WASHINGTON, D.C. Mary Beth Tinker, First Amendment advocate and former plaintiff in a landmark Supreme Court case that still affects students speech rights 50 years later, told her story to hundreds of high school journalism students visiting the nations capital on Nov. 22 encouraging them to be caring, and use their free speech rights to talk about important issues.
Long before she was known as a First Amendment hero to students, Tinker was a young girl from Iowa sitting at home watching the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement play out on television.
In a speech to high schoolers and advisers attending the National High School Journalism Convention, Tinker said those images shocked her. Tinkers father was a Methodist minister, and she was raised to always care for others while acting on the themes of peace and love.
It was Christmas time, and Christmas is all about peace and love; and my dad would read to us from the Bible the story of peace and love and the little baby in the manger and when we looked on the news, we didnt see peace and love, she said. We saw war, war, war.
As a child, she saw young people on the news marching for civil rights in Birmingham, Alabama as part of the Childrens Crusade. The Civil Rights Movement also introduced her to the use of black armbands as a symbol of mourning and a form of silent protest. Later, she was inspired by the military members who began to speak out against the Vietnam War.
So a 13-year-old Tinker joined her brother John, friend Chris Eckhardt, and a few other students in wearing black armbands to school in protest ofthe Vietnam War.
The students were suspended. Soon after, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a First Amendment suit against the school district on their behalf.
Both the district and appeals court ruled against Tinker, her brother and Eckhardt, before the case went before the Supreme Court. The Court reversed the lower courts decisions, and today, Tinker v. Des Moines is the cornerstone for basic protections of free expression by students in public schools.
The Tinker case created a standard for student journalists that protects their First Amendment rights as long as the speech does not cause a significant disruption in a school setting.
But in 1988, the Supreme Court ruled in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, that public schools could lawfully censor students for any reason reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.
The Hazelwood ruling is now cited in most school districts as a standard for censoring student speech. But New Voices laws have been passed in 14 states, restoring the Tinker standard.
Tinker worked as a nurse for most of her adult life. But she left her medical career because she couldnt believe how little the world cared about the opinions of young people.
There are so many ways that young people are disrespected in our society, and the status of young people is not what it should be, she said.
Student journalists play a critical role in recognizing and amplifying the voices of marginalized students, she said. She also said students lucky enough to have a journalism program must advocate for those who dont.
The students that are higher income, that have more white kids in the school; theyre probably going to have journalism, she said. They might even have broadcast journalism.
Because as you come down the income level, theres a sliding scale to the free press, she added. You dont have the free press at many, many schools in the United States.
There are dozens of high schools in the Washington, D.C. area, Tinker said, but only a handful have journalism programs. She said students at Woodrow Wilson High School, who have a well-funded journalism program, cared enough to share some of its resources with another local school, so they could start speaking out.
its important for you to cover issues that are going on in other schools, and to open your eyes outside of just your own school, and your own neighborhoods and your own communities, she said.
Caring. Its at the heart of nursing, she said, and I want it to be at the heart of your lives as well. Because caring about whats going on in the world and paying attention, especially as journalists, is so important.
In 2013 after Tinker left her nursing job, she and SPLC Senior Legal Counsel Mike Hiestand began the Tinker Tour, traveling across the country through 2014, visiting schools to speak about First Amendment rights.
Tinker said she learned during her school visits that racism is still at the heart of the issues we need to work on. She spoke about schools with racist graffiti, and nooses and other racist symbols being used.
Tinker said it is as important for young people to speak up about these issues today as it was in 1964.
Were seeing more and more of these kinds of things, and thats why we need to call it what it is white nationalism, white supremacy, she said.
Tinker at the Newseum
The day before this speech, the Student Press Law Center led more than 80 students on a tour of the Supreme Court, and then brought them to the Newseum, where Tinker surprised the students. Tinkers black armband is on display on the fourth floor of the Newseum.
Tinker asked students about the problems persisting in their schools and encouraged them to cover those issues. She later posed for pictures in front of the armband, which is still glued to a homework assignment Tinker completed after the incident.
The assignment was on the subject of what did you do over Christmas break? Tinker and the other students were suspended on Dec. 16, 1965. Much of her break, she said, was spent dealing with the case.
SPLC reporter Joe Severino can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 202-974-6318. Follow him on Twitter at @jj_severino
Want more stories like this? The Student Press Law Center is a legal and educational nonprofit defending the rights of student journalists. Sign up for weekly email newsletter.
