Tinkers Speak in Iowa for 50th Anniversay of Tinker v. Des Moines Schools

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- Mary Beth and John Tinker came back to where it all began to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Tinker vs. Des Moines Independent Community School District ruling.

In 1965, the Tinkers wore black armbands with peace signs on them to school to show their opinion against the Vietnam War, and the school board felt it was disruptive.

The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court where the court ruled in 1969 that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

John Tinker said that at the time they didn’t know how important the ruling would be for future students.

“It took a long time for us to realize how important the case was. As I said earlier, we were anti-war activists, and the war didn’t end for another 10 years after we wore the armbands, so we didn’t really solve that problem. We didn’t have a victory over that at the time, but the First Amendment victory is very important,” John Tinker said.

Students today now realize how much this decision affected their lives.

“Young people are at the very forefront of any political movement, so I think having this case solidify teenagers' rights to speak out about what they believe in has really influenced our government. Without this case, we wouldn’t have ever again, we wouldn’t have a lot of the movements that we have now,” Hoover High School student Isabelle Sullivan said.

Students at the event said the March for Our Lives movement is one that helped them to understand the importance of speaking out.

“We had this big group and we were all there in solidarity, believing in the same thing, walking for the same idea, for the same philosophy. And to me it just filled me up with like this is so cool that we get to do this in the United States, that we have this power as students [and] as citizens to get together and share our idea,” Sioux City West High School student Hiatt Holman said.

Mary Beth Tinker said that seeing young people speak up is truly democracy in action.

“Young people should have a voice, and I’m so glad to see them using their First Amendment rights [of] free speech, free press, freedom to assemble, petition, freedom of religion to make a difference in their lives and all of our lives,” Mary Beth Tinker said.

Mary Beth Tinker said her advice to students is to “find an issue you care about and find a few people that also care about that issue. Learn what’s already going on; maybe you can join in. And when you do, life becomes very interesting, meaningful and some days it’s even fun.”


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