Fifty years ago, the landmark case Tinker v. Des Moines gave future generations of public students First Amendment rights at school. In a reaction to the Vietnam War a group of middle school students in Des Moines, Iowa decided to wear black arm bands to school. Such a move violated school district policy and the students were sent home. The resulting lawsuit was decided by the United States Supreme Court four years later. In the majority opinion justices ruled that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” Nicknamed the “Living Room War” since troubling reports of the Vietnam War and its casualties came into the homes of students like John and Mary Beth Tinker. The Tinkers were then motivated enough to carry into action their silent protest.
In similar fashion students today are well aware of school shootings since not only does the news come into their homes but also directly into the one place they are meant to feel the safest–school. Following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida students began speaking out against mass shootings in greater numbers. Less than one month later their actions turned into a nationwide movement with marches in just about every major city in the United States.
In the same decade as the Tinker case college students, with the help of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, marched against social inequality. Motivated by their own experiences in the segregated American South marchers moved in complete silence only to be met by violent resistence from local and state police forces. One of the injured marchers was John Lewis.
The First Amendment helps to bring a better informed society which means that today’s protesters aren’t met by violent backlash. Out of all the amendments, with the exception of the 14th, the First Amendment safeguards our liberty in so many ways. Without it, students who walk out of school might face punishment not just from school administration but from the government. Without it, students who wanted to show their passion for peace by wearing black arm bands might have never made such a lasting impact on our individual rights. Without it, the injustice of the Jim Crow South might have never been corrected.
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