It in America, but does this right

It is no question that the freedom of speech is the most valuable right in America, but does this right apply to children in school as well? In Tinker v Des Moines, one of the most paramount cases regarding freedom of expression, 3 students of the Des Moines school in Iowa decided to wear black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War. In 1965, a group of students from Des Moines along with some parents held a meeting to figure out a way in which they would protest the Vietnam war and eventually decided to wear an armband and fast on December 16 and New Years Eve. When school officials had learned of their plan, they created a policy on December 14 stating that any student who wore an armband would be asked to remove it, and refusal to do so would result in suspension. On the 16th of December, despite this policy, Mary Tinker, John Tinker, Christopher Eckhardt wore their armbands to school and when they refused to remove them, they were sent home and did not return until after New Year’s Day.  During their suspension, the student’s sued the school through their parents for their infringement of the children’s freedom of expression and sought an injunction at the Federal District Court. The court, however, dismissed the case, forcing them to take their case to the Supreme Court. The case was argued on November 12th, 1968 and the question before the court was, does a prohibition against the wearing of armbands in public school, as a form of symbolic protest, violate the students’ freedom of speech protections guaranteed by the First Amendment? On February 24, 1969 the court ruled in a 7-2 decision in favor of the Tinkers and Christopher Eckhardt. This case was rightfully decided because students have the right to express their opinions in school and the wearing of armbands did not interfere with the school’s educational process.   The first amendment clearly states that individuals cannot be prohibited from or punished for exercising their free speech rights. Although these rights were presumed to apply to everyone, they seemed to lack in public schools. Although public school students had some first amendment rights in schools, they certainly didn’t possess as much rights as adults did in the real world. Students’ rights were constantly being violated and suppressed by administration in public schools whether it was the censorship of their newspapers or suspension for inappropriate language. Even if school administrators don’t necessarily agree with what students have to say, it is undoubtedly unjust for them to penalize students for it. As Justice Abe Fortas famously stated, “It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate …”. Simply put, students and teachers don’t lose their rights as soon as they enter school property and should be allowed to express their opinions, even if it is politically unpopular. Students have a constitutional right to be able express their ideas and beliefs in the manner that they choose, as long as they don’t interfere with other students’ educations. The suspension of Mary Tinker, John Tinker, and Christopher Eckhardt was a violation of their rights because the wearing of their armbands was a form of symbolic speech. Granted the time period was very different and there was an immense amount of controversy surrounding the Vietnam War, however, school officials have no right to censor students solely based on whether they agree with the students’ opinions.     Furthermore, there is only one exception in which school officials have the right to censor their speech and that is if they are disrupting the school’s educational process. Tinker v Des Moines had set a standard “disruption test” for other schools to check whether the school had a right to place limits on a student’s freedom of speech. In the majority opinion it stated ” In order to justify the suppression of speech, the school officials must be able to prove that the conduct in question would materially and substantially interfere with the operation of the school.” In this case, because all 3 students were merely wearing armbands, the wearing of the armbands were merely a passive expression of an opinion and there was no disorder caused by the armbands.         Therefore, the school district’s policy stemmed from fear of possible interference rather than an actual disruption.       On the contrary, Justice Hugo Black argued that the First Amendment doesn’t protect the right to express one’s opinion at any given time and the Tinkers’ behaviour was indeed disruptive. However, there was no evidence that the students actually spoke or protested during their class time. They never disrupted classwork nor interfere with the classroom environment by simply wearing the armband. Additionally, Black argued that the First Amendment doesn’t protect the right to express an opinion. However, the First Amendment guarantees our right to free expression and free association, which means that the government does not have the right to forbid us from saying what we like and writing what we like. In separate dissent, Justice M. Harlan argued that school officials should be afforded wide authority to maintain order unless their actions can be proven to stem from a motivation other than a legitimate school interest. Despite the fact the school implemented their policy with good intent, it is unfair where that they only banned armbands and not other political symbols.       In summation, the supreme court case of Tinker v Des Moines was rightfully decided because students deserve the same constitutional rights as adults outside of school and because they never violated any school regulation. The school violated the students’ free speech rights through their implementation of their armband banning policy. School authorities shouldn’t have the right to ban forms of speech if it doesn’t interfere with the school learning process. Therefore, the decision made in Tinker v Des Moines is correct.    

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