Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District
393 U.S. 503 (1969)

  • Tinker and two other students decided to wear black armbands to school to silently protest the Vietnam War.
    • The students didn’t cause a ruckus or interfere with school activities.
  • The School suspended the students until they agreed to not wear the armbands.
  • The students sued, claiming that the suspension was a violation of their 1st Amendment right to free speech.
    • Note that the wearing of armbands is conduct which communicates and is still considered ‘speech’ for purposes of the 1st Amendment.
  • The Trial Court found for the school. The students appealed.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed. The students appealed.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed.
    • The US Supreme Court found that the students did retain a 1st Amendment right to free speech while in school.
    • The Court found that the school could not promulgate a rule prohibiting free speech absent any evidence that the rule was necessary to avoid substantial interference with school discipline or the rights of others.
      • Basically, there needs to be a compelling government interest beyond just a wish to avoid the controversy that might result from the expression.
        • If there is a compelling government interest, then the school can limit free speech.
          • See Morse v. Frederick (127 S.Ct. 2618 (2007)).