Law Day 2002 Winning Essays
Sixth Grade Winners
First Place: James Mero, Tappan Middle School, Ann Arbor—Mrs. Wendy Raymond, teacher
Second Place: Keith A. Miller, Jefferson Middle School, Midland—Mrs. Villano, teacher
Third Place: Christopher Copple, Northeast Middle School, Macomb—Ms. Elaine Zielinski, teacher
Seventh Grade Winners
First Place: Chris S. Cialdella, Gagie School, Kalamazoo—Mr. Meyers, teacher
Second Place: Reyna A. Levine, Gagie School, Kalamazoo—Mr. Meyers, teacher
Third Place: Amanda E. Hilliker, homeschooled, Jonesville—Elaine S. Hilliker, teacher
Eighth Grade Winners
First Place: Vanessa Verbeeren, L'Anse Creuse Middle School North, Macomb—Greg Majors, teacher
Second Place: Ana Progovac, John D. Pierce Middle School, Grosse Pointe Park—Andrea Baker, teacher
Third Place: Tyler J. LaVanway, Coloma Junior High School, Coloma—Ms. Lori Carlson, teacher
First Place, Sixth Grade
by James Douglas Mero
Tappan Middle School—Ann Arbor—teacher: Ms. Wendy Raymond
Should the school board be allowed to prevent students from participating in sports if they refuse random drug testing?
Individual Rights or the Common Good: Which Should Have More Weight?
A student was prevented from playing on the football team because he and his parents refused to agree for the student to take a random urinalysis drug test, which was required by the policy of the school district. Should the school board be allowed to prevent students from participating in school sports if they refuse random drug testing? Schools should be allowed to do random drug testing.
Students on drugs can endanger each other. If they are on steroids they can have an unfair advantage. Athletes, in particular, are role models for other students. Their use of drugs can have a negative effect on the student body. Allowing students to be involved in sports only if they are drug free will give them a strong incentive to stay off drugs.
A core democratic value that applies to this situation is the common good. The common good provides for safety and security and promotes the general welfare. Athletes taking drugs can injure other athletes and have a negative influence on other students. Society holds athletes to a higher standard than others. If students see student athletes taking drugs and getting away with it, they will see this as acceptable and perhaps imitate their behavior. This would not be in the common good.
The question of whether it is constitutional for a school district to perform random urinalysis drug testing was decided in the case of Vernonia School District 47J v. Acton, 515 U.S. 646 (1995). A student was denied the ability to participate on a school football team because he and his parents refused to consent to drug testing. They claimed the policy violated the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure and the Fourteenth Amendment, which states that the state (in this case, the school district) cannot violate the rights granted by the Constitution to U.S. Citizens. The court decided the balance between individual rights and the good of the school should go in favor of the school. The student had already given up the right of privacy by participating in sports that required him to use the same locker room and showers. The addition of a urine test did not add significantly to the loss of privacy. They also said that in New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325, 336-337 (1985), the right to reasonable search and seizure had been extended to public school officials. Random testing further assures equal justice because any athlete could be tested, not just any targeted group.
In conclusion, while I respect the right to privacy, athletes' getting away with taking drugs has a much greater negative impact on the common good than taking away their privacy by requiring drug urinalysis testing. Athletes have already agreed to give up a certain amount of privacy by choosing to play a team sport that requires using shared facilities. Therefore, schools should be allowed to do random drug testing.
Second Place, Sixth Grade
by Keith A. Miller
Jefferson Middle School—Midland—teacher: Mrs. Julie Kennedy Villano
Patriotic Action or Classroom Disruption and Property Damage?
Since the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, many Americans have been displaying their patriotism. Suppose that students are placing American flag stickers on their lockers and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance spontaneously. Should the school's principal be allowed to ban these actions?
The principal should be able to ban the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance spontaneously as well as the placement of American flag stickers on lockers. According to Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District, 393 U.S. 503, 513 (1969), "conduct by the student, in class or out of it, which for any reason—whether it stems from time, place, or type of behavior—materially disrupts classwork or involves substantial disorder or invasion of the rights of others is, of course, not immunized by the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech." A spontaneous recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in a classroom would certainly interrupt the teacher who was trying to teach and the other students who were trying to learn. In Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District, a dissenting justice stated that although state public school authorities are not wholly exempt from the requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment respecting the freedoms of expression and association, the burden of showing that a particular school measure was motivated by other than legitimate school concerns should be cast on those complaining. When stickers are taken off, the adhesive can lift paint and/or leave a residue that is difficult to remove. Hence, the labor needed to clean and/or repaint lockers is a legitimate school concern since it can be both time-consuming and costly.
