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#TBT: Tinker v. Des Moines

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The Vietnam War was a difficult time in United States history with scores of citizens who were against the war and protests to that effect as well. One such protest was carried out by junior high students in Des Moines and it went down in history as a protest that set a precedent in the Supreme Court .

In December 1965, a group of students in the junior high  public school system of Des Moines, decided to wear black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War. The school’s principle found out about the impending protest and prohibited the armbands. The students, one of whom was Mary Beth Tinker, wore the armbands even though they had been prohibited and were promptly suspended from the school district. The parents of some of the suspended children sued the school district for impeding on the students’ right to free speech guaranteed in the First Amendment. The school district argued that the students were in violation of the rules which were put in place to prevent any disruptions in the learning process. The U.S. district courts sided with the Des Moines school district, as did the Appeals Court. The parents of the school children then took their case to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court sided with the school children and claimed that a student’s right to free speech and freedom of expression is not thrown out the door once they enter the school premises. They are permitted to their freedom of expression provided, it does not disrupt the school proceedings and the learning process of the other students. The black armbands that Tinker and the other students wore did not cause such disturbance.

Even today, Mary Beth Tinker travels around schools and explains constitutional rights to student groups around the country. She is also involved in initiatives for constitutional law and juvenile justice.

The importance of fostering free speech and a political expression in schools is especially important because it gives students a feeling of inclusion in the system and the idea that their voice matters. It is also important to allow different views in schools to foster a tolerance for all kinds of views in the minds of young people. They should be taught to voice their views and respect others’ views even if they do not necessarily agree with them. Healthy debate in a monitored environment should be encouraged and not banned.



"Tinker v. Des Moines (393 U.S. 503, 1969)." American Civil Liberties Union. American Civil Liberties Union, 16 Mar. 2007. Web. 13 July 2014. .

"Tinker v. Des Moines Podcast." USCOURTSGOV RSS. Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts on behalf of the Federal Judiciary, Web. 15 July 2014. .


Joseph M. Ghabour
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