Limitations On Student Freedom: Tinker V. Des Moines Independent School District (1969)

1998 words - 8 pages

Freedom. The concept upon which the United States was founded. When people consider the Unites States of America, they think of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of expression. Yet, how much freedom do Americans really have? In Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District, three students fought for their right to express their opinion on a current political issue– the Vietnam War. The students claimed that their actions had not caused any disturbances in the academic environment and “sued the school district for violating [their] right of expression” (“Tinker v. Des Moines,” American History). To fully comprehend the issue of freedom of speech in schools, as it is addressed in Tinker v. Des Moines, one must grasp the issues involved in free speech as well as the social controversy over the Vietnam War and the background of the case, be able to analyze the opposing arguments of the topic, and become aware of the effects of Tinker v. Des Moines on more recent cases and how free speech is approached by schools.
One important component in the understanding of Tinker v. Des Moines is having a solid background to build the story on such as knowing the political and social issues at the time. Throughout the 1960’s, the United States was involved in the Vietnam War; over this involvement, much controversy brewed amongst Americans (Overy 430-431). After seeing clips of their wounded troops in Vietnam, many Americans shifted their opinions against the war; as Richard Overy, a professor of history, writes: “[t]he Vietnam War was opposed by increasing numbers of Americans who did not see why their troops were fighting a war with no just cause.” (Overy 431). Many different protests and campaigns broke out as a result of controversy, one of which was a march that occurred in Washington D.C. a mere month before any issue with the Tinkers arose (“Tinker v. Des Moines,” Oyez). The political and social issues associated with the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War are essential to the foundation of Tinker v. Des Moines, without the dispute and conflict amongst Americans, the children would have no reason to have worn the black armbands.
Another important component of Tinker v. Des Moines are the issues involved with freedom of speech in schools. Tinker v. Des Moines was one of the first cases to address student speech on such a large scale. The only previous cases included Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier and Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser in both of which the court “rejected the students’ First Amendment claims and sided with the schools” (Chemerinsky 528). The First Amendment itself states that “[c]ongress shall make no law […] abridging the freedom of speech” which implies that Americans’ rights to freedom of speech and expression are protected from government interference (qtd. in “First Amendment”). Under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court demands First Amendment...

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