Read Kids Are Americans Too Online

Authors: Bill O'Reilly

Kids Are Americans Too (4 page)

I've oversimplified the process (and you can thank me for that), but the above paragraph, basically, explains what you need to know in order to understand just what your rights are in this country.


This sixteen-year-old kid down somewhere in the Southeast has a license from his state to ride his motorcycle…which he bought with his own money after working hard at the local Wal-Mart for several months…and his parents have agreed to let him ride the thing during daylight hours if he always wears a helmet—BUT!!—his high school principal won't allow anyone to ride a motorized two-wheel vehicle to school and park it on school property. See, she believes that the stats on motorcycle accidents prove that the bike is about twice as dangerous for a kid to ride in traffic as a car. Is the principal correct? Does it matter? Does the kid have a right to ride his bike onto school property since he's clearly fufilled all legal requirements? Well, he could go to court, but he would likely lose. The principal determines what happens on school property. The kid has followed all the rules, except one: her rule. In this case, that's the one that counts more than any of the others.

In many ways this situation is a lot like the train situation we talked about earlier. You will recall that because the train is private property, the train company has the right to make rules such as “no loud noise” provided these rules are reasonable, intended for the good of the passengers, and do not discriminate against any one specific group.

Like it or not, noisy commuters need to pipe down or walk.

Similarly, school administrators, more often than not, have
the right to establish rules on closed campuses, provided they, too, are reasonable rules, serve the greater good of the student body, and do not discriminate against any one specific group, even if the school is a public institution.

Here's an example that upsets a lot of people: students, their parents, their lawyers.

It involves an important constitutional concept called “probable cause.” Just as the phrase “I know my rights!” is often used and misused on cop shows, so, too is this phrase, although you probably have to listen closely to hear it. Usually, the stern judge or worried district attorney is questioning the cops about whether or not they had probable cause to take some action that uncovered vital evidence in a crime. If there was no probable cause, then the evidence gets tossed.

But here's the thing for you, kid. The definition of
probable cause
for a student on school property is much looser, much wider, than it is for adults in similar circumstances outside of school.

I'm serious! Your school officials can use a different concept to justify searching you, your car, or your locker for, say, weapons or illegal drugs than the police can use to search an adult they think possesses one of those things. The term that applies to you kids is
reasonable suspicion.

Define, please.

Well, don't even try. You don't need that kind of headache at your time of life.

See, the definition of
reasonable suspicion
(and of
, but that's another can of worms) is going to depend upon what your principal thinks, what your school board has decided, and what local courts have said in disputed cases.

You're not happy about this…Or are you?

On the one hand, if you are determined to bring a concealed ninja weapon to school, reasonable suspicion means that you are more likely to be searched—and have that evidence stand up in any legal proceeding—than an adult would be doing the same thing in a mall. If he or she conceals the weapon cleverly, there may be, in that situation, no probable cause to search him or her. Your school official, though, needs only to feel reasonable suspicion. So, maybe you think this is unfair.

On the other hand, if you're a student who does not want to be walking down the hall next to someone carrying a concealed ninja weapon (no matter how, uh, cool that is, right?), you might think that this “reasonable suspicion” thing is pretty fair. It gives more weight to your rights as a sane, decent kid than to the rights of the nut case with the throwing star.

We really should talk a lot more about the whole school thing and the rights you have there because, as you know, school is a major part of your life. Isn't it? So let's do that…

The death penalty is too easy for Osama bin Laden and others like him. They deserve to suffer every day in a hard-labor situation. In my opinion, that would be a greater deterrent than a quick execution. Also, some innocent people have been executed. Not good.

ctually, your school, right now, IS your life.

I don't mean to knock family, part-time job, community service, church or synagogue or mosque—but in terms of hours spent in class, playing sports, doing homework, and (maybe) feeling hope or dread, school is pretty much your life.

You might know that I taught high school for a couple of years. What I remembered from my own difficult past in school was magnified several times as
I sat on the other side of the desk. In other words, God got revenge on me during my teaching days because I gave my own teachers such a hard time back when I was in high school!

Kid life can be hard. Kid life can be confusing. (But we're not focusing on those issues today. I've already written about them, in case you don't know, in
The O'Reilly Factor for Kids.

So (pardon the pun), how do we do the “rights” math in school?

Let's start with the truth: You want your own way, don't you?

