Free speech advocate Mary Beth Tinker visited the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication today from 4-6 pm to tell her impassioned story of how as a young teen she fought for her right to freedom of speech and expression all the way up to the Supreme Court. Her visit was part of a larger campaign called the Tinker Tour, which seeks to educate students on their First Amendment rights. Through the organizing work of SOJC senior journalism student Alan Sylvestre, who co-founded the an informative web series Need2Know through the OR Media class, the tour was brought to the UO.
Tinker’s story demonstrates the importance of protecting students’ freedom of expression in public schools. It was 1965, and the United States was embroiled in a war with Vietnam. Des Moines, Iowa junior high school student Mary Beth Tinker, along with her brother and their friends, decided to peacefully protest the Vietnam War by wearing black armbands to class. She and four other students–including her brother–were punished with suspension by school administrators for their actions.
And the punishment didn’t stop there. Tinker’s family endured harassment by the public, receiving death threats for daring to stand up for their right to peacefully express their dissent.
The case was brought to the Supreme Court in 1969 in the case Tinker v.s. Des Moines Independent School District. In a historic move, the court ruled that First Amendment rights applied to public schools, and that neither students nor teachers “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” The Tinker Test, derived from this ruling, is still used in courts today to determine whether a school has violated students’ First Amendment rights.
Sylvestre has teamed up with Iowa State University student Logan Kahler to produce a documentary about the tour, using footage collected from this event and previous stops along the way, as well sit-down interviews with Tinker and Mike Hiestand, an attorney for the Student Press Law Center, which provides legal assistance to student journalists.