Tinker V. Des Moines: Does the first amendment protect everyone In 1969, Des Moines Iowa school districts, it was fine to wear the iron cross to support Nazis but it was not okay to wear arm bands to support stopping the Vietnam War. (“Tinker V. Des Moines” 3) When students wore the arm bands they were asked to go home and suspended from school. This set up the case for Tinker v. Des Moines independent school district, a case that would determine the right of free speech for students. This case can be better understood by studying the Des Moines independent schools, students and their policies, examining the decision of the court and, reflecting on how it has influenced society today. In this court case John F. tinker, fifteen years old, Christopher Eckhardt, sixteen years old, and Mary Beth Tinker, thirteen years old were involved. In December, 1965, a group of adults and students in Des Moines held a meeting at the Eckhardt home ( “Tinker v. Des Moines” 1) The group determined to publicize their objections to the hostilities in Vietnam and their support for a truce by wearing black armbands during the holiday season and by fasting on December 16 and New Year’s Eve.
Petitioners and their parents had previously engaged in similar activities, and they decided to participate in the program. Before Tinker v. Des Moines the opinions students could and couldn’t voice was decided on by the schools. This changed when three students, John Tinker, Mary Beth Tinker and, Christopher Eckhardt decided to voice their opinions on the Vietnam War by wearing black arm bands (“Tinker V. Des Moines”1). The School system demanded the students to take off their arm bands or they would be suspended. The students refused to take them off didn’t attend school till after their winter break (“Tinker v. Des Moines” 1). John Tinker’s father thought this was unfair that their children were singled out for wearing armbands while other students were allowed to wear other political symbols so he sent a complaint to the district court filed under Title 42 of the United States Code but the court dismissed it (“Tinker V. Des Moines” 2).
John Tinker’s father appealed and the courts recognized that wearing the armbands for showing opinion is within the first amendment and sent the case to the Supreme Court. In court it was ruled 7-2, school officials could not censor student political expression (Gale Student Edition 1) The courts recognized that what the kids were doing was pure speech and were probably only asked to take off the arm bands to avoid a controversy at the school even though the school claimed it was only clothing based. The justices agreed that “the problem does not relate to length of skirts or type of clothing just pure speech” (“Tinker v. Des Moines” 3). The school also claimed that they were concerned arm bands would cause a disturbance to the school and disrupt classes but only five students wore arm bands and there was no proof that the arm bands disrupted classes or caused any fights. The courts responded back with “mere concern is not enough to limit expression” (De Mitchell 1) and the school needed more reasons than the fact they didn’t like the arm bands. It was clearly obvious the school “sought to punish petitioners for silent passive expression of opinion” (“Tinker V. Des Moines” 3).
The main Justice in the court Justice Fortas took the students side and agreed that student should have constitutional rights as much as anyone. Justice Fortas said “‘It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional right to freedom of speech or expression at the school house gate’” (Sullivan 1294). It was agreed that first amendment rights are available students and teachers but not without limits. The constitution even said “‘Congress and the states may not abridge the right to free speech’” (“Tinker v. Des Moines” 4). Which mean schools can’t withdraw a student’s right. After making the decision courts emphasized that School authorities have the right to make school rules but no right to infringe a student’s right (De Mitchell 1). Justice Black disagreed with the decision completely stating “‘the purpose of school was to learn and that to advance that purpose, discipline must be maintained’” (“View Point” 2).
He thought that the students shouldn’t have the first amendment because school was for learning purposes solely and students should be told what to wear in public schools but was out voted in the decision by the other justices. The overall outcome of this case was that students have the right to voice their opinions but have exceptions. It made that students are persons with constitutional rights in and out of school. This case allowed also schools to determine the style and content “‘ of student speech in school sponsored expressive activities so long as their actions are reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns’” (Attanasio 625). This means that schools can put limits on what you wear if they think it’s a concern or could cause a problem. Chief Justice Fortas stated later in the case “‘so while students clearly don’t shed their constitutional rights at the gate, these rights are not without limits’” (De Mitchell 1). So students do have rights just with limits like everyone else. This issue is still relevant today of course.
One girl wore a t-shirt that said “drugs suck” and was asked to remove it. The courts ruled that the word sucked was too vulgar and that it was constitutional for the school to ask her to remove it (Are dress Codes a drag?). A lot of students have tried to say that their school dress code is unconstitutional for banning sagging pants and short skirts but the Supreme Court stated “Student speech that is indecent or profane is not entitled to constitutional protection.” (“Are Dress Codes a Drag?” 1) Dress code cases are still relevant today and Tinker v. Des Moines has influenced the decision of cases up to this very day. The case of Tinker V. Des Moines was a very important case and can be viewed as one the most important court cases to students. As one can see by learning about the Des Moines independent schools, analyzing the thought process of the courts and how they made their decision and, reflecting on how it affects students today. Tinker V. Des Moines is still a very relevant case and it has affected many students by the decision of giving students power to choose what to wear but with exceptions.