tv Student Free Speech Tinker v. Des Moines Anniversary CSPAN September 9, 2021 5:16pm-6:14pm EDT
in february of 1969, the u.s. supreme court decided in tinker versus des moines that students do not lose their first amendment rights on school grounds. the court ruled in favor of three des moines, iowa students who were suspended for wearing black armbands to school to protest the vietnam war, violating local school policies. the state historical society of iowa marked the anniversary of the decision with a commemorative event featuring remarks by mary beth tinker and her brother john, copetitioners in the case. this event was held in 2019. [ applause ] . >> woo! welcome to a special presentation celebrating the 50th anniversary of an important milestone in u.s. history and for first amendment rights. we're joining you live from the
auditorium of the state historical society in iowa and we're in des moines. with us today are more than 200 students from schools across this state. we're joined online by students and classrooms across the country. say hello, everybody. >> hello! [ applause ] in december 1965, mary beth and john tinker, along with her friend christopher eckhart wore black armbands to school to protest the war in vietnam. they were sent home and suspended from school. the students were told they could not return to school until they agreed to end their protest. through their parents, the students sued the school district for violating their right to free expression.
their four-year court battle culminated in the landmark u.s. supreme court decision tinker versus des moines independent school district 50 years ago on february 24th, 1969, the court ruled 7-2 that students do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate. the tinker decision remains a frequently cited court precedent. since that time, mary beth and john have been advocates for student free speech. we're fortunate to have them here today to share their story. after their presentation, we'll invite our audience to ask questions of mary beth and john. for those watching outside this venue, share your questions on twitter with the #tinkerversary, or go online to ipt.org/tinker.
please join me in welcoming john and mary beth tinker. [ applause ] >> thank you, thank you, thank you. thank you, everybody. thank you. thank you. thank you. thank you. thank you. thank you so much, kay, and thank you to the state historical society of iowa and iowa public television and c-span, and to all of you in the audience, and to all of you following along throughout in the u.s. online, we're so happy to be with all of you here today. right, john? >> it's a great honor and a privilege to be with so many people who are celebrating the first amendment rights, especially of those who are students in schools. this is a very powerful moment and for me personally to be participating in this. thank you for inviting me. and i also wanted to mention the national history day. >> yes. >> which has done so much to promote student awareness and
student activism. >> yes. and we're going to have a chance to meet some of the national history day students in a little bit. we're going to meet students who are taking our country towards its ideals of equal justice under the law and equality for all. and that's what youth have done all through the ages, through history and now today again. and so we're so honored to be here with all of you to do that, and to honor our family story. our parents stood up for what's right, what they believe in for justice and for love, and they weren't always so popular for doing. this we're going to tell you the story of how this all happened. shall we get started? >> let's get started. >> all right. first of all, we were kids growing up, and of course we had wonderful qualities, like all of you. we had creativity and talents and ideas and poenls, but we needed our rights in order to unlock all of those potentials. and what are those first amendment rights again? somebody tell me one of the rights of the first amendment. freedom of -- >> speech.
>> freedom of -- >> the press. >> freedom of -- >> religion. >> religion. freedom of -- >> assembly. >>bly. and the very last? petition. all right. let's hear it for the first amendment. yeah. oh, they're so cute. well, this is us growing up in iowa. we didn't know our first amendment rights back then, did we, john? >> well, not too well at this age, that's for sure. >> there is john on the left. he is so cute. and leonard, who is here today, thanks for coming, leonard. and i'm in the middle. i'm the scowly one. and then there is little hope. hope is here too. thanks, hope. and bonnie on the far side, and our parents. paul wasn't born yet, but you're going see paul later. yeah, paul is here too. don't worry, we've got you. growing up, we were -- we had a foundation of speaking up for
things, and we had so many great friends. and one of them was john's good friend and our family friends the griffins. well, edna griffin, who was stanley's mother, was an amazing woman, and she was a really good friend of our mother's. and she had already won an iowa supreme court case speaking up against discrimination. and so we are so happy today that we're going to have some students from decorah, iowa who did a national history program about that. so please welcome lauren johnson and grace gerliman. come on up, you too. yeah, all right. >> my name is grace gerliman and this is lauren johnson. we're here to talk about our experience with the national history day project. when choosing our topic, we wanted to choose an activist in history that truly made a difference throughout communities in iowa.
