The conscripted child as agent

John E. Coons

“A child’s a plaything for an hour.”  — English poet Mary Lamb, 1764-1847

The speech of Nazis and pornographers is properly protected by the First Amendment; the censor gets his licks only to curb obscenity and forms of “clear and present danger.”

Here, I very briefly consider a different form of speech right, that right of the child not to speak. More specifically, the freedom of the child enrolled in public school from enlistment by governing authorities for the explicit purpose of endorsing the political opinions of these reigning adults.

The issue arose recently as public officials in New York City offered a day off from school (with parental approval) so that students could march in support of climate control, a political cause dear to the mayor and to the city’s public school executives.

This action was taken expressly in support of one side in the great climate debate. There was no whisper of encouragement of dissent by children and parents who might not have shared the view of the government nabobs. The day off was explicitly to be in support of the one true gospel.

Children are in school by law – by government compulsion. Unless their parents can afford a home in a favored suburb, enroll in private school or find the charter that suits their values, their child’s assigned teachers and those teachers’ administrators will be utter strangers to the family.

What message is the government authority giving those children and/or their parents who disagree on the specific issue of policy? Without the least subtlety, the school bureaucrats have defamed them as civic fools. Is this a legitimate use of public authority or an abuse of government power over child and parent?

Imagine military authority giving conscripts the day off on condition they parade for an increase in the defense budget.

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