Tinker Vs Des Moines, 1969 Number

TinkerVs Des Moines, 1969


TinkerVs Des Moines, 1969

Tinkerv. Des Moines independent community school district has over timeremained as one of the key important cases to be handled by theSupreme Court in the United States, protecting the constitutionalrights of students. The court’s decision on the case has remainedrelevant and has been quoted in many either case, with reference tothe cases ruling, the ringing pronouncement remains a key statement.“It’shard to argue that either the teachers or the students shed theirconstitutional rights towards the freedom of expression or speech atthe schoolhouse gate”.This ruling or the sentence powerfully made it clear that schools arenot exceptional institutions that are immune from constitutionalscrutiny, but the case is that, students retain their freedom as perthe constitution even when they are into the school premises (Farish,1997).

Inthe United States different cases have been used in the trademarktowards the implementation of its constitution as well as the powersof the Supreme Court. The interpretation and application of theAmerican constitution by the Supreme Court has one of the key aspectsthat have elevated the country on the lines of justice. This paper isan explanation of the legal result in the case given (TinkerVs Des Moines, 1969),as well as evaluating its relevance and importance to the legalholding for the American society. With reference to the case given,the paper will analyze, draw on theories and concepts to explain thecase with reference to the ruling as it was passed by the court. Thecase in question entailed Des Moines School, and three of theirstudents, who was expelled from school for wearing black armbands.The case was and remains an integral part of the American freedom ofspeech among the students and is seen by many as the basis of thestudent protection by the law. Today, it’s widely referred to asthe Tinker Law, referring to the decisions and ruling that were inthe ruling of the TinkerVs Des Moines, 1969case


Inthe year 1965, three students from the same school were sent homebecause they wore black armbands, which was a sign of protest againstthe Vietnam War. Mary Beth, and her brother John Tinker together withanother friend, reported to school wearing black armbands. Theschools had allowed a policy allowing the students to be severalpolitical symbols, but the wearing of the black armband in protestthe Vietnam War was banned. The school board learnt about theproposed protest and passed a preemptive ban against the arm bands.When Mary reported to school, she, her brother and their friend handtheir black armbands on. When prompted to remove them, they declinedthe order, and were sent away from school, until they agreed to cometo school without the arm bands (Gold,2007).

Thethree suspended students remained home until the protest time wasover. The students, together with their families filed a case againsttheir suspension. This resulted in a four year case that started fromthe district court, which ruled in favor of the school, stating thatthe school had not violated the constitution by suspending the threestudents. The case was further taken to the court of appeal whichupheld the district court ruling. This battle culminated in theSupreme Court, as the Tinker’s appealed in the highest court in thecountry (Lüsted&amp Thain, 2013).

TheSupreme Court’s Decision (Ruling)

Accordingto the United States Supreme Court ruling, it declared that thestudents had the right to wear the black armbands, even when inschool in protest of the Vietnam War. According to Justice Abe Forta,who was among the 9 judges who presided over the decision making ofthe case, the students were entitled to the 1stamendment rights. The case was decided on 7-2 majority, as the courtheld that, the armband was a representation of student’s speechwhich should be differentiated from the actions of the participants.The court as well held that, the students still possessed their 1stamendment rights to freedom of speech, even when they were within theschool compound/property. In order for the school’s decision toburn the black armbands, they supposed to justify the suppression ofspeech. The school officials must be able to prove that, the conductof the action in question was or would have interfered withsubstantially or materially with the peaceful functioning of theschool. In this case, the school acted from the fear of possibledisruptions and not any actual interference (Lüsted&amp Thain, 2013).

Legalresult of the decision by the Supreme Court

Withreference to the case in question, the legal result of the case ledto the Supreme Court to hold the decision that, the school officialswere not supposed to censor the students’ speech, unless theofficial reasonably forecast that the speech in question will resultinto a substantial or material disruption of the school proceedingsor programs. It would have also been acceptable if the speech inquestion would have been in collision with the rights of other peoplein the school. The basis of the school officials, the meresthesitation of disturbance or the offense given wasn’t enough tojustify the schools action (Gold,2007).

Thedecision of the courtwith reference to the 1stamendment, the court found it unconstitutional banning of silentexpression as it was the case of the school officials to the affectedstudents. The accused students didn’t in any way intrude or becomea cause of disruption to any of the school programs, or affairs.Reasoningbehind the ruling theactions undertaken by the school management were in line andreasonable, however, the fear of experiencing disorder within theschool premises wasn’t enough to justify the action of banning theblack armbands. The constitution prohibits the state from denyingthem from their form of expression (Urofsky,2014).

