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Tinker v Des Moines Independent Community School District [1969] 393 US 503

By Oxbridge Law TeamUpdated 21/04/2024 20:22

Judgement for the case Tinker v Des Moines Independent Community School District


  • Free speech is a fundamental human right for fostering diverse perspectives and facilitating open dialogue within societies.

    • It serves as a cornerstone of democratic principles, allowing individuals to express their opinions, beliefs, and ideas without fear of censorship or retaliation.

  • Disorder represents a disruption of the regular or expected state of affairs, manifesting in various forms such as social unrest, political instability, or chaos in individual behavior.

    • Disorder challenges existing norms and systems, necessitating adaptive responses to restore equilibrium and promote resilience, whether stemming from systemic issues, natural disasters, or personal conflicts.

  • Protest embodies a form of collective action aimed at expressing dissent, advocating for change, or raising awareness about social, political, or environmental issues.

    • From peaceful demonstrations to civil disobedience, protests serve as a powerful mechanism for marginalized voices to challenge injustices, galvanize public opinion, and catalyze transformative movements toward a more equitable and just society.


  • In Des Moines, Iowa, during the Vietnam War era, five children chose to wear black armbands to their respective schools in protest of the war and in support of a proposal for a Christmas truce.

    • John Tinker and Christopher Eckhardt wore armbands to high school, Mary Beth Tinker wore one to junior high school, and Hope and Paul Tinker wore them to elementary school.

    • In response to the planned protest, the school principals implemented a policy requiring students to remove armbands while on school premises. Failure to comply would result in suspension and dismissal from school until compliance was met.

    • The elementary school children were not penalized for wearing the armbands, while the other three were suspended for the duration of the protest.

  • With the support of the ACLU and the state Civil Liberties Union, the parents of the Tinker children contested the school board's actions in federal district court.

  • The district court upheld the school board's policy.

  • Upon review, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals deadlocked, prompting a direct appeal to the Supreme Court.


  • the courts held that since First Amendment protections extended to students in public schools, educational authorities seeking to censor speech were required to demonstrate that permitting the speech would significantly interfere with the discipline needed for the school to function. 

  • This standard ensured that students retained their constitutional rights to freedom of expression while maintaining an environment conducive to learning and order within the educational institution.

  • Consequently, any attempts to restrict speech had to be justified by a compelling showing of its potential disruption to the educational environment.


  • The case highlights the interconnectedness of free speech, disorder, protest, and the legal ramifications surrounding a specific case, exemplifying the delicate balance between individual rights and institutional authority.

  • It begins by emphasizing the importance of free speech as a fundamental human right for nurturing diversity of thought and fostering open dialogue in democratic societies.

    • This sets the stage for understanding the subsequent events in Des Moines, Iowa, where five children chose to express their dissent regarding the Vietnam War by wearing black armbands to school.

    • The school authorities' response, implementing a policy to censor the students' expression through suspension, highlights the clash between individual freedoms and institutional control.

    • The differing treatment of the elementary school children and the older students underscores the subjective nature of such policies and their potential to infringe upon First Amendment rights.

  • The involvement of civil liberties organizations, such as the ACLU and the state Civil Liberties Union, in challenging the school board's actions underscores the importance of legal advocacy in safeguarding constitutional liberties.

    • The subsequent legal proceedings, culminating in a Supreme Court appeal, illustrate the gravity of the case and its implications for free speech in educational settings.

  • The final judgment by the courts reaffirms the principle that restrictions on speech in public schools must be justified by a compelling demonstration of the potential disruption to the educational environment.

  • This underscores the delicate balance between upholding individual rights and maintaining order within educational institutions, ensuring that students retain their constitutional protections while fostering a conducive learning environment.

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