The core democratic values relating to this issue are equality and liberty. Every student has the right to an equal education. If the Pledge of Allegiance is recited spontaneously, the learning process of some students will be disrupted causing them to fall behind. Every student also has the right to express his political views. If the principal does not ban the placement of American flag stickers on lockers, he will have to allow all other "political" stickers, such as flags from other countries and party symbols. This means that even more lockers can be damaged.
Throughout history, a country's economic growth and technological development have been based on how well educated are its citizens. America's schools must continue to provide the best learning environment for all students so it can continue to prosper. History has also shown that the countries that enjoy the most freedom are the ones whose values are based on respect. By establishing rules for locker "decoration," our schools teach respect for both individuals and public property.
In summary, the spontaneous recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance can cause classroom disruption and interrupt the learning process. The placement of American flag stickers on lockers can cause damage to school property. For these reasons, the principal should be able to ban such actions.
Third Place, Sixth Grade
by Christopher William Copple
Northeast Middle School—Midland—teacher: Ms. Elaine Zielinski
Should the government have the power to tmporarily ban all individuals, including American citizens, of a particular ethnicity from certain shopping malls as a national security precaution?
Today I was asked to imagine that there was reliable intelligence that a terrorist group of a particular ethnicity was planning an attack at a major shopping mall. Should the government have the power to temporarily ban all American citizens of that ethnicity from certain malls as a national security precaution? I feel that it would be an infringement of the constitutional rights of Americans to ban them from the mall based only on their race. If the government wants to execute its power to impose a ban due to security precautions, then the mall should be closed to everyone.
The core democratic values, which are the basic beliefs that unite all Americans, say that a person has certain basic rights: right to life, liberty, economic freedom, diversity and the pursuit of happiness. With acts of terrorism or war, determining loyalty and exercising governmental power is not easy, but citizens, whatever their ancestry, cannot be denied these basic liberties guaranteed by the Constitution.
In Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944), a Japanese-American by the name of Toyosaburo Korematsu was found guilty of disobeying the Civilian Exclusion Order 34. By this order, our government forced more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans from their homes on the west coast and into internment camps. In the name of national security, many Japanese Americans lost their basic freedoms, homes, jobs, and businesses. These Americans were told that if they were true patriots, they would not complain. Complaining was evidence that they were disloyal. Fortunately under the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, these Japanese Americans received an apology for having their constitutional rights taken from them. In his dissenting opinion in the Korematsu case of 1944, Justice Murphy said, "it is essential that there be definite limits to military discretion, especially where martial law has not been declared. Individuals must not be left impoverished of their constitutional rights on a plea of military necessity . . . "
American History has had times where hysteria and racism/prejudice have proven to be dangerous partners. A few examples are the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, the War Relocation Authority, and McCarthyism. After September 11, Senator George Allen said, "we must make sure that as we learn the facts, we do not allow these attacks to succeed in tempting us to diminish what makes us a great nation. Our country understands that people have God-given rights and liberties. We cannot, in our efforts to bring justice, diminish those liberties."
The last part of the inscription on the Statue of Liberty reads, "give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore; Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" There is no warning at the end stating that in the event of war, you might lose your rights and privileges due to your ancestry. The best warning came from philosopher George Santayana who said, "those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
First Place, Seventh Grade
by Christopher Stanhope Cialdella
Gagie School—Kalamazoo—teacher: Mr. Joe Meyers
Should musicians be allowed to use violent or offensive lyrics in their songs?
Listening to music is a favorite pastime of many people, but certain artists express themselves with language that can be offensive to some. Because they find it offensive, these people try to find legal ways to prevent this type of music from being sold or played on the radio or TV. Many cases have been brought before state and federal courts concerning musicians using offensive lyrics. Even though the courts decided in favor of the musicians, many people still try to make it illegal for musicians to use certain lyrics. But should musicians be allowed to use these lyrics? Based on the First Amendment, I believe that they should be allowed to express themselves however they choose.
