(Originally appeared in the April 2000 issue of the Liberty High School Sentinel newspaper.)

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”—from the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

What is it that makes America great? I’ll tell you in one simple, two-syllable word: freedom. It is freedom that makes the United States such an innovative, successful country. Over the past two centuries—as long as we have been a sovereign nation—we have been constantly increasing the amount of ambient freedom in this county. Now ethnic minorities, all races, all genders, just about everybody shares in this strong American—or Human—concept.

Except us.

We have the right to say anything we want; we have the right to print anything we want; we have the right to do so many things. That is, as long as we aren’t on school property.

Wherever we go, there are some limits to our rights. For example, we cannot legally yell “fire” in a crowded theater (unless there is a fire). However, the limitations put upon us within school are limitations that would be found unconstitutional if applied anywhere else. Just look at the ruckus caused by attempts to outlaw flag-burning, or perhaps imagine the outcry if a federal law were passed against wearing hats indoors.

It’s interesting, I think, the way it is simply accepted that in school we do not have the same rights guaranteed to us everywhere else. So how have they managed to explain this away? Simple! Free speech is “distracting.”

I suppose that’s the same way that spaghetti straps and tank-tops are distracting, right? Or the way that clothes mentioning alcohol or ‘inappropriate’ terms are distracting, right? Of course, if I said something inappropriate or wore a hat in the halls everybody’s education would come crumbling down around us! The universe as we know it would come to an end!

Perhaps you’ve noticed a hint of sarcasm?

Get real. When you get right down to it, we don’t care. We’ve grown up surrounded by these “distracting” things, and being surrounded by them in school wouldn’t do a darn thing to our education except to make it feel more open, more relaxed, and—get this—happy. That’s right, happy.

Ladies and gentlemen of the LHS administration, do you dare to tell me that it would not be a good thing to have a relaxed, happy environment for learning? Do you dare tell me that the best way to run a school is to constantly nag people over clothing that you don’t approve of? Do you dare to tell me that wearing a hat indoors is a detriment to my education?

I think not. In fact, I dare to tell you that your dress-code policy is more a detriment to my education than the things it prohibits.

Believe it or not, rules can be more dangerous than the things they prohibit, and this is a perfect example. The dress-code policy at this school prohibits things that do not affect my education at all, however the policies themselves serve to create a feeling of persecution among the students. We feel like we cannot be ourselves. We feel that we cannot openly express ourselves. There is, frankly, no way that such policies are the best for the students. There is no way that a feeling of persecution will ever make this school a better place.

Why is it an impossible task to rewrite the policy? This time, instead of merely imposing the rule, let us be a part of its creation. Students, teachers, and the administration need to get together and change this old-style regulation. Show us that you care what we think. Show us that you respect us, and you may just find that we’ll return the favor.