Of course you do. And there's nothing wrong with that. We all want our own way. Well, most of us do. Sometimes a Mother Teresa comes along, someone who is completely generous. And thank God for people like that. But back to you…

You have a brain that knows the numbers just wouldn't work if you always get your own way. Why? Because then I wouldn't get my own way…and neither would your best friend or worst enemy…and neither would anyone else around you. And if that happened we would all GET TEED OFF!—and we'd probably take it out on you. Nobody could stand that pressure.

So we should forget our wants and focus on everybody's rights. That's how we draw the line, and learning to draw that line will make you very, very smart. And much happier as well.

Start being smart now…and you'll be even smarter when you legally become an adult (which will be sooner than you think).

I mean it! Making these distinctions will be essential to your “pursuit of happiness” for the rest of your life. Successful people
who make lots of money and have great jobs are usually people who can convince others that they are fair! Not selfish, spoiled egomaniacs! So, the “right” deal will help you all throughout your life.

Meanwhile, there's something about the school situation that seems to inspire some pretty nutty debates about rights.

It gets crazier when religion is involved (see my previous book,
Culture Warrior
, for some goofy stories about Christmas and students' rights).

It also gets crazy when graduation is coming up. Maybe kids want to leave a lasting mark at school…or show that they're too cool for discipline. Whatever, graduation rituals, from prom nights to valedictory speechmaking, seem to inspire a lot of controversy.


Last December, seventeen-year-old Patrick Agin's medieval costume caused a stir at his Rhode Island high school that ended up bringing in the state branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). You may find this story pretty funny, or you may agree that it shows how complicated the rights business can be.

A senior at Portsmouth High School, Patrick has an interesting hobby: He acts out events from the Middle Ages with a group called the Society for Creative Anachronism. That means that
these guys act out stuff that happened long ago as if it happened today.

And there's more. Patrick's mother sells reproductions of medieval armor—you know, the kind the knights wore. These reproductions are created by Patrick's uncle. Lively family, right?

Got the picture? Well, not to make another pun, but it is a picture that caused all the trouble. Patrick wanted to wear a knight's armor in his yearbook photo. Other kids have been allowed to use photos of themselves posed with their musical instruments or participating in sports, so it wasn't as if the school has a policy requiring suits and ties in yearbook photos.

But…it does have a policy that principal Robert Littlefield applied in Patrick's case. See, the kid not only wore his chain mail in the photo; he also carried a medieval sword.

Littlefield refused to allow the photo in the yearbook, explaining, “Students wielding weapons is just not consistent with our existing policies or the mission of the school.” Translation: The school has in place a “zero-tolerance” weapons policy.

Do you think the principal was being unreasonable? Well, the ACLU argued that his action was “a perfect example of bureaucratic ridiculousness.”

On his side, Littlefield noted that past graduating seniors had not been allowed to pose in their official senior photos with, for example, a musket used in reenactments of the U.S. Civil War. He had, however, allowed them to buy ads with such photos and made the same offer to Patrick.

What's wrong with this picture? Photo by Leilani Eileen Martin Cardoza (Zaraphin)

The school and the ACLU agreed to take the matter to the Rhode Island commissioner of education. At first, the ACLU filed a lawsuit before a U.S. District Court judge, but he (in my view, wisely) suggested the matter be taken first to the Department of Education.

Which side won? Was there a compromise? What were the principles that applied?

Well, to sum up, the commissioner decided that the principal's decision had been “unreasonable and arbitrary.”

He argued that “no tolerance for a yearbook photograph with a weapon becomes full tolerance when the family pays for the publication of the photograph.” In other words, “tolerance for weapons can be purchased.” This is illogical.

He also noted that in other sections of the yearbook students were shown with “a corn cob pipe, liquor bottles, a beer stein, toy guns, bows and arrows, swords, a knife, color guard rifle shapes, and an axe made of foil.” (Is something going on out there I don't know about?)

What happened here, I think, is that everyone calmed down. Well, maybe not the ACLU lawyer (surprise!), who had to have the last word: “The Commissioner's ruling rightly rejects the knee-jerk use of zero tolerance policies by school officials that often run counter to both common sense and students' rights.”

But I think the point is not to attack the principal, or anyone else, for having a point of view. The point is that Patrick's right to celebrate his love of medieval history in a certain way was reasonably discussed, examined, and upheld.

