Tinker v. Des Moines – student speaks, nation listens

by Mariah Hirsch, Staff Reporter

INDIANOLA, Iowa — Tinker v. Des Moines is a milestone case for the freedom of speech, especially in regard to young people in a public school setting. On Wednesday, Simpson College will welcome Mary Beth Tinker to campus as she delivers the annual Constitution Day Lecture.

In 1965, Tinker and a group of students, including her brother, decided to wear black armbands to their public Des Moines schools in protest of the Vietnam War. The students were suspended for failing to abide by the school dress code.

With the help of their parents, the students sued the school district for violating the students’ right of expression. The case was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court nearly three years later in November 1968. The Supreme Court decided that students do not lose their First Amendment rights when on school property unless the students’ actions are disruptive.

To this day, the Tinker test is used in courts to determine whether a school’s disciplinary actions violate the First Amendment rights of students.

Brian Steffen, department chair of communication and media studies at Simpson, initially invited Tinker to speak to the campus community after taking a class to listen to her 10 years ago.

“Somebody who was a young girl at the time really risked a lot because of her beliefs and her values, and she won. She gave every person here who ever attended a public school a right that they would not have had,” Steffen said.

Today, Tinker continues to educate young people about their rights, specifically in the areas of health and education. There are issues being debated in the current presidential election and around the world that affect everyone’s lives in some way and students are continually frustrated with the issues that are taking place.

“Students should come to this forum to learn more about someone who was on the forefront of youth activism and freedom of expression,” said political science major Olivia Anderson.

Anderson is familiar with Tinker v. Des Moines and is also looking forward to attending the event.

“A lot of students don’t feel like their voice matters; they feel like they can’t make a difference. But then you see this one student who decided to express her ideas, which eventually led to a Supreme Court case,” Anderson said. “A student from Iowa did this. This case is living proof that your voice matters.”

Tinker will speak in Hubbell Hall from 7-8 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.