- First Amendment on the street | Opinion | dailyitem.com - Sunbury Daily Item - June 30th, 2020
- Taking a cellphone video of police? Theres a First Amendment for that - Seattle Times - June 30th, 2020
- First Amendment Bars California from Requiring a Proposition 65 Glyphosate Warning - JD Supra - June 30th, 2020
- Read the First Amendment | Letters To The Editor - The Central Virginian - June 30th, 2020
- First Amendment right to protest is in jeopardy in Jacksonville - The Florida Times-Union - June 30th, 2020
- Pence says First Amendment is why Trump campaign held Tulsa rally despite local health officials' warnings - Yahoo News - June 30th, 2020
- Supreme Court hands win to religious schools | TheHill - The Hill - June 30th, 2020
- Letter to the Editor: Remember and Defend the First Amendment - Dana Point Times - June 20th, 2020
- Another look at the First Amendment | Opinion - Franklin News Post - June 20th, 2020
- Death threats protected by First Amendment, attorney says - Alpena News - June 20th, 2020
- Really Pathetic: First Amendment Expert Torches DOJ Efforts to Stop John Bolton Book - Law & Crime - June 20th, 2020
- The First Amendment protects attorneys from compelled speech | TheHill - The Hill - June 17th, 2020
- Protesters are protected by the First Amendment and will not be cited any violations if they remain peaceful - WATN - Local 24 - June 17th, 2020
- Dear Journal: That's some amendment, that First Amendment; let's use it - The Daily World - June 17th, 2020
- Barr Threatens Suit To Stop Boltons Book Because The First Amendment Is, Like, More Of A Suggestion Really - Above the Law - June 17th, 2020
- NASCAR tossed out First Amendment and more letters to the editors - Chattanooga Times Free Press - June 17th, 2020
- Snap's decision to restrict Trump is within its First Amendment rights, CEO says - CNBC - June 17th, 2020
- First Amendment rights? Only for the Left - Must Read Alaska - June 17th, 2020
- "Vocational Training Is Speech Protected by the First Amendment" - Reason - June 17th, 2020
- A North Carolina professor who sparked outrage with his tweets still has his job. Why? It's called the First Amendment. - USA TODAY - June 17th, 2020
- Opinion: 1st Amendment rights apparently only apply to the left - Juneau Empire - June 17th, 2020
- If you're planning to take part in protests, know your rights. Read this. - CNN - June 17th, 2020
- Opinion: Trump's Antifa crackdown treads on First Amendment - The Detroit News - June 17th, 2020
- First Amendment Rights and Twitter, Encryption Backdoors - Security Boulevard - June 1st, 2020
- Arrest of CNN Crew in Minneapolis a 'Violation of First Amendment' - Voice of America - June 1st, 2020
- Trump, Twitter and the First Amendment - The New York Times - June 1st, 2020
- First Amendment Group Opposes Webinars On Toll Roads - WUSF News - June 1st, 2020
- ACLU issues warning to police to protect First Amendment rights of protesters - KATC Lafayette News - June 1st, 2020
- Federal, California and Local Law Enforcement's Statement on the Death of George Floyd and Riots Says They Will Continue to Work Together to Protect... - June 1st, 2020
- First Amendment Legal Expert Floyd Abrams on Trump's Chilling Executive Order Designed to Kill Free Speech - Showbiz411 - June 1st, 2020
- DC mayor institutes curfew and urges calm after weekend of unrest - KEYT - June 1st, 2020
- Open season on the free press: Journalists targeted in attacks as U.S. protests rage - Reuters - June 1st, 2020
- RCFP condemns attacks against journalists covering protests - Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press - June 1st, 2020
- Day 3 of protests in Portland, Oregon over death of George Floyd - KGW.com - June 1st, 2020
- As Waves of Protest Surge Across America - The New York Times - June 1st, 2020
- Trump Executive Order Violates the First Amendment - SF Bay Area Indymedia - June 1st, 2020
- DC mayor urges calm after protests nearby the White House occur for second consecutive night - CNN International - June 1st, 2020
- Man with bow is expected to be charged; Salt Lake City chief decries officer who knocked down elderly man with a cane - Salt Lake Tribune - June 1st, 2020
- Trump Executive Order Misreads Key Law Promoting Free Expression Online and Violates the First Amendment - EFF - May 29th, 2020
- Content Moderation, Section 230, and The First Amendment - AAF - American Action Forum - May 29th, 2020
- Times Union takes First Amendment and Journalist of the Year, 11 other awards in statewide contest - Times Union - May 29th, 2020
