by Kate Harvey
The message we’ve been hearing throughout this election cycle is that our nation has rarely been more divided. We are told that Islamophobia is on the rise and that minorities in America are increasingly fearful for their safety. We are told that systemic racism courses through the veins of our country’s police force. We are told that women are still not equal to men under our laws.
What we don’t often hear about is that the media elites, academics, and politicians spewing these grievances and complaining of our divisiveness and mocking our newly elected President, are part of a systemic injustice of their own making–the stamping down of Americans’ First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
Over and over again in recent months we have seen a brazen intolerance of opinions that diverge from the standard mainstream narrative. News anchors cutting off the feed when their interviewee suggests that Muslim immigration is a concern that we should address honestly and fearlessly. A TV station blurring out the “Trump 2016” t-shirt worn by a man who saved a child from an overheated car. Hillary Clinton’s campaign stating that alt-right websites such as Breitbart News should “not be allowed to exist.”
Albemarle High School senior Trenton Snead experienced firsthand the intolerance for diversity of thought that has come to dominate our society. Snead plans to enlist in the U.S. Army upon graduation next year, is active in his school’s debate club, and has a passion for politics. He was also a door-knocking volunteer for the Republican Party of Virginia during this 2016 election.
Naturally, given his commitment to the campaign, he was very excited that Donald Trump was successful on the night of November 8.
The next day Snead decided to celebrate by wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat to school. He also carried a Trump flag on his backpack. When Snead got to school he made his way to the outdoor courtyard (amidst numerous curses and glares and insults from his fellow students) where a school security guard approached him and began aggressively grabbing at his Trump flag saying, “You need to put the flag away.”
Snead asked why he had to put the flag away and the guard replied, “You are causing problems.” Assistant Principal Mr. Smith, who had joined the security guard, told Snead that he was inciting violence and disrupting the learning environment.
Snead spoke up and defended himself, saying that he has a right to free speech, that he had done nothing to instigate violence in the school and that he was simply celebrating the victory of the candidate he believed in for President of the United States.
A group of Snead’s peers gathered around him to shake his hand and to offer support. Mr. Smith then instructed Snead to go to the office. Snead resisted, asking why he was being punished. It was at this point that Mr. Smith actually threatened to call the police.
“It was so sad,” says Snead,”that a public place staffed by government employees and run on taxpayers dollars, a place of learning, does not even understand the founding principles and basic rights of our great nation. It is sickening–that this happened in our country where freedom is held above all else. How many died for this freedom? And now government employees at my school believe they can force their own beliefs onto us.”
Mr. Smith and the security guard allowed Snead to head to his next class but they followed him there. Snead began singing the National Anthem as he waited for his class to begin. Several times Snead asked “Where are the police?” but received no response from the administrators.
Eventually a note was brought into Snead’s class instructing him to go to the office. Snead met with Matthew Haas, Assistant Superintendent of Albemarle County Public Schools, who dealt with the situation in a decidedly measured way. He told Snead that he was pressed for time and must get to his next appointment but that he would write an email to the staff informing them they are not to interfere with anyone celebrating Trump’s win or wearing Trump gear.
Snead felt frustrated. While the situation was being diffused by the school’s leadership he believed that what had happened to him that morning–culminating in the Assistant Principal threatening to bring policemen into the school to silence a student–warranted a much more serious intervention by the Assistant Superintendent.
“I told him,” says Snead, “‘I don’t think you understand, sir, how big a deal this is to me. You have government employees who don’t understand the basic principles of our country or the Bill of Rights. This building is public property and a place of learning. How can we learn if your staff shuts down the opinions of this school’s students?’”
Mr. Haas reiterated that he was short on time and that the school would have to deal with the incident internally. Snead doesn’t feel hopeful that any real changes will be made.
This story, and the many other examples of free speech being restricted nationwide, is one that should deeply concern every American. And it begs the question–is there a double standard? Are certain political viewpoints acceptable and allowable while others get you in trouble with authority? What if the Democrats had been victorious on Election Night and a student had come to school waving a Hillary Clinton flag? Would a security guard have told her to put the flag away, the Assistant Principal threatened to call the police?
The loudest voices in America are shouting that our nation is dangerously divided but they refuse to look down and see the saw in their hands. Trampling on free speech, shouting down differing opinions, intimidating people courageous enough to stand their ground–these are the things dividing America. Because without free speech America has lost the foundation upon which it was raised.
You have to be a brave citizen and be willing to risk public humiliation in order to express support for our President-Elect. Let’s hope that Mr. Trump returns the favor and spends the next four years preserving and bolstering the rights of these and all Americans.