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The Contender
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14 Points

Do Children Have Liberties?

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 9/9/2010 Category: Society
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 5,189 times Debate No: 13109
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (32)
Votes (3)




HAS BEEN EDITED: September 9th, 2010, 1:26pm MST

Note: This is my first debate any comments or suggestions that the observer/pro debator can give would be appreciated. I am attempting to start with something simple so that I can learn how the rounds work and such. Again, thanks.

A discussion with my analytical cousin led to this topic.

My grandmother was discussing School Uniforms, and asked him what he thought about the subject. Of course he had to pause and didn't have any real 'personal' opinion about it, and then said it depended upon if children had rights or not.
I then pointed out the fact that children do have rights seeing as sexual and physical abuses of minors are considered crimes and charged against. He then explained that he had used the wrong word; the question was, whether children had liberties.

There are distinct differences between what our right is and what our liberties are. For the purpose of this discussion/debate we're going to assume that the country of topic upon whether children have liberties or not is the United States of America. We are also defining 'children' as minors, those under the age of legal adulthood, 18, though not accepting unborn children as qualifications for this specific definition.

Civil liberties are the inherent things we are granted : freedom of speech, right to worship what we want to worship, and the right against unreasonable seizures of property. Basically, civil liberties are our 'inalienable rights' dubbed by the constitution.

Civil rights are a relatively new concept. They were produced as a way to stop discrimination against minorities like women, people of different races and countries, and of orientation. Civil rights are what states that people shouldn't be fired or hired of the basis of race, sex, or orientation. They also have cultivated requirements for public establishments to provide access for people whom posses disabilities.

My cousin determined that if children have liberties, then school uniforms shouldn't be put into use. If they don't have liberties, then, school uniforms were okay. This debate is not about whether or not children should wear school uniforms; this is just the forthcoming information to why children having liberties would be an important issue to debate.

The question is: Do children have liberties?

I'll first give some evidence that points to the case that they do not have liberties. Some of you may have heard of the 1988 Supreme Court Case "Hazelwood School Dist. v. Kuhlmeier". What occurred was a series of newspaper articles about controversial matters like pregnant students and family problems were trying to be published by students through the school newspaper. The principal looked over the paper and found the content inappropriate so he/she took it out, and did not allow it to be published. The students, when they were older and graduated, took the case the court in which it was ruled that it wasn't censorship or a violation of the 1st amendment to censor the school newspaper.

This, to me, is evidence that children do not have liberties, at least not in the school setting. If the same situation had been applied to an adult who attempted to publish something about the work situation and was censored, it would seem that the office corporation setting would be forced to allow the adult to publish it because of freedom of speech.

What are evidences that children have liberties?


The Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier case here:
The difference between civil liberties and civil rights here:


Looking at how the lives of children are constrained both by the state and by their parents, children have fewer liberties than adults. I believe this to be self evident. This is part of the reason that I was initially reluctant, or unwilling to accept this debate. I'm sure that most of the people reading this debate will feel the same way.

What is clear to me now, however, is that while somewhat constrained, children do indeed have liberties. More importantly, while their liberties are curtailed by their parents or by the state, this is only up until a certain point.

By the end of this debate, I hope the readers grudgingly accept that while we have all gotten in trouble, we have all felt unfairly treated by our parents at one point or another; that at all points, we had a fundamental and recognised personal liberty.

To start off with; I think it's critical to really sit down and think about what liberty really means. To a certain extent, the definition of right, and liberty overlap very significantly. for example, take the definitions following relevant definitions of the term liberty (1).

"The right and power to act, believe, or express oneself in a manner of one's own choosing."

While there are a number of definitions; including interference from the state, I believe that this is the most applicable to what we generally think of as liberty with respect to our own lives.

With regards to the position I'm taking, I am going to first deal with the idea of Civil Liberty; defined as follows:

"The freedom of a citizen to exercise customary rights, as of speech or assembly, without unwarranted or arbitrary interference by the government."(2)

While the term "right" is used; this very much applies to what liberty is, with relation to the earlier definition; our ability to act and behave in a manner of our own choosing. Civil Liberties revolves around how the state can, or importantly cannot, constrain an individuals behaviour.