- First Amendment May Protect Use of Trademarks As Artistic Expression - JD Supra - May 29th, 2020
- Strictly Legal: Is Fox News entitled to First Amendment protection? - The Cincinnati Enquirer - May 29th, 2020
- Facebook Keeps Touting The First Amendment To Justify Its Content Policies - AdExchanger - May 29th, 2020
- Trump vs. Twitter | Editorials | gjsentinel.com - The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel - May 29th, 2020
- Churches respond to COVID-19, First Amendment ruling - Morganton News Herald - May 29th, 2020
- 'The First Amendment is very clear': Sheriff's Office won't break up religious services for 'NY on PAUSE' violations - The Livingston County News - May 29th, 2020
- RCFP statement on Trump's social media executive order - Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press - May 29th, 2020
- WashU Expert: Trump attacks on Twitter betray free speech principles - Washington University in St. Louis Newsroom - May 29th, 2020
- Reexamining the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act | Morgan Lewis - Tech & Sourcing - JD Supra - May 29th, 2020
- Going to the dogs: the Ninth Circuit's erosion of trademark rights exclusive guest post - World Trademark Review - May 29th, 2020
- First Amendment Lawyer Dismisses Trumps Claim That Twitter Is Stifling Free Speech: He Doesnt Want Critics to Have a Chance to Respond - Mediaite - May 29th, 2020
- Liberals Have Rediscovered the 10th Amendment's Value During the Coronavirus Pandemic - Reason - May 29th, 2020
- Former DNC chair Donna Brazile claims 'theres no First Amendment right to lie. Her co-hosts on The Five erupt in mockery. - TheBlaze - May 29th, 2020
- Supreme Court: Clarence Thomas calls for shrinking the First Amendment - Vox.com - May 14th, 2020
- What words make up a true threat? Well, that depends - The Mercury - May 14th, 2020
- Onslow Sheriffs department will not interfere with indoor church services - Jacksonville Daily News - May 14th, 2020
- Religious freedom is under threat in the courtroom - UPI.com - May 14th, 2020
- Neuberger Demands That Carney Lift Restrictions On Worshipping Now - First State Update - May 14th, 2020
- The First Amendment To the Constitution of The United States of America - The Suburban Times - May 11th, 2020
- Exposing Russian information operations does not violate the First Amendment | TheHill - The Hill - May 11th, 2020
- The Supreme Court Could Use the First Amendment to Unleash a Robocall Nightmare - The Atlantic - May 11th, 2020
- Divorcing couples have First Amendment right to disparage each other on social media, SJC rules - The Boston Globe - May 11th, 2020
- The Price of the First Amendment "Is That We Must Put Up With a Good Deal of Rubbish" - Reason - May 11th, 2020
- Societe Generale: Availability of the first amendment to the 2020 Universal Registration Document - GlobeNewswire - May 11th, 2020
- Governors Can't Suspend the First Amendment - Daily Signal - May 11th, 2020
- Houston strip club allowed to open, but without dancers - KHOU.com - May 11th, 2020
- Lawsuit filed against Marco Island alleges first amendment violation - Marco News - May 4th, 2020
- First amendment rights should not be suppressed, even during pandemic The News Journal - The News Journal - May 4th, 2020
- Urgent Care Doctor Silenced By Youtube Says His First Amendment Rights Have Been Attacked - Sara A. Carter - May 4th, 2020
- 'ReOpen NC' Founder Has COVID-19, Says It Is Her First Amendment Right To Infect Others - Wonkette - May 4th, 2020
- A tale of two universities and one First Amendment - OneNewsNow - May 4th, 2020
- The Trump campaign's frivolous lawsuits are next-level threats to the First Amendment - Business Insider - Business Insider - April 18th, 2020
- New podcast: Who-da thunk it? Drive-in churches are First Amendment battlegrounds - GetReligion - April 18th, 2020
- Students Don't "Shed Their Freedom of Speech at the Schoolhouse Gate" - Reason - April 18th, 2020
- Teenager Who Shared Coronavirus Infection on Instagram Threatened With Arrest By Police, Lawsuit Says - Newsweek - April 18th, 2020
- Tea Party president says he was threatened with arrest for planning protest on Newton Green - New Jersey Herald - April 18th, 2020
- Legal expert: Trumps liberate Tweets incite insurrection and thats illegal - AlterNet - April 18th, 2020
- Lawmakers say Walz order is a violation of The First Amendment - KWLM (Willmar Radio) - April 18th, 2020
- With the public's need to know greater than ever, the D&C fights for info on outbreak - Democrat & Chronicle - April 18th, 2020