Our view: 40 years after Tinker

Mary Beth Tinker was only a 13-year-old junior high school student when she and a group of students had the courage and tenacity to wear black armbands to protest the atrocities of the Vietnam War.

School administrators ultimately suspended the students after banning the arm bands. Eventually, this case made its way to the Supreme Court.

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District court ruling that stated students’ speech is in fact protected. The Court held that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

Though this decision was passed down 40 years ago, its importance has not diminished one bit. Just ask yourself this question: How could your experience in high school – or even college – have been affected if Tinker and the other students simply removed the arm bands?

Would you have been able to tell your teachers you disagreed with their political views?

Would you have been allowed to write a letter to the school paper advocating an unpopular opinion?

A student’s right to free speech plays an important role in the educational process. After all, First Amendment education is necessary for all citizens in the effort of advancing the core values of democracy. A sound democracy is advanced by discussion – and you can’t have a discussion without free speech.

Since the Tinker decision, more limitations have been placed on student speech rights. There are cases making their way through the legal system even today about what administrators can or cannot censor.

This is why it’s more important than ever for us all to act like Tinker did. Even if we disagree with the speech in question, that is never grounds for censorship. Opposing viewpoints are what drive this country. They should be embraced.

Free speech is not a privilege handed down by our Founding Fathers. It is a right – a right we cannot ignore. It’s worth defending and advancing. Young people should be raised with an appreciation of the First Amendment. We should embrace our right to speak out.

So, here’s to you, Mary Beth Tinker. Although the battle is far from over, we have plenty to thank you for.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.