In another state, with another commissioner of education, the decision might have gone in a different direction. Personalities could have come into conflict. There might have been other factors to muddy the waters.

But Patrick's story is a good model for many situations, I think. By and large, it seems that people listened to each other. Reason and common sense won and so did Patrick. Score one for the kids!

Did I not tell you so on the cover of this book?
Kids Are Americans Too!

multiple-choice quiz no. 2

  • 1. Women have the right to vote because…
  • a. Members of all racial minorities do, too.
  • b. Thomas Jefferson wanted his wife to be able to vote for him.
  • c. The Constitution has been amended.
  • d. Our laws are based upon British laws
  • 2. The famous phrase “the pursuit of happiness” means that you…
  • a. Can always download Hillary Duff for free.
  • b. Are guaranteed a minimum wage.
  • C. Can pursue your dream, but not prevent others from pursuing theirs.
  • d. Are allowed to move across state lines.
  • 3. Same-sex marriage…
  • a. Is illegal now in every state in America.
  • b. Costs the taxpayers $110 million each year.
  • c. Was banned by the Founding Fathers.
  • d. Would be banned by the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment.
  • 4. Many laws that affect you are…
  • a. About as sane as Simon Cowell's comments on
    American Idol.
  • b. Made by your state, not the nation al government.
  • c. Only guidelines for behavior, not rules.
  • d. In effect only when you're outside the home.
  • 5. If you are a girl, you can play on the boys football team if…
  • a. You are willing to sue the local school district.
  • b. Your parents belong to the PTA.
  • c. You explain the Bill of Rights to your teacher.
  • d. Your school administration okays it.

Here are the correct answers. I hope you can see why:

1. c; 2. c; 3. d; 4. b; 5. d.


How're you doing? Having fun yet?


In another case related to graduation activities, eighteen-year-old Bilal Shareef brought a lawsuit against his school system in Newark, New Jersey, on religious grounds. Bilal, a practicing Muslim, graduated with a straight-A average from West Side High School in 2006. But since the ceremonies were held in a Christian church, he did not attend. He explained that he had been put in a “very, very uncomfortable” position.

Please take a moment to think about this, and then I'm going to tell you how the various sides weighed in (yes, there were more than two sides). If you're a practicing Roman Catholic, would you attend your high school graduation in a mosque? Listen up: I'm not taking sides here; I'm just asking you to form an opinion on your own, before we continue.

See, these things are much more fun if you decide what you think you believe, and then listen to others.

So here are the parties:

The ACLU (of course): Citing the state constitution, the ACLU argued that no one can be “compelled to attend any place of worship contrary to his faith and judgment.” The compulsion, by their reasoning, came about because “the culmination of one's school career is at graduation.”

The lawyer for the school district: He countered that “some use of religious facilities by public school districts” is allowed by state law. (For the record, the 2007 graduation was scheduled to be held in a secular concert hall.)

Bilal's father: Ahmad Shareef commented that he would have felt pride at seeing his son receive his diploma but was “even more proud that he stood up for our beliefs.”

The executive director of the Islamic Society of North America: Although his organization represents some four hundred mosques, he remarked that he was not aware that any other Muslim high school student had objected to attending a school function in a church.

Now it's your turn. You've heard several different views. Was Bilal unreasonable? Should he have gone along with the majority of his school community? What other alternatives can you think of, ideas that might satisfy both sides? What did the school district intend by using the church?

Now that you've made your decision, do you want to know what the courts in New Jersey determined? Well, as of press time, the case was still being decided. Check out for up-to-the-minute reports.

Musical Interlude

No, I am not considering a career change, but you can see why music-industry agents are lining up outside my door, offering bling.

Remember, all of these lyrics are copyrighted.

(That's my right!)

This means you!

I'm not going into all of the gazillion messes that can occur when you download something, because you already know about the ones that affect your life.

But if you feel that you have the right to download a song for free because…well, because why, kid?

Okay, you want to argue that the music industry is a big monster that charges you too much, or something like that. I see your point. But what about that singer or band you like so much? They shouldn't make any money for their work? They should entertain you, and whomever you share the file with, for free? They don't have the right to get something for what they've created for you?

You know what I'm saying. And what about people who write books? (Ahem.) Or make movies? Music, words, pictures—these can all be used to invent fantasy worlds, but you really have the wrong fantasy about life if you don't realize that entertainment and information reach you because people work very, very hard. That's how I see it, anyway.

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