Our Founding Fathers believed that freedom of speech was so important that they guaranteed this right in the First Amendment to the Constitution. This guarantee means that the government cannot ban the speech in songs because some individuals disagree with or are offended by the song lyrics. In defending freedom of expression in Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15, 25 (1971), Justice John M. Harlan wrote in 1971, "one man's vulgarity is another's lyric." The role of government is not to decide what is offensive or not offensive. What one group finds upsetting, another group will not. For example, some religious songs could be offensive to atheists or people of different religions. If people are offended by certain lyrics they have the choice not to listen. Another argument that people use to censor musicians is that children should not be exposed to hearing bad or violent language on the radio. The Supreme Court ruled in Erznoznik v. City of Jacksonville, 422 U.S. 205. 213-214 (1975) that speech ' . . . cannot be suppressed solely to protect the young from ideas or images that a legislative body thinks unsuitable for them." Concerned parents can monitor what their children listen to or purchase, which can protect children somewhat from hearing these songs. Putting warning labels on CDs can help parents decide what is appropriate. The idea of what is offensive and not offensive to different families again applies in this situation.
Most pople who want to ban certain lyrics from music believe that these lyrics will incite people to commit crimes or other illegal actions which they hear in the songs. Never has any valid evidence shown that this actually occurs. Violent or offensive lyrics or song themes do not necessarily cause listeners to perform violent or offensive behavior. Thousands of people listen to violent lyrics and never commit an illegal act. Many other factors besides music could lead to violent activities.
Freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed by the Constitution, even if the majority of people find it offensive, or disagree with it. Taste and style vary from person to person, and should not be regulated by the government. In 1941, in Bridges v. California, 314 U.S. 252, 270 (1941), the Supreme Court clearly stated that a prime First Amendment principle is that one is free ". . . to speak one's mind, [even if] not always with perfect good taste."
Second Place, Seventh Grade
by Reyna A. Levine
Gagie School—Kalamazoo—teacher: Mr. Joe Meyers
Should Native Americans be allowed to consume small amounts of peyote for sacramental purposes during religious ceremonies?
Using peyote, a hallucinogen, causes brain damage. Peyote used in religious services is necessary for Native Americans. These two facts are contradictory to one another. Our Constitution was written to consider both issues.
The Constitution gives Congress the right to make laws to preserve the welfare of the people. The government determined that using drugs has a terrible effect on our citizens. So Congress and state legislatures have made drug use illegal. In contradiction to this position, the Constitution also mandates in the First Amendment that "Congress shall make no law . . . prohibiting the free exercise . . . " of religion. These core democratic values must be balanced. In my mind the free exercise clause of the First Amendment weighs more heavily. The use of peyote should be permitted, if used for sacramental purposes.
Congress recognized that peyote is sacred and healing to the Native Americans. Peyote is a significant part of their religion. Congress established the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, which protects Native American religious practices. The Act specifically permits peyote use during religious ceremonies. Twenty-three states, including states that have large Native American populations, have made exceptions to their drug laws, permitting peyote use.
Peyote is not like other drugs. Not many people like taking peyote. It causes side effects such as vomiting from the bitter taste, and sometimes causes headaches that last a week. Therefore, someone would have to be devoted to take peyote in excess amounts. Taking peyote is more closely compared to drinking wine for religious reasons. For instance, during the 1920's when Prohibition was in effect, the federal government gave an exception to the prohibition against drinking alcohol, so members of the Roman Catholic Church could take communion by drinking wine for sacramental purposes.
Failure to recognize important individual rights is unfair. In Employment Division v. Smith, 485 U.S. 660 (1988), Justice Blackmun, in his dissent, viewed the Supreme Court's unwillingness to permit peyote use in Oregon as "intolerable," reminding him of "repressive federal policies" debated over one hundred years ago. In Smith, Justice Scalia and other opponents determined the State's interest in the public welfare is stronger than an individual's rights in the First Amendment, including religious freedom. The State's right to control drug use outweighs the religious use of the drug. These opponents argue that the "war on drugs" should include outlawing peyote use even though peyote is used in very limited circumstances for sacramental purposes only.
Our forefathers were very conscious of our individual rights. The founding fathers wanted to make it clear in the First Amendment that religion will not be part of the government and that government will not interfere with religion. We came from England where the Church of England was the official religion and whoever did not accept it was persecuted.
Today, especially because of the acts of religious fanatics on September eleventh and because few nations of the world permit individual rights and free exercise of religion, we must be mindful that we do not have a government that controls religion. Peyote use in religious observance should be permitted by Native Americans.
Third Place, Seventh Grade
by Amanda Elaine Hilliker
Homeschooled—Jonesville—teacher: Elaine S. Hilliker
Should a school board be held responsible for a hostile environment that allows harassment to continue?
Cody met Brian in the school auditorium.
"Is Rex bullying you again," Cody asked.
