You saw them on the front page of the newspaper. You heard them on the 6 o’clock news. You read their rants on social media. They disrupted the work of the General Assembly. Members of the N.C. House and Senate complained they could barely hear each other debate the special session bills over the chanting and shouting. After repeated warnings and ongoing refusal to comply with the rules of the General Assembly, law enforcement and security officers were called in. As they got out of control, the galleries were emptied and locked, denying people who work at the General Assembly the access they need to do their jobs.

Protesters. They claimed they were just exercising freedom of speech. They shouted insults and curse words. They banged on walls and doors. They carried signs with obscenities. They ignored the rules. Dozens were arrested. They took to social media and demeaned anyone who disagreed with them. They trampled over the rights of others. Even the rights of kids.

There were 395 N.C. school children who were scheduled to visit the General Assembly Thursday and Friday. Kids from Halifax County, Wayne County, and Roanoke Rapids traveled to Raleigh to see how their state government works. But when they arrived, the protesters had created a big, ugly mess. The adults came into the building, walked around, and quickly determined that the protesters had created an environment that was not safe for adults, much less for children. The kids were turned away, deprived of an educational and civic experience they had been looking forward to for months. Money to provide transportation to bring the kids to Raleigh? Wasted. The experience of seeing how our representative state government works? Denied to hundreds of N.C. school kids.

They could have seen a peaceful, respectful demonstration of dissent. Instead they saw a mob of lawbreakers disrespecting the institution, insulting elected officials, and making a mockery of freedom of speech. What a lesson for these kids. What a shame.