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Landmark Cases of the U.S. Supreme Court

Street Law / Landmark Cases / Cases / Tinker v. Des Moines

Tinker v. Des Moines (1969)

Student Speech, Symbolic Speech

". . . In the absence of a specific showing of constitutionally valid reasons to regulate their speech, students are entitled to freedom of expression of their views." — Justice Fortas, speaking for the majority

John and Mary Beth Tinker of Des Moines, Iowa, wore black armbands to their public school as a symbol of protest against American involvement in the Vietnam War. When school authorities asked that the Tinkers remove their armbands, they refused and were subsequently suspended. The Supreme Court decided that the Tinkers had the right to wear the armbands, with Justice Abe Fortas stating that no one expects students to “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

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About the materials

These materials were developed for students of various skill levels, and teachers should choose the level that works best for their students.  Answers to the background questions, vocabulary, and activities can be found in the FOR TEACHERS ONLY tab under each case.

Background summary and questions to consider (by reading level)

Important vocabulary (by reading level)

Legal Concepts

Other useful background information

Activities*

The Case

After the Case

* Answers to the background questions, vocabulary, and activities can be found in the FOR TEACHERS ONLY tab under each case.

Teaching strategies used

Planning time and activities

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Contact: If you have questions/problems registering or accessing the teacher only materials, please contact Christina Barnett (cbarnett@streetlaw.org, 240.821.1324).

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