The Schoolhouse Gates
In late 1965, a 13-year-old student named Mary Beth Tinker wore a black armband to Warren Harding Junior High School in Des Moines, Iowa, to support a truce in the Vietnam war. The school suspended Mary Beth Tinker for violating a a policy the district had enacted to forbid just such protests. Through her parents, Mary sued the school. Tinker v. Des Moines made its way to the Supreme Court. The Court held that the school violated the students’ First Amendment rights by prohibiting armbands without sufficient evidence that they substantially disrupted the regular operation of the school. But in the years since this landmark case, the Supreme Court has sided more and more with a school’s right to restrict or punish speech.
Host Ken White dives into the Tinker v. Des Moines case and how it has impacted freedom of speech for students on campuses today. While Mary Beth Tinker’s rights were upheld, many plaintiffs in First Amendment cases today have faced less sympathetic courts. Ken and his guests discuss the cultural and historic factors that have led to that retreat.
The episode features the thoughts and perspective of Mary Beth Tinker herself, who remains an activist for student free speech. Ken also interviews Frank LoMonte, a professor of journalism and the recent head of the Student Press Law Center, an advocacy group that helps protect the rights of high school and college journalists.