Now, in some respect, the state places constraints on children's behaviour and actions far more than it does adults; there are age limits on some products and places, and films. There is an age of consent, and most importantly, there is education which children are required by the state to attend.

While this could make a compelling cast against children having liberty; it really only serves to show that the civil liberty of children is more constrained than adults, a point that is not under contention.

With regards to free speech; while a right, is part of peoples overall civil liberty in that it prevents the state from constraining an individuals behaviour; as the court case quoted by my opponent shows, the argument was not that children do not have the right to free speech, but that in this case it doesn't apply due to the nature of how they were speaking. To a certain extent, the court case itself implicitly accepts the child's right to free speech. Had they been writing in a national newspaper, the same right would not apply. This type of limitation also applies to adults; for example, I could right a presentation for the company I work for, and it my management could not distribute it on the grounds it contains contentious, or information it does not agree with. This would not constitute a breach of freedom of speech.

Again, with freedom of religion, a critical liberty in the US; the state has no explicit right to prevent children from practicing a particular religion; nor may a child be unlawfully imprisoned or restrained without due process.

Examples of these are:

1985 Wallace v. Jaffree where it was found Alabama's "moment of silence" law, which required public school children to take a moment "for meditation or voluntary prayer," in violation of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause; showing the first amendment applies to children and in school.(3)

1943 West Virginia v. Barnette Where the Court championed religious liberty with its holding that a state could not force Jehovah's Witness children to salute the American flag. (4)

There is also equal protection of children to adults with regards to how the state may take away freedoms from the fourteenth amendment (5). More specifically; we have the landmark case of "In re Gault" (6) in which the supreme court upheld a decision that stated that with regards to Due Process rights, a child has equal protection under the law as Adults.

Another such case ruling was Tinker vs Des moines (7) which established the tinker test. This case is critical as it establishes that children have free speech in school; directly countering the court case specified by my opponent.

While this is a right; the fourteenth amendment provides an equal protection for children and adults with regards to liberty being taken away; specifically concerning a limitation on the powers concerning how the state can constrain people's behaviour; due to this ruling, it is unconstitutional to simply put a child in custody without going through the proper mechanisms.

Again, this is of course not to say that children have the same liberty as adults; this is not the case but, once again, to say that they do not have any is wrong.


Liberty and Parents.

While I believe have explained why the state has no explicit rejection for the liberty of children; there is an argument that the state implicitly rejects the liberty of children. What I mean by this, is that if the state accepts certain persons are free to control, or constrain their children's behaviours or actions in any way that they see fit; then this very much implies that the state accepts that children have no liberty.

To a certain extent, this is true, in that parents are fairly free to control their children how they see fit. Obviously, with a parent free to loom over their children without any form of recourse, one could say that a child has no true liberty.

To this, however, I would counter with two points. Firstly, the state recognises that sometimes the parents of children cannot, or should limit the liberty of children. For example, in a number of US states; minors can be have an abortion, without first obtaining the parents consent.(8)

Moreover; there have been situations where parents had curtailed their children's liberty, specifically forcing children to attend camps and counselling that they did not want to; where this was used as a fundamental reason why the child in question should be emancipated. (9)

While there is a big different between being granted liberty on a the whim of a parent, and being awarded full liberty; one critical point to note, is that were an adult to push the removal of liberty such as speech, movement, or freedom of action; then this would most certainly constitute a form of emotional abuse. (10)

While not as free as adults, the state recognises the liberty of children, especially with regards to free speech. Far from being under the control or whim of parents or schools, children are protected by both the constitution and through laws that prevent the parents, who have been given guardianship of the child's liberty, to take this too far.

---- References ----
---- References ----

Debate Round No. 1


The concept of civil liberties, as I have previously stated, are all based on the U.S. constitution.
My opponent has made the claim that children do in fact have liberties, but they are constrained civil liberties.
The doctrine which we base our civil rights on states

"We the people of the United States of America…." (

This statement insists that the U.S. constitution applies to the people of the United States; however, when the constitution was originally formed slaves were not given the same liberties as their owners were, because they were not considered the definition of ‘People of the United States' under the constitution, but property. Women were also often denied these liberties under the same excuse.

