Minors and the First Amendment: Replies to Marjorie Heins

Minors and the First Amendment: Replies to Marjorie Heins

The ways societies view children have changed a great deal over the genera-tions. Authoritarian societies tend to see minors as adults in all ways other than in their small stature. These societies presume that children assume responsibility for their acts. Children are tried as adults, jailed with them, and hanged next to them. In contrast, civilized societies treat minors as a distinct legal and moral category, as developing creatures who gradually become adults but are not; adults are expected to help children develop into mature young people able to form their own judgments.

Marjorie Heins, in her article “Rejuvenating Free Expression” (Dissent, Summer 1999), draws on the traditional view of children to advance the harmful proposition that children have First Amendment rights like adults. Whenever she finds that her proposition is unsustainable, she temporarily takes cover behind the civilized view that children constitute a distinct category, only to strike again. To keep her thesis even temporarily alive she performs the lawyerly trick of referring to social science studies that support her case, ignoring all others; and—most surprisingly—she invents children’s First Amendment rights against their parents!

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