens on a host of issues that our society faces.” It’s impossible to protect our democracy if we don’t know our rights.

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