Dec. 16, 1965: Students Wear Armbands to Protest War; Win Rights in Landmark Case December 16, 2015

TinkerVDesMoines2On Dec. 16, 1965, a group of students—Christopher Eckhardt (16 years old), John F. Tinker (15 years old), Mary Beth Tinker (13 years old), Hope Tinker (11 years old), Paul Tinker (8 years old)—wore black armbands to school to protest the war in Vietnam. The school board got wind of the protest and passed a preemptive ban. When the students arrived at school on December 16, they were asked to remove the armband. When the students refused, they were sent home.

The students were suspended and told they could not return to school until they agreed to remove their armbands.

Represented by the ACLU, the students and their families embarked on a four-year court battle that culminated in the landmark Supreme Court decision: Tinker v. Des Moines. On February 24, 1969, the Court ruled 7-2 that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

The Court ruled that the First Amendment applied to public schools, and school officials could not censor student speech unless it disrupted the educational process. Because wearing a black armband was not disruptive, the Court held that the First Amendment protected the right of students to wear one. [Description by ACLU adapted here.]

Read an article by Mary Beth Tinker about the case, including the connection to Burnside v. Byars, a Mississippi case that set the precedence for Tinker v. Des Moines.

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