"Yeah, it seems like I have a new bruise every day."
"Did you tell your parents?"
"Yes, they have tried and tried to get the school board to do something about it, but the school board doesn't seem to care."
Suppose that a student is routinely bullied at school and does not have a safe and secure learning environment. Should the school board be responsible for the hostile environment that allowed this harassment to continue? Absolutely. If a student doesn't have a safe and secure learning environment, that is a major problem. A school board cannot be called a school board if they cannot deal with problems like this.
The Supreme Court agrees. In Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, the Court had to consider whether or not action could be taken against the school board in cases of student on-student harassment. They concluded that the school board may be responsible, but only when it acts with deliberate indifference to known acts of harassment, and only if the harassment is severe enough that it gets in the way of the victim's access to educational opportunity or benefit. True learning cannot be accomplished if a child is in constant fear of being beaten up. The school board should make an effort to talk to the bully's parents and do whatever it takes to make a safe learning environment for other children.
The Declaration of Independence states that all men are created equal and have unalienable rights that include life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Children cannot fight for their own rights. Children have the right to a safe place to learn. Adults must see that children's rights are honored just as anyone else's.
According to a sample policy on bullying for the state of Michigan, if a student bullies another student, they could be suspended or expelled and the authorities would be notified. I believe that this is a good way to deal with bullying. When I visited the superintendent of a local elementary school, I was surprised to learn that their policy on bullying was in the middle of being revised. Many schools are revising their policies because bullying has become a real issue.
Last summer, an article in the Washington Post stated that 20 years ago discipline problems meant a stray swear word or a playground fist fight. Today, children are getting more and more violent with each other and with teachers. While children are in school, school boards should take the initiative to protect the students.
In conclusion, I believe that if a student is being routinely bullied at school, the school board should be held responsible. How can students be expected to learn if they live in constant fear of another student?
First Place, Eighth Grade
by Vanessa Rae Verbeeren
L'Anse Creuse Middle School North, Macomb—teacher: Mr. Greg Majors
Should the government have the power to temporarily ban all individuals, including American citizens, of a particular ethnicity from certain shopping malls as a national security precaution?
I am strongly opposed to the government banning citizens of a specific ethnicity from certain shopping malls as a security precaution. I feel very strongly about this issue.
Banning citizens from malls across America would go against equality, a value America was built upon. Equality means that all men are created equal. By telling one ethnic group that they are not allowed to go to a public place because a few people of that race have caused trouble is the same as telling them that their race is inferior. As sad as it is to admit, there are bad people in every race, people who do wrong, people who threaten the safety of the nation. There is not one specific bad ethnicity. No one in any race should be punished for what others do.
Banning citizens of a specific race would also go against the core democratic value of justice. Justice means that all people should be treated fairly in society. Telling a certain ethnic group that it can no longer go to the mall because of something they can neither help nor change is unfair. If it so happened that a white person was posing a threat to people's safety, would all white people be banned from the mall? No. So why should anyone else be?
I feel that increasing mall security would be a better alternative to banning citizens completely. Not only would this abide by the constitution, and our nation's values, it would increase the amount of money collected in taxes. Citizens would feel safer going to the mall, and so more people would go and spend money. The government would lose money collected in taxes if it were to ban citizens from the malls, because less and less people would be going and spending their money, and so less would be collected in taxes.
In the court case Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944), a Japanese-American who was convicted of violating a military order that banned all Japanese-American citizens from certain areas and sent them to "interment camps" under the assumption that they may be spies and that they were traitors, challenged his conviction on the grounds that he was being discriminated against solely because he was of Japanese descent. The Supreme Court ruled that this was constitutional and that "military necessity justified the relocation." In 1948 Congress enacted the Japanese American Evacuation Claims Act, which gave money to those citizens who had lost homes and businesses because of that order. In 1980 this issue was reopened. The Supreme court decision has been "overruled in the court of history," basically saying that putting the Japanese in camps and not allowing them to be in certain areas was wrong. Unfair treatment based solely on ethnicity was wrong back then, and is still wrong today, no matter what race.
Throughout my history classes, I have learned about the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The Declaration of Independence states that all men were created equal. By treating American citizens unequally, we go against the principles America was founded upon. The preamble of the Constitution establishes justice in order to create a more perfect union. Our government should keep justice a priority, so we can in fact have a more perfect union.
Second Place, Eighth Grade
by Ana Maria Progovac
John D. Pierce Middle School—Grosse Pointe Park—teacher: Ms. Andrea Baker
Should a school board be allowed to prevent the student expression of solidarity with Muslims by banning the wearing of headscarves at school?
