Teens Successfully Fighting for their First Amendment Freedoms

By: Julie Stivers, Chair YALSA Presidential Taskforce

Banned Books Week is a powerful platform to highlight how libraries advocate for teens’ rights. As library staff working with and for teens, we can also find inspiration in the work that youth engage in themselves to protect and fight for their First Amendment freedoms.

Youth civic engagement is not new. Many of the cases detailed on ALA’s Notable First Amendment Court Cases page feature the civic efforts of teens. Two of the most famous—Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (ICSD) and Island Trees Board of Education v. Pico—resulted in rulings with language that can galvanize library staff and teens today.

  • In Tinker v. Des Moines ICSD, the Supreme Court stated that “students ‘do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate’ and that the First Amendment protects public school students’ rights to express political and social views.”
  • In Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District No. 26 v. Pico, the Supreme Court upheld the rights of students to challenge school boards’ removal of library titles. The ruling states that “local school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books.”

Read more on these cases and many others at http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/censorship/courtcases.

Teens today are successfully fighting for their rights in varied and dynamic ways. A recent victory powered by teens occurred in Arizona where students and their parents had been fighting against the removal of Mexican-American Studies curriculum from their schools. In late August, Judge A. Wallace Tashima wrote that the First Amendment rights of Tucson students had been violated as they were denied the “right to receive information and ideas.” Furthermore, the court concluded that the students had proven their First Amendment claim “because both enactment and enforcement were motivated by racial animus.” [Washington Post, August 23, 2017]

This powerful triumph is a victory for culturally sustaining pedagogy, diverse and reflective resources, and First Amendment rights. Impressively, it is a victory not only beneficial for teens, but also powered by teens. They organized rallies, created community groups—including U.N.I.D.O.S., United Non-Discriminatory Individuals Demanding Our Studies, coordinated peaceful protests, and even gathered support from teens in other states. [The Daily Wildcat, June 28, 2017]

Our libraries—public, school, academic—can serve as crucial incubators for youth activism and social justice. In addition to sharing these stories with our teens—what else are we doing in our libraries today to support our teens’ activism and fight for justice?

This post is part of the YALSA Presidential Theme: Youth Activism through Community Engagement

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