Advocate Mary Beth Tinker Promotes First Amendment Freedoms

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In the 1960s, Mary Beth Tinker was a party in a famous U.S. Supreme Court case giving limited freedom of speech to public school students.  Nearly 50 years later, she is still on the same crusade to ensure students’ constitutional rights.

That quest brought Tinker to Athens to speak to Ohio University students about their First Amendment freedoms. While on campus, she spoke to WOUB about her case and her passion for protection of constitutional rights.

Tinker, as a middle school student in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1965, was part of a group of students who silently wore black armbands to school to protest death in Vietnam.  She and her brother were suspended from school.  They sued and their case made it to the U. S. Supreme Court.

In 1969, the famous case of Tinker v. Des Moines, for the first time in history, gave limited freedom of speech rights to teachers and to students in public schools. Justice Abe Fortas wrote in the opinion the famous line…“students and teachers do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate.”

After two master’s degrees in public health and nursing and a career as a pediatric nurse, Tinker started the “Tinker Tour” in 2013 to cross the nation promoting civics education in schools and freedom of speech and press. Her tour is sponsored, in part, by the Student Press Law Center.

Tinker thinks students today, with use of social media, have a renewed interest in freedom of speech issues and freedom of expression.  Across the country, she noted that students are pressing their rights to comment on school policies and procedures that affect students.

While a first amendment advocate, Tinker acknowledges that there sometimes need to be limits on speech that is bullying or threatening.  She notes, however, that regulating this type of speech creates a delicate balance between conflicting interests.

While in Athens, Tinker supported current free speech issues on the Ohio University campus.  She is a believer in the marketplace of ideas and not in limiting political speech.

Tinker’s appearance on campus is co-sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists and the E. W. Scripps School of Journalism.