There have been many occasions where taking steps to silence protests would have provided for a temporarily more tranquil environment. But in some cases, the measures taken may have violated certain rights. The case in question is whether a school board should be allowed to ban the wearing of head scarves at school to prevent other students from expressing unity with Muslims. I would have to say that the rights of the students are being violated in numerous ways. The school board should not be allowed to stop any students from wearing head scarves as protest or expression of unity.
The school board would violate many of the students' personal freedoms, including the freedoms of speech and expression. A school board has no right to break standards set in the Bill of Rights. In this way, any students wearing headscarves to protest cultural harassment happening at their school are protected by the law, and should be protected by the school. If instead, the school is trying to prevent students from wearing headscarves, they are taking away rights granted to every person in the United States. The school board would be going against some basic core democratic values that are expressed in, among other places, the Declaration of Independence.
If the students choose to wear headscarves to support their Muslim peers, they are not violating any laws. They are simply putting into action many of their basic rights. The students have the right to freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and the freedom to protest the government, or in this case, freedom to protest their student body's harassment of a minority group.
The school board would obviously be taking away many of those rights if they prevented students from wearing headscarves. Also, the Muslim students would not feel they were free to practice their religion, as wearing headscarves is part of theirs. The school board would be overlooking the rights and values that were purposely woven into our country's basic principles to prevent such cases as the one present to arise.
In a similar case from the past, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969), students chose to wear black arm bands in protest of the government's involvement in Vietnam. The students were suspended. They decided to take their case to court, where the district court found they had violated the school's policy, which had been set up just before the protest had begun. However, the students pushed their case and eventually the Supreme Court ruled that they were engaging in peaceful protests, that their personal rights were not any different inside school, and that they had the right to wear arm bands to peacefully protest the government if they wished.
The school board should not have the right to prevent students from free expression. In doing so, they violate values and principles set in the foundations of the nation. The school board should concentrate instead on creating a peaceful and diverse environment for all the students of the high school.
Third Place, Eighth Grade
by Tyler Jacob LaVanway
Coloma Junior High School—Coloma—teacher: Ms. Lori Carlson
Should juveniles that commit serious crimes be given the death penalty?
In my opinion, juveniles that commit serious crime should not receive the death penalty. Because I have grown up with a father, brother and uncles in law enforcement, I firmly believe that criminals should pay for their crimes. However, with juveniles, I feel that there are better alternatives for punishing them for their crimes. In many circumstances, the juveniles' levels of reasoning are factors of why they committed such crimes, or they are a product of their environment over which they have no control.
Currently 38 states and the federal government have statutes authorizing the death penalty for certain types of murder. There are now 83 death row inmates, all male, sentenced as juveniles constituting about 2% of the total death row population of thirty-seven hundred. Although all were age 16 or 17 at the time of their crimes, their current ages range from 18 to 42. They were under death sentences in fifteen states and have been on death row from a few months to over 22 years in the U.S. Eighteen men have been executed for crimes committed as juveniles since 1976.
A total of two hundred death sentences have been imposed since 1973. Of these death sentences in the current era, only 75 remain currently in force. Another seventeen have resulted in execution, and a large number of 110 have been reversed. Therefore, of the 127 juvenile death sentences finally resolved, a very high 87% were reversed. So it is apparent that courts question the appropriateness of the death penalty for juveniles.
The constitutionality of the juvenile death penalty seems to be a reasonably well settled issue. In Thompson v. Oklahoma, 487 U.S. 815 (1988) the Supreme Court held that executions of offenders age 15 and younger at the time of their crimes are unconstitutional. The effect of the opinions by Justice Stevens and Justice O'Connor in Thompson is that no state without a minimum age line in its death penalty can go below age 16 without violating Thompson. In fact, no state with a minimum age line in its death penalty statute uses an age less than 16. Some local prosecutors and trial court judges have challenged this Supreme Court ruling, but none has survived appellate court review.
As the democratic value justice states, everyone should be treated fairly in the distribution of the benefits and burdens of society, corrections of wrongs and injuries, and the gathering of information and making of decisions and the right of due process, which insures us of a fair hearing. To put a juvenile to death for a crime committed when he or she was too young to understand the seriousness or consequences would not fulfill justice. In conclusion, because of the very large reversal rate of some of the juvenile death sentences imposed, as well as our value of justice, I strongly feel juveniles should not be given the death penalty.