Despitethe clear mentioning and application of the first amendment, there isa surprise with regard to the decision by the Supreme Court about theTinkerVs Des Moines case.Courts usually shows greater difference with reference to schoolsbased on their significance towards helping the student’s or theschool going children growing into disciplined and mature adults.However, since the Tinker case, decisions have been more restrictivewith reference to speech rights within the school setting. In anutshell, when a topic is controversial and some disruptions areexperienced, expressive conducts are protected by the 1stamendment.

The1stAmendments, Supreme Court and the Freedom of Speech in Schools

The1stamendment of the United States is the clause that protects the rightto freedom of expression and freedom of religion from governmentinterference. Under the freedom of expression, there is the freedomof speech, assembly, press, among other freedoms. The Supreme Courtinterprets the extent to which the protection can be afforded. TheSupreme Court in United States has at times struggled to determineand make it clear as to what is contained in the protected speech.With reference to the amendment, the key basic element of freedom ofexpression as stated by the 1stamendments is the freedom of speech. Under freedom of speech, anindividual is allowed to express themselves without the interferencefrom the government. However, the Supreme Court depends on thegovernment to give a considerable justification in case of anyinterference with the free speech (Urofsky,2014).

Thefreedom of speech is contained in the 1stamendment, which entails seven theories. The theories entail the‘absolutismtheory’,‘adhocbalancing theory’,preferredpositionbalancingtheory,access, self-realization,marketplaceof ideas,and finally the Meiklejohniantheory. The absolutism theory explains the presence of an absolute lack ofgovernment censorship. In case of any conflict, the court remainswith the mandate to draw the line of balance between the freedom ofexpression and the values behind the action in question. In otherwords, the freedom of expression is sorely determined based on acase-by-case basis, and in turn it’s not a theory but a strategy.This in turn explains why the Tinker case was different from thesubsequent cases in terms of ruling. The case details determine theextent at which the freedom of expression can be allowed (Hazel,2015).For example, the Tinker case, the freedom of expression and speechcan only be upheld only when it doesn’t pose a threat to thepeaceful running of the school. Contrary to this the freedom may bedenied.

Themain question that marred the Tinker case was whether the schoolchildren were not supposed to be disciplined by the schooladministration. The 1stamendment looked to give the students the power to ignore the schoolrules in the fights towards their freedom of expression and speech.However, the application of the 1stamendment was only applicable if the students were not at any givenpoint interfering with the school functions and programs. In thesubsequent cases, the Tinker law did not apply at all, but insteadculprit learners were found guilty.

TheSupreme Court and Students Rights since ‘Tinker Case’

Sincethe Tinker case, the functions of the Supreme Court towards theinterpretation of the law in society were well elaborated. Theruling on the case was used to shed right on the scope of freedom ofspeech and expression within schools. However, the case, and thesubsequent cases that called for the allocation of the 1stamendment law brought detailed understanding of the schools mandatein the context of the freedom of speech. Afterthe Tinker case, the subsequent cases have seen different decisionsor court ruling. There is no a consistence patter that was adopted assome ruling are quite a speech protective and in turn adopting theTinker’s philosophy, and its holdings (Zirkelet al, 2001).Other cases have been restrictive of the speech among students, andin turn are seen or treats Tinker’s rule as overruled.

Significanceof Tinker v. Des Moines

TheTinkervs Des Moineshad a tremendous effect towards the teachers, school management andthe society at large. The main topic behind the case was the issue offreedom of speech, and whether schools have the power to limit thefreedom of speech among its students. With reference to the case, theinterpretation of the 1stamendment law brought a new understanding of the law and constitutionwith reference to the management of the school and about thestudent’s freedom of speech (Gold,2007).The school management is prohibited from suspending students on thegrounds of denying them freedom of speech, if the protest doesn’tinterfere with peaceful running of the school. Moreover, the rulingof the case and the fact that, the student won the case brought alonga new understanding of the student rights. The key aspect of theruling stated that, “studentsdo not abandon their civil rights at the school house door….”This meant that, school as an institution is not allowed to limiteither the students or the teachers, their 1stamendment rights (Johnet al, 1993).

Onevery broad and clear significance of the ruling in the given case, isthat it gave students and teachers the chance to always express theirfirst amendment rights freely as far as their actions doesn’tbecome a source of disorder to the school or to the classroom. TheTinkerVs Des Moinescan be referred as the key stepping stone for both the teachers andthe students towards the understanding of their first amendmentrights within the Bill of Rights, which was given to each and everyAmerican citizen. The case acted as the starting point for the spreadof awareness to the school management/boards restricting students’rights, and in turn affecting the manner in which the administratorsapproaches or handles diverse protests and situations (Zirkelet al, 2001).

Inaddition to the expression of the teacher and students’ freedom ofspeech by the ruling, TinkerCasemarked the first time the Supreme Court of the United States ruled incase that entailed the first amendment freedom of speech within theschool environment. The school was denied the chance to regulate thestudent speech and expression when they are in school (Hazel,2015).Despite the school standing for the idea of acting as the parentduring the school time, and functions, the mandate to controlstudent’s expression and speech was however limited only to thetime it posed a threat to the running of the school or was disruptive(Johnet al, 1993).

