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Protestors outside of public schools: concern or natural right?

Staff Editorial
Originally published April 25, 2014

Ian Gwin

Ian Gwin

It was a cloudy and brisk morning, students shuffled into the front doors of the building like any other school day. However, what differed were the signs in the background. In late March, a small group of protestors gathered on the corner of 15th and 65th, standing near the entrances to the front parking lot, waving signs showing ultrasounds of fetuses in the womb with various pro-life slogans sprawled across them.

Their message is a condensed obstruction of the  abortion debate and their presence could have a real impact on the malleable young minds that walk past them into school on such a morning.

Their location appears to be strategic. Right in front of the high school where an abortion scandal erupted 4 years ago. In 2010, fifteen-year-old pregnant student sought help at the Teen Health Center staffed by Swedish Medical Center employees but housed inside BHS. After a consultation, they referred her to an abortion clinic and called her a cab.

However, the story broke when her mother found out and was outraged that all this was done without her consent. But Washington is one of the few states without parental consent or notification laws, meaning that minors may receive an abortion and abortion-related services at any age without consent of a parent, guardian or the father of the child.

The controversy was picked up nationwide and possibly lingered long enough to spur these protesters even four years later.

The question is: should they be allowed to protest here, outside our school?

According to the First Amendment, yes, they are allowed to protest on public forum which includes sidewalks, streets, and parks. In order to impose restrictions on speech in such public fora, the restrictions must be “justified without reference to the content of the regulated speech . . . narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest, and . . . leave open ample alternative channels for communication of the information.”

In other words, protesters can be restricted only if it is proven that they are creating a significant disturbance. It also says that the protesters will not be restricted from making their agenda heard through other channels such as media.

According to Ward v. Rock Against Racism (1989), speech activities like displaying signs on the sidewalk in front of the school should be generally protected activity. Should school officials attempt to restrict your speech activity, the restrictions imposed should have to meet the above-stated test. However, if protesters decide to enter school grounds, the principal may intervene if there is a reasonable basis to believe that the protesters’ actions “would be disruptive of, or would interfere with, classes or other activities of the public school program.”

So, constitutionally the protesters have every right to assemble and voice their opinions on the corner of 15th and 65th. They also have the right to make their six-year-old son protest with them.

In addition to these pro-life protesters, religious groups have been known to pass out religious pamphlets to students leaving and arriving on campus.

And they aren’t the first group to make Americans a little annoyed with free speech laws. The Westboro Baptist Church’s anti-gay protests at military funerals, the KKK’s protests, and the anti-Muslim protesters of Manchester, Tenn. would all make the average American sick to their stomachs but are protected by our Constitution.

It might be legal, but are the protesters right? Students come to school to get an education, not have their political views influenced or judged by outside parties or groups. Religion isn’t allowed in schools influence students in any way and neither should protesters.
But maybe instead of gritting their pro-choice teeth or growling at these protesters, students can take this as a lesson in citizenship and democracy. Without the First Amendment we wouldn’t have excellent media sources or protests that can leave a true influence on policy even if it does make us a bit uncomfortable.

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Protestors outside of public schools: concern or natural right?