TINKERing with Freedom of the Press
Freedom of the press is a hallmark of American democracy. That should include all journalists, whether professional or student. A push has been made in the Indiana state house to further secure these rights for college and high school student journalists. At such an important time as this, the Alltold Staff recently had the pleasure of meeting Mary Beth Tinker, one of the most influential characters in student journalism history. Ball State University hosted its 64th annual Journalism Day in March. This year’s gathering coincided with the 50th anniversary of the landmark Tinker vs. Des Moines case and served as a natural backdrop to celebrate a living icon.
This Supreme Court decision was essentially the first time students’ rights were legally recognized and solidified. Since Tinker vs. Des Moines, there have been several other cases that further define and restrict what students can and cannot do. However, time and time again, student journalists fall back on Tinker vs. Des Moines when censorship issues arise.
Senior Lauren Raven said, “Tinker sparked a journalistic revolution that is awe inspiring.” Since the landmark case Tinker has spent the last 50 years advocating for the rights of children and teens across the country. She uses her platform to continue to educate student journalists about their rights.
During her speech, Tinker highlighted many current issues surrounding student journalists today. First year staff member and senior Abby Mueller said, “Mary Beth Tinker really informed us about a lot of projects going on to help promote giving kids equal First Amendment rights as adults.” Among these projects is the New Voices Campaign. New Voices is a state by state campaign to guarantee rights to all student journalists and offer non censorship protections. Begun in Colorado as the Colorado Student Free Expression Law in 1990, other states followed by granting legal protections within state constitutions. Today, there are 14 states that offer state constitutional protections. Diane Hadley, former executive director of the Indiana High School Press Association, has been instrumental in advocating for the Indiana New Voices campaign along with Representative Ed Clere, R-New Albany. Clere introduced House Bill 1130 in 2017. Three sessions later, Clere and 12 other co-authors are still trying. Most recently the bill passed the house but failed to get the 51 votes needed for passage in the senate, falling four votes short. Hadley is confident it will pass eventually citing the increase in ‘for’ votes each session. “The New Voices Campaign is something I had never heard of yesterday and they are a student-powered grassroots movement that is trying to give rights to young people to gather information and share issues of public concern,” said Mueller. First year staff member Tyler Blackmar said, “the New Voices Campaign is really cool because it allows student journalists to speak up and have a voice of their own.”
In her early teens, Mary Beth Tinker and her siblings became plaintiffs in the 1969 US Supreme Court case. At 13, Tinker and a small group of her peers had become increasingly concerned about the Vietnam War. To show their support and grieve the countless lives lost on both sides of the war effort, Tinker and her peers organized a silent memorial to wear black armbands to school. However, when the Des Moines school board caught wind of the protest, they enacted a new rule that stated that any student that wore an armband to school would be suspended. Despite this threat, Tinker and other students decided to move forward with their protest and were subsequently suspended until they agreed to remove the armbands.
Soon, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), heard Tinker’s story and believed that the Des Moines School District armband policy violated the students’ constitutional rights. With the help of the ACLU, Tinker’s case was heard by the US Supreme Court. In a 7-2 decision on February 24, 1969, the high court ruled that students nor teachers shed their constitutional first amendment rights at the schoolhouse gate and that public school officials could not censor a student’s freedom of speech or expression, so long as the actions were not disruptive to the school environment. While Tinker fought for the right to express herself as a student, she unwittingly took up the fight for all student journalists as well.