Slavery was abolished, and the notion that people are property has been deemed as false. Women have been given the same liberties as they are now recognized as ‘People of the United States' in the constitution.

If the constitution applies to all people of America, therefore all Americans having equal liberties, one cannot be considered a Person of America if they are given constrained liberties. Let us look at some examples of historically when individuals were given constrained liberties.

In the 1940's, after the Japanese had attacked pearl harbor, the United States relocated hundreds of thousands of Japanese-Americans, by force, to internment camps.

Their properties were seized by the government unjustly, violating their civil liberty protection from unreasonable seizures of property. Some of the property seized included funds from banks, cameras, weapons and radios. ( )

Their privacy was taken away when they were housed in apartments which did not have sufficient walls that reached the ceiling, allowing neighboring apartments to overhear conversations. The Japanese-Americans had no choice in the matter because their apartments were assigned to them and they were not allowed to leave.
The Japanese-Americans, however, were allowed to retain their right to freedom of religion. They continued to attend church and practice their religions according to proper civil liberties.

( )

The civil liberties act of 1988 ( was a legal act which granted any surviving detainee of the Japanese-American Internment camps $20,000 in compensation. It acknowledged the unjustness and violation of civil liberties that the camp had demonstrated.

This is an example of which constrained civil liberties were granted to a group of individuals. All examples of constrained [or non-existent] civil liberties that I have been provided have in some way been revoked or proven to be inherently wrong in constitutional civil liberties context.

How is it possible then, that children, can have constrained civil liberties while still following true to the U.S. Constitution that claims that it's civil liberties apply to "We the People of America"?

We must assume, then, that like slaves and women once were, children are not included under the definition of ‘People of America' in the U.S. constitution.

The civil liberties of children are not allowed to be enforced by children. Minors may not file lawsuits; they must have Parent/Guardians do so for them. By this logic, Parents are the enforcers and holders of their children's civil liberties, and thus creates a paradox which must be addressed by my opponent. If children have civil liberties but they are constrained by laws as well as their parents, what occurs when it is the parents who are violating their civil liberties? If a parent refuses to allow a child to practice a religion of their own choosing, which is a civil liberty, and the parent also refuses to enforce the civil liberty of their child's civil liberties….can children truly ‘posses' civil liberties if they cannot be used in violations such as these?

I have proven in this response that

1.Constrained Liberties do not qualify as liberties; as the constitution states that it applies to the People of America, which dubs all Americans as holders of equal civil liberties.

2.Those who do not qualify under the definition of ‘People of America' in the constitution do not hold Civil Liberties and children do not qualify under the definition of ‘People of America', therefore they have no Civil Liberties.


Firstly; my sincere apologies for being a little late in my response; I have been rather busy at work and have not really had a great deal of time to dedicate to this!

To carry on....

There are three arguments being suggested here. The first is that somehow children are sub-persons; that the protections afforded by the US constitutions do not apply, or apply to a significantly lesser extent than they do to adults.

The second is that somehow restricted liberty is no liberty at all.

The third is that as parents, and schools have legal guardianship over their children, it is self-evident that children have no liberty.

To deal with the first; as I have shown in the previous round; it has been demonstrated that children most definitely have equal protection of liberty under the law to adults. This was demonstrated with In Re Gault mentioned earlier.

Japanese internment, woman's suffrage, and the treatment of blacks during the civil rights movement all fell fowl of the fourteenth amendment; a significant reasons such limitations on civil liberties were overturned, or acknowledge to be unconstitutional, is by invocation of both the Equal Protection and Due process clauses of the fourteenth amendment.(1)

This same equal protection and due process, with In re Gault(2), was shown to apply to children as well, meaning that the state cannot simply intern or lock up children on a whim, or restrict their liberties without following the same process that they would an adult.

Because of this legal ruling; I believe it is impossible to argue that the state somehow restricts or prevents children from having any liberty; simply for the fact it has been inherently stated in this ruling that this is not true.

For the second argument, if restricted liberty was not liberty; then not a single human being on this earth would have any liberty at all. Not a single person is truly free to act or behave as they so chose without restriction; such a system would constitute anarchy.

The state restricts freedoms and liberty significantly, through laws and rules; in place to prevent actions of one individual harming another.

