Willowcreek Voice

Willowcreek Voice

If You Silence Them, You Silence Yourself: Let the Children Speak

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It was an adult’s comment which stirred the pot. “Students shouldn’t be allowed to protest,” he wrote on Facebook. “If one student sees someone protesting, then they will get the idea and do it, too.”  This adult was referring to The March for Our Lives, and it was impressive. For some adults, it is intimidating and disturbing because it shows students’ defiance against something which has slowly eaten away at their childhood. Since 1999, when Columbine High School was the first and largest school mass shooting site in American history, students have not felt safe at school. Teachers have not felt safe at school, and like a soldier in the battlefield, have had to determine how to take a bullet for their students – their battle buddies. In truth, students and teachers  along with administrators and secretaries, are tired of being afraid.

There seems little we can do to stop the violence against schools and students. Students are soft targets. They are required by law to be in school. They have a purpose and goal when they are there. There are mentally ill people – diagnosed and undiagnosed – who have access to weapons. In many cases, they purchased the weapons themselves; in some cases, had access to firearms owned by a family member. As students sit in their classes, the worry of the next moment permanently taking away their childhood, their sense of safety, of predictability is never far from them. Their teachers share this same steady drip of disquiet, and yet they teach, and students learn. It is the hallmark of courage because we have no choice but to keep moving forward even as we wait for the other shoe to drop.

But when a tragedy like Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s mass shooting happened, it was the warrior’s cry that “We have had enough” on both sides of the school violence issue which grabbed our attention. No one can deny that we have had enough of violence. We have had enough of fear. We are tired of funerals of youth who were destined for wonderful and remarkable events and experiences, who would encounter failure but surmount it. We are weary of decisions which show no concern or consideration of the heavy cost to the heart, the soul of so many bystanders…people who would have stepped up to help even the shooter…had he asked.

To tell anyone standing on American soil that he or she should not protest shows a lack of understanding of the First Amendment…the most basic cornerstone of democracy. We consider a person who lives in a country which quashes protest or contrary opinion a victim of repression. He or she is not free, in our view. As shown in Snyder v. Phelps (Westboro Baptist Church) Supreme Court case decision for Westboro, what we want for ourselves, we must give to others…even those we don’t like, and even for the words we don’t like. As Chief Justice John Roberts stated in the summary of that court case, if you silence those you don’t like, you silence yourself. And nowhere in the First Amendment does it say, “For adults only.” Many of the Sons of Liberty own children were high-school age. Would these pillars of protest have denied any youth a voice?

Let it be so, then, for our youth.

 

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If You Silence Them, You Silence Yourself: Let the Children Speak