Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
Throughout America’s history, laws have discriminated against various groups. Most of these laws have been repealed (via the 13th, 14th, 15th, 19th amendments, the civil rights act of 1965), but at least two groups have been left particularly far behind in the movements for equality throughout the past century: LGBT people and youth. Homosexuality was considered a mental illness until 1973, and many people’s lives were ruined when they were charged with engaging in homosexual acts. But fortunately for LGBT people, the push for equal rights is getting closer, seen in the headlines of our newspapers: The Supreme Court ruled sodomy laws unconstitutional in June, and the front runner for the Democratic nomination for president is the only governor to ever sign legislation granting homosexual couples the right to enter into civil unions. Youth, however, have been consistently left behind in almost every civil rights movement, and there are four types of laws that clearly show the inequalities that still exist.
Many cities in southeastern Michigan, including my hometown of Dearborn Heights, have curfew laws targeted at minors. These laws force minors to be off any public street from evening until morning.
Curfews have been around for centuries, first enacted by upper-class societies to discriminate against those of lower classes. It was assumed the lower classes committed more crime, and by forcing them to be in at a certain time the crime rate would go down. This is a dangerous practice, because it stereotypes large groups of people. More recently curfew laws were rampant throughout southern states to keep blacks out of the public eye for similar reasons.
Fast forward to now, and the same laws are being applied to youth. It is insulting to treat young people as second-class citizens by forcing them out of the public eye. It is also illogical to assume youth crime goes down because of curfews, since the majority of youth crime occurs in daytime.
“Age of Consent” Laws
Because minors are essentially the property of their parents or guardians until the magic age of 18, many are treated horribly and denied the ability to live an independent life because of the structure of society. Something as arbitrary as age dictates these young people’s ability to get jobs, rent apartments, drive automobiles, etc. Short of emancipation, a long and expensive legal process, there are few ways for minors to escape the reign of their parents.
Just because of a person’s age, people are denied the ability to engage in the most basic freedoms of society. Laws preventing minors from entering into contracts and engaging in sexual behavior with older parties are clear violations of the liberties guaranteed to the people of this country. All 50 states have laws regarding “the age of consent,” which criminalize behavior between consenting minors and adults who engage in sexual activity. In six states these laws call for a harsher punishment if the parties are of the same sex, as is the case with Matthew Limon. Shortly after turning 18 he was caught engaging in consensual oral sex with someone who was nearly 15 years old. He is now serving 17 years in prison, a sentence that would have only been 13-15 months had the act been heterosexual. (He is being defended by the ACLU, and the case is under review.)
Punishing the behavior of two consenting people is ludicrous, and strikingly similar to the laws against sodomy the Supreme Court recently struck down. So long as two individuals are willing participants in an act, that act should not be criminal.
The Drinking/Smoking Age
Like laws between two consenting individuals, these laws break another important fabric of society: laws against what one individual does with their own body. For the government to tell someone that they cannot put a substance in their body, no matter what their age, is completely unacceptable. The effects the substance may have are completely irrelevant; the decision of a person to have a shot of vodka should not be regulated by the government any more than the decision of a person to have a glass of orange juice. After all, if we do not own our bodies without government intervention, what do we own?
The Voting Age
It is no mistake I saved this topic for last. The most insulting atrocity against youth today is the fact that they cannot vote. Voting is a benchmark of democracy, and a key form of political participation for the citizenry. To deny a group the right to vote is to deny them representation in government, which is an ironic practice in a government that prides itself upon “representative democracy.”
Throughout history groups have been denied the right to vote because of the simplest things, like one’s gender or race. These insane barricades were knocked down years ago, with the conclusion of the civil war and the women’s suffrage movement. But still there is a group that is being denied this basic right: everyone under the age of 18.
The only way to make a change in government is to elect different officials. This means if youth are unhappy with the state of affairs, they have no way of directly influencing their change. Many say write your elected officials (which I do on a regular basis) but those official’s are just that: elected. Therefore they have little incentive in paying attention to someone who cannot vote. One of this country’s battle cry’s on the brink of revolution was “no taxation without representation.” I say the new battle cry for this country’s unrepresented people should be “no legislation without representation.”
While the current state of affairs for youth may be dim, there is a lot that can be done to change it. The first is to, as mentioned earlier, write your elected officials. Tell them you feel laws directed at a group because of their age are unfair, and unconstitutional. While they may ignore the opinions of youth because of their inability to get them re-elected, they will always respond to you at least in a form letter. And if they get enough correspondence on an issue, they can no longer ignore it.
The next step is to vote when you can. The reason other movements have succeeded while ours has failed is because unlike women and ethnic minorities, youth outgrow the group that is discriminated against. While many people say how unfair it is to be young, once they are 18 they no longer care because they have the freedoms of adulthood. Do not forget about the discrimination you have suffered. This movement needs to be one of all ages, and cannot end at 18.
There are organizations out there that are active in youth rights issues like the National Youth Rights Association (www.youthrights.org) and the American Civil Liberties Union (www.aclumich.org). You can join them both for a small fee.
Yours in Liberty,