Tinker v. Des Moines

Summary: Two students, John and Mary Beth Tinker, wore black arm bands to their school in protest of the Vietnam War. The school policy was that students were not allowed to wear the black arm bands. They were asked to remove their arm bands but they refused to do so, leading to suspension from school. Their father sued the school district asking for money for damages and a ruling that school officials refrain from enforcing the no arm band policy. The District Court recognized the students' 1st Amendment right of free speech, but would not issue the injunction the father asked for.

The Tinkers appealed their case to the Court of Appeals, where the vote was tied-allowing the District Court verdict to stand. They then appealed to the Supreme Court. The fundamental question of the case was: Do the 1st Amendment rights of free speech extend to symbolic speech by students in public schools? If so, when is symbolic speech protected?

In 1968, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case and consider the constitutionality of the Des Moines principals' no arm band policy. The decision was handed down in 1969. In a 7-2 decision, the Court ruled in favor of the Tinkers.

Amendments involved: First Amendment- right to free speech

Effects of the ruling: The Court ruled that students are allowed to exercise their constitutional rights, even when they are in a public school. In order to regulate student expression, school officials must provide a constitutionally valid reason to do so. School officials must show that the expression would cause a “material and substantial disruption” with the discipline and educational function of the school.

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