It’s time to take the fight for free speech off-campus

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Nick Perkins and Rand Paul
Nicholas James Perkins and US Senator Rand Paul

Following years of going unchallenged, discrimination against conservative students on college campuses finally seems to be getting the attention it deserves. While this is a generally encouraging sign, my experiences as a student at Pickens High School in Jasper, Georgia have shown me that this problem is not exclusive to colleges and universities.

After getting involved with a nationwide organization known as Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) two years ago, I decided to use my position as a highschool student to fight back on this issue however I could. In fall 2017, I began the first of what would become two failed attempts to start a YAL chapter at Pickens High School. What my friends and I encountered over the next two semesters amounted to nothing but relentless opposition, excuses, fearmongering, and discrimination from faculty and staff.

From the beginning, we followed all of the required procedures for chartering a new organization on-campus. Nevertheless, many school employees claimed the YAL chapter would conflict with the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA). Anyone who understands YAL’s mission, however, knows that this is nonsense. YAL always has and always will enthusiastically support the rights of all people, including the LGBTQ community. The idea that a school-sponsored YAL chapter would make our LGBTQ students less safe is nothing more than an alibi designed to suppress conservative and libertarian students.

I believe that the preferential treatment exhibited by Pickens High School demonstrates a direct assault on the First Amendment rights of every single PHS student. The administration’s refusal to recognize our YAL chapter represents an outright refusal to acknowledge the Constitutional rights to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly guaranteed to every American citizen.

Furthermore, for a taxpayer-funded public school to use preferential treatment is not only illegal, but morally wrong. Our schools ought to be places where everyone — conservative and liberal — can enjoy the freedom to share and explore new ideas (especially the ones that people in charge might not like). For PHS to reject our right to establish a YAL chapter on-campus not only deprives us of our fundamental right to free speech, but strips every other student of their right to listen to what we have to say.

This is unacceptable on every level, and contradicts the basic values which this country was founded on. This is why I will be hosting a march on Main Street in Jasper this Saturday, April 13 to protest PHS’ prejudiced, unfair, and discriminatory attitude toward extracurricular involvement. If my school will not allow me to peacefully organize and speak, then I will gladly carry YAL’s message to the outside world. I invite all concerned citizens to join me in this protest.

In the meantime, I ask that Pickens High School amend its recent injustice to our students by approving our YAL chapter and establishing a policy of tolerance and fairness toward future students, no matter their political ideology. I also ask that all PHS students, alumni, parents, faculty, and staff work together to correct this problem so that our school may become an even greater and more open place for our young people to learn and grow.

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