Because of this, it is only possible to argue degrees of freedom. I would not have total liberty, yet I have more free than those in prison. If war were declared, I would not have as much liberty as I have now, but I would likely have more liberty than someone in, say, China.

My rebuttal to the final argument is quite complex; so I will break it down into several parts.

Firstly, as I will argue, children have almost as much liberty, the freedom to act and behave as they chose, as adults do. This is because there is a very real and significant difference between "consequences will occur if you act in a particular way," and "you will be compelled to act in a particular way."

At school, for example, take homework. What would really happen if you refused to do your homework? To start with, you may get a detention; if you do not go to detention, then you maybe excluded, or suspended from school. If you still do not do your homework, you may then get expelled.

This sounds like a gross infringement on liberty; as your behaviour is being constrained by the school; but in reality such constraints are no different from that of an adult in the same position.

For example, I have a job, I am very capable of refusing to do work I have been given. If I do this, I maybe given a caution, or disciplinary notice. If I still refuse, I may then get fired. This threat constraints my actions as a result, in the same way threats of detention, or suspension constrained my actions whilst at school. However, I in neither case would the child, or I be truly compelled to do the work.

In fact, I would posit that this to teachers, this is the most complicated and difficult type of behaviour to deal with; when a child acts as if there is nothing that a teacher can really do to constrain their behaviour.

Because of this; with regards to freedom to act without compelled constraint; such as forcibly being restrained, children have the same amounts of liberty at school as an adult does, with an exception. This exception is simply that it is a legal requirement that children go to school. If a child does not go to school, they can be legally compelled to attend. This is an example of a constrained liberty: Children are as free to act at school as adults are at work, except with regards to being free to leave.

That may sound a bit glib; but in reality; while there is a difference between forced by the state, and forced by circumstances; the reality is that I am forced, as are the majority of people, to work due to financial pressures.

The primary difference now, in terms of liberty for children and adults is that, much to his chargrin and lamentation, if I did not do the work I had been asked, my manager has no legal recourse to give me a spanking.

This constitutes a very real compulsion or constraint for children not being able to act as they feel. There is no due process in this regard; and is done solely on your parents "say-so."

Remember, however, that this physical compulsion has limits; parents do not have the right to beat their children indiscriminately; as doing so constitutes physical abuse. (3) While due-process with regards to liberty is somewhat delegated to parents by the state in this regard, there are legal balances to ensure that parents are not grossly unfair. For example, one of the original quotes I sourced concerning child emancipation was very much concerning parents enforcing their will on children unfairly; by forcing them to attend religious "conversion" camps to change their sexuality.(4)

The issue is that with parents, as with the state, children live within a set of rules. Breaking these, or exceeding their limits will result in punishment. It is in this aspect, primarily where children's liberty is far less than that of an adult.

Again, I would contend that these rules are not comprehensive; as you will not control every facet of your life; simply a framework within which you live; and as such constitute limited, or constrained liberty.

Debate Round No. 2


slant forfeited this round.


No single person, regardless of age, race, nationality or sex is truly free to act freely, according to their own desire. If so the world would be a very difficult place in which to live.

We are all, every one of us, constrained and controlled by laws that allow the state to remove our freedoms, or compel us to do things should we fall foul of them.

At home, at work, or at school; we are, in most cases, free to act how we chose, but ourselves constrain our actions to prevent the personal consequences of such actions. We know that while we could act a particular way, we do not because of what another party will do.

Indeed, this is the only real way in which society itself can operate.

Because of this, I beleive it is obvious that children have liberty although, as I have previously stated, in a more constrained form. While such constraints are always frustrating (and although I do not want to sound like a patronising adult) they are in no way severe enough to constitute no liberty at all; or even a harshly reduced freedom to act as you will.

There are three areas of life upon which we have argued, and would like to touch upon briefly.

Firstly, At school, my opponent has quoted a number of rulings in which school uniforms, and free speech in a school newspaper are constrained. Importantly, however the same would apply in a job; a lot of retail jobs require staff to where uniforms; and you would certainly be held accountable to company standards if you were asked to edit a corporate newsletter.

