Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District

393 U.S. 503 (1969).

A United States Supreme Court opinion in which the Court held that a public school violated its students’ First Amendment rights by disciplining them for wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War.

The Court reasoned that, “First Amendment rights, applied in light of the special characteristics of the school environment, are available to teachers and students.  It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”  The Court emphasized that, “in our system, state-operated schools may not be enclaves of totalitarianism.  School officials do not possess absolute authority over their students . . . [Students] are possessed of fundamental rights which the state must respect.”

The Court further reasoned that the students’ conduct did not disrupt the school’s operations.  “There is no indication that the work of the schools or any class was disrupted.”  The Court held that the wearing of the black armbands constituted speech under the First Amendment which was protected under said amendment absent a showing that the speech would “materially and substantially interfere with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school.”


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