September 12, 2014

First Amendment Advocate Mary Beth Tinker

Mary Beth Tinker

Marcia Franklin interviews Mary Beth Tinker, one of the lead plaintiffs in a landmark Supreme Court lawsuit, Tinker v. Des Moines (1969), that defined free speech rights for students. The 'Tinker Test' is still used today to determine whether a student action at school is protected by the First Amendment.

In 1965, Tinker and her brother, along with other students, were suspended after wearing black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam War. They sued, and in its eventual decision supporting the students, the Supreme Court ruled that their protest was protected by the First Amendment because it was not disruptive.

In a now-famous opinion, Justice Abe Fortas wrote that neither students nor teachers "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate."

Franklin talks with Tinker about what led up to the case, what it was like to win, and why Tinker, who became a nurse, is still so actively involved in students' rights. They discuss her "Tinker Tour," initially launched in 2013, which aims to bring civics to life by sharing stories of contemporary students who are keeping the First Amendment alive. Franklin and Tinker also discuss what Tinker believes are current threats to free speech for students.