Students’ First Amendment Rights Taken Away

Is it legal for a school to take free speech rights to uphold discipline?

When three students in a high school in Des Moines, Iowa met up to plan a petition they never imagined their right of free speech would be violated, they would be suspended, and would end up suing the school district.

On December 1965 a group of Des Moines high school students held a meeting in the household of 16- year-old Christopher Eckhardt. Following their parents footsteps, they planned to publicly display their support of a truce in the Vietnam war by wearing black armbands to school and fasting on December 16 and New Years Eve.

Upon hearing this information the principal of the high school met up on December 14, 1965 to create a policy that stated anyone who wore an armband would be asked to take it off and refusal to do so would result in suspension. Despite hearing of the suspensions, Mary Beth and Christopher wore their bands to school. John Tinker wore his the next day in support. Incidentally on December 16, they were sent home with suspension until they would come back without their armbands.

Continuing their protest, the students did not return until after the holidays, the same time they had planned to end the protest. Through their parents, Mary Beth Tinker and her brother John F. Tinker sued the school district. The case was argued from November 12, 1968 until the court came to a final decision in February 24, 1969.

The court ruled in favor of the students, claiming by wearing the armband they were passive and quiet. In addition to that, they ruled that both teacher and students have a right of free speech and prohibition against expression of opinion is not permissible under the First Amendment.

This case has helped students all over the world to be able to practice free speech. Let’s hope students’ rights will not be invaded once more.