I have also responded with several key legal rulings in my previous arguments that show that far from having absolute control; the key freedoms of free speech and religion hold (1). I have gone further still, by stating that most schools cannot really force or compel pupils to do things any more or less than a corporation can force an employee; this is backed up by legislation in progress that effectively reduce physical intervention or seclusion of students unless there is an iminent danger of injury. (2)

With regards to what the state is allowed to do, I believe have shown that the state, while reducing the rights of children to do particular things; gives children the rights to liberty under the constitution, placing a key limitation to the ways in which the state can limit the freedom of children. Importantly, the due process ruling quoted gives children the state the same ability to infringe the liberty of children as it does adults.(3)

I think these examples fundamentally undercut my opponents argument that children are somehow not afforded any freedoms at school or by the state.

The final area to discus is that of the home. In this respect, children by far and away have the least amount of liberty. To a greater or lesser extent, parents have control over their children. I believe I have shown key circumstances that show that this control is not absolute; that at some points the liberty of the children takes precedence over the views of the parents.

However, it maybe worth thinking about exactly how parents control children's lives.

To a certain extent, parents act like the united states of Mom and Dad; (or as I recall from my childhood, but do not agree with now, the Democratic Peoples Republic of Mom and Dad).

The vast majority of parents require children to conform to a set of rules; much the same way as states lay down laws; obviously with a executive, legislative and judicial branch consisting of two people. To a greater or lesser extent children are free to act how they chose within these laws; generally without fear of reprisals. Obviously, the rules are far stricter than any state; for example, there are no senate resolutions concerning chronic flatulence at family gatherings; but nonetheless the principle is similar.

Children, more specifically older children, are generally allowed to go out, allowed to get a should they to chose. A significant minority are given, or allowed to earn an allowance (4), go to after school or extra curricular activities should they so wish. Over 75% of American teenagers aged 12-17 have a cell-phone; (5). Moreover, a growing number of children, over 75% for 14-17 year olds use the internet, and the latest census (2001) shows that 61% of 14-17 year olds and 51% of children who are 10-13 have access at home. (6)

What these facts show, is that while parents have control over what their children do; parents indeed grant their children an arguably a significant amount of liberty; and most certainly an amount of liberty that is vastly more than no liberty at all.

Because of what I have argued in these three area's, and more importantly the starting arguments of this round; I believe it is self evident that while children do not have the same liberty as adults, but most certainly have liberty and disproves not only the exact statement my opponent is arguing for, but the very core sentiment of it as well.

I would urge you all to vote CON.

-- References –

(6) (The internet section)
Debate Round No. 3
32 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by Ramshutu 7 years ago
Didn't help myself by forgetting which way I was arguing at the end! :(
Posted by RoyLatham 7 years ago
There are no unconstrained liberties in society, therefore the contention that constrained liberties are no liberties at all fails. Pro had good references establishing the liberties of children. Con's references to loses of liberties by some in past times is not relevant to the debate about the current state of liberties. Con loses conduct for the forfeit.
Posted by bss10506 7 years ago
Since Ramshutu said quote "this seems stupid" I will take off points of his debate and give to con-remember-act polite;you could lose points to rudeness!
Posted by lovelife 7 years ago
If it were to be natural there would be nothing barring them they would be as free as lion cubs.
Gah I have a bad way with words and can't explain myself right, but I'll try.

If a person were to be truely free then everything they are capable of is their right. Society itself infringes on everyone's rights/
Posted by wjmelements 7 years ago
Recognition and natural liberty are entirely independent.
Posted by lovelife 7 years ago
They are for legal rights and recognision tho.
Posted by wjmelements 7 years ago
Court decisions are no basis for the determination of natural rights.
Posted by slant 7 years ago

I have defined children as under the age of eighteen, though excluding unborn children (fetuses).
Posted by J.Kenyon 7 years ago
I'd take it, except:

a) It would be perfect for Reasoning.
b) I'm already in three debates.
Posted by RoyLatham 7 years ago
I'm surprised that this debate challenge has not been snapped up. Is it fair to state the resolution as: "Those under eighteen have rights which preclude them from being required to wear school uniforms."

I don't want to see the challenge expire, but it is important to know what the resolution is.
3 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
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Vote Placed by Atheism 7 years ago
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