Theruling that was made during the TinkerCasewas seen by many as a chance to the students to exercise their entirefirst amendment rights while they are in school, including freedom ofthe press. However, the court addressed the issue in a different wayduring the HazelwoodSchool District v. Kuhlmeier, in 1988,including other cases which were believed to be more relevant to theschools press than the TinkerCase.An important point about the ruling and impact to future casesincludes the ruling in the case&nbsp“HazelwoodSchool District v. Kuhlmeier,&nbsp484US 260 (1988)” (Gold,2007).The case entailed issues relevant to school press compared to theTinkerv. Des Moines,&nbsp(1969).This due to the fact that, the 1988 case, dealt precisely with whatextent or much of the control the schools should exercise over thecontent made by the student through student schoolmagazines/newspapers.&nbspThe court ruled that, student in publicschools and their publications are less subject to the 1st amendmentprotection compared to the commercial newspapers, and in turn,schools have the right to impose constraints or boundaries on thecontent to be contained in student newspapers (Farish,1997).

TheTinkercasewas an eye opener and a noteworthy milestone towards the realizationof juvenile freedom. Justice Fortas, who was an instrumental part inthe Tinker, was well known for his fight and championing of thejuvenile rights in other cases such as Inre Gault (1967).In the Tinkercase,his sympathy with the lack of power of the school in the case wasdisplayed as well. His (Justice Fortas) time in the Supreme Court wasseen as the changing times, as he changed from a first amendmentabsolutist and turned into a neo-conservative when it came to socialissues (Gold,2007).The TinkerCase wasa show of his disapproval to the application of political activismwithin the school institution, as he pointed that, the schoolofficials were within their rights in having a say on how theirschools were run.

Withreference to my opinion towards the case, the application of the 1stamendments specifically should be rested on the powers of the courts.However, in the case of freedom issues, the magnitude of the caseshould be analyzed so as to determine the extent to which freedom canbe accorded or denied. Moreover, the Tinker case shouldn’t be usedto deny or give freedom of freedom where is less required. Theapplication of the 1stamendment on freedom cases is well within the court to determine theextent at which freedom should be acceptable.


Tinkerwas based on three pillars or key principles which entailed the firstamendment and schools. One of the key aspects to be drawn from theruling is that, student speech is an essential element and also it’sconstitutionally protected. Another point that can be drawn from thecase is that, school can penalize expression if there is evidence ofsubstantial disruption to the school programs and activities. Lastly,it’s clear that the judiciary plays an important role in makingsure the student is only punished if the standard above is met.Compared to subsequent cases involving schools, and student speechand the 1stamendment, the above three themes haven’t been there, andespecially in lower courts (Cohen,2008).

Withreference to the case and the ruling made, I agree with JusticeFortas that, students retain the 1stamendment rights even when within the school premises. In addition,the protection of the country’s freedom of speech andconstitutional freedom should be within the community of the Americanschools. The ruling does not give a freeway for the student toexploit the freedom of speech when in school as Justice Fortas madeit clear that the freedom of speech to the students can be punishedif there is evidence of disruption of school activities. Finally, thejudiciary remains an integral part in ensuring the Tinker Case/lawisn’t used as a basis for censoring freedom of speech. Despite theTinker law being the first of its kind in the United States,subsequent cases have rarely adopted this approach, but instead theschools’ board’s decision has many at times been held.


Cohen,H. (2008).&nbspFreedomof speech and press: Exceptions to the First Amendment.New York: Nova Science Publishers.

Farish,L. (1997).&nbspTinkerv. Des Moines: Student protest.Springfield, NJ: Enslow Publishers.

Gold,S. D. (2007).&nbspTinkerv. Des Moines: Free speech for students.Tarrytown, N.Y: Marshall Cavendish Benchmark.

Hazel,M. (2015). Social Media: Students Behaving Badly.&nbspComputer&amp Internet Lawyer,&nbsp32(2),9-13.

John,J. P., Richard, M. P., &amp Donald, A. R. (1993).&nbspTinkerv. Des Moines Independent Community School Dist.Oxford University Press.

Lüsted,M. A., &amp Thain, G. J. (2013).&nbspTinkervs. Des Moines: The right to protest in schools.Minneapolis, MN: ABDO Pub.

Urofsky,M. I. (2014). Introduction.&nbspJournalof Supreme Court History,&nbsp39(3),v-vi.

Zirkel,P. A., Richardson, S. N., &amp Goldberg, S. S. (2001).&nbspAdigest of Supreme Court decisions affecting education.Bloomington, Ind: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation.