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Mary Beth Tinker Podcast

In 1965, the middle-school student was punished for wearing an armband to school to protest the Vietnam War. Hear what she has to say about First Amendment freedoms!

An exhibit in the Newseum's Cox First Amendment Gallery features a photo of Mary Beth and John Tinker, and the actual armband worn by Mary Beth and her diary. (The peace symbols were added later to armbands.)


Mary Beth Tinker was a 13-year-old middle school student in Des Moines, Iowa, in December 1965. To protest the government’s involvement in the Vietnam War, Tinker joined a group of other students in wearing black armbands to school one day. After she refused the principal’s request to remove it, Tinker was sent her home and suspended.

Tinker claimed that the armband was a form of expression (or “symbolic speech”) and her right to wear it was protected by the First Amendment. The ensuing legal battle ended at the Supreme Court, which in 1969 sided with Tinker. (The case was also filed on behalf of Tinker’s older brother, John, and Christopher Eckhardt.)  In Tinker v. Des Moines, the court ruled 7-2 that students in public schools do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate” and that school officials could not censor student speech unless it was disruptive.

In 2015,  Tinker visited the Newseum to speak to students about the First Amendment. Click below to hear what she has to say about constitutional freedoms.

NewseumED offers two classes on First Amendment rights of students that include discussion of the landmark Tinker case: The First Amendment and Tinker and You Can’t Say That in School?!  Both are offered at the Newseum; the latter is also offered virtually. Click on the title to get more information about the class and how to book, or call 202/292-6650.

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