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Who is Mary Beth Tinker?

By Matthew Rembold

The world was a very different place back in 1965. The United States was involved in the Vietnam War, a fight many believed we should never have gotten involved in. Many were in support of a truce, particularly a group of students in Warren Harding Junior High School, who chose to wear black armbands in order to protest the war.

In response to the appearance of the black arm bands, the principals of the Des Moines School District chose to enact a policy on December 14, 1965, which forbade students from wearing the bands. If the students did not comply, they would be suspended from their respective school. 13 year old Mary Beth Tinker was among the students who wore the black bands after the enactment of the policy, leading to her and her brother John being singled out for punishment by the school.

Following her suspension, Mary Beth and her family received many threats from the public, including chastisement from a radio talk show host, red paint being thrown on their home, and death threats over the phone. The ban on the armbands was upheld, leading the Iowa Civil Liberties Union to file a formal complaint for Mary Beth, her brother, and another student in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Iowa. The case argued that the suspension infringed on their First Amendment Rights.

The Court dismissed this, upholding the ban. The case went even further to the U.S. Court of Appeals, but once again, the decision was to keep the policy in place. In November of 1968, the case finally reached the Untied States Supreme Court. Titled Tinker v. Des Moines, the case was voted in favor of Tinker as the Court found that by restricting the wearing of the arm bands, the Des Moines School District was in act infringing upon the students First Amendment rights.

The outcome of the case served as an important precedent for many to follow and is considered a landmark of a court case. Mary Beth Tinker and her friends determination to show what they believed in lead to a change in the United States. Ms. Tinker has since traveled around the country sharing her story and teaching students about their rights.

Now, she is traveling to our own school to share her story here. Tomorrow, April 26, Ms. Tinker will be speaking here at Columbus, and all students are encouraged to see her. For more information on her visit, speak to Ms. McCullagh.

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