and that's when we found edna griffin. edna griffin was a brave woman who fought for the equal rights of all organizations and races. she took action for injustice. her most significant impact was her work with the katz drug store. on july 7th, 1948, griffin was denied service at katz drug store on the grounds of her race. she filed a lawsuit against katz and took her case all the way to the iowa supreme court, where the court would rule in her favor. she helped establish laws that made it illegal to deny service based on race. we wrote a play to present our information. with have two other people who helped us perform this play that aren't able to be with us today, ruby sullivan and larson shacky. our performance advanced to state contest where we won two awards, the african american history award and the leroy pratt award. we're also lucky enough to perform our play at the edna
griffin legacy awards and celebration dinner last summer. while in des moines, we visited the edna griffin building which was once katz drug store. edna griffin truly inspired us. she used her rights in the law to make the city of des moines a better place for everyone. when we look at our lives, we want to continue edna griffin's legacy. maybe that's by standing up for injustice we see around us, or something as simple as showing respect and acceptance. the play really helped us speak out what we see around us that we don't agree with. the celebration dinner really highlighted edna griffin's legacy. we chose edna griffin, and hope to share her story and the important work she accomplished. edna griffin is an example in our lives. she has stood up for the rights of others, so why can't we? changing society is a life-long journey we're all responsible for. help me welcome stanley griffin, edna griffin's son. [ applause ] >> all right! woo-hoo!
yeah. >> thank you very much. it's an honor to be here today. and i'm pretty touched by that speech. i mean, it's like -- that's what mother really wanted, wanted kids. she wanted to leave a legacy of what is right human and civil, in the areas of human and civil rights. they were talking about her accomplishments with the katz drug store case, but i want you to know who was my mother. number one, she was a number one mother in the world to myself. she definitely was my accompanist. i played cello through school. she is my accompanist on that. she was standing up for union rights in iowa. she stood up for the meat packers workers to try to organize them in 1947. the work i want you to know that she did back then foreshadowed
the modern civil rights movement as you know it today. and i look back, and i say my mother was very bold. i mean, she is a force in action, and i think she wants to transfer that to all of you kids. everybody can make a difference in terms of what happens. she helped with farm organization. i also grew up with farmers from newman grove, nebraska, and she helped them organize a case against safeway stores. and i just want to let you know, she was more than just one being. she was very complicated and brilliant and graduated from high school at 14 years old and moved on from there and dedicated her life to civil and human rights. stand proud to represent the griffin family. and one other thing, my dad. dr. stanley griffin was a foundation of our family. without him being a -- working
for himself, mother could not do what she did because we would have got fired and not had any employment. so stand up for what is right and always remember my mother. and one last thing, a little plug here. if you want to learn more about mom right now, go to edna griffin iowa. and if you google that, you're going get a lot of hits on her. we're writing a book right now. so there is going to be a lot more about it. we want to help kids just like you and others excel. white, black, everybody do that. thank you very much. >> thank you. thank you. [ applause ] >> thank you. thank you. thank you so much, stanley and lauren and grace for sharing that story about edna griffin, who was such an influence on our lives. as young people take us towards our democratic ideals, there are people that help us along the
way as examples, and edna griffin was one of those great examples to us. >> she was. >> around the time that all of this was going on and that we were growing up, there is edna and stanley. there were other things going on in the country that were making us very sad, that other people were standing up and speaking up about. and one of those things was going on in birmingham, alabama. and here is some students that were there, again, taking us towards our ideals and dealing with the issue of racial justice, which our case is so grounded in, because this was the example that we are following. and these kids were in birmingham. there was around 2,000 kids that year marched and sang songs like ♪ this little light of mine, i'm going let it shine ♪ they were marching and singing for justice. and what happened, john? some people weren't too happy about that. >> no. this was the ku klux klan, and
they were not interested in racial justice. they were interested in whites only. and the movement had to rise up to oppose that. if there hadn't been a movement of people to oppose that, that's still the world we'd live in today. >> yeah, that's right. >> so we're very happy that -- >> we're happy that young people stood up and opposed it, and many adults as well. >> that's right. >> we were part of all that speak up. well, the ku klux klan, to punish the little children for speaking up for democracy and for justice, they had a plan, and they planted a bomb in their church, right on sunday morning. the headquarters of the kids was the 16th street baptist church. and so they put a bomb in their church on september 15th, 1963. i was 10 years old. john was 12. and these four little girls, their bodies were found in the church. cynthia, addie may, carol and denise. and we were so sad about that.
it's like today what is driving a lot of young people to speak up and stand up. it's partly sadness. it's grief. it's feelings that the world isn't the way that it could be. and that we could do better. in des moines, edna griffin had started a group called the congress of racial equality. and so people around the country had services to mourn for the little girls. and we had one here in des moines. and, yeah, we finally see our little brother there. there he is, paul, right there. >> stanley mentioned that our families that we grew up together. and that's true. here you see our brother paul. this is phyllis griffin, linda griffin, mary. >> me, yeah. >> and our departed bonnie. >> our sweet sister bonnie who died in a bicycle accident. >> and i'm the photographer here. i will claim credit for that shot. >> i should have given you
credit there, john. photojournalist. yay. so then that was the first time that we had a chance to wear black armbands, and that we experienced wearing black armbands for being sad. it's a symbol that goes way back through history. it shows that you're sad. and there is phyllis and linda and all of us girls wearing black armbands that day to show how sad we were about the birmingham children being killed, and that we could do something about it. >> this memorial service took place right up at the capitol, right at the plaza at the capitol. >> we're about two blocks from there right now here in des moines. the next year was also an amazing year for young people speaking up and standing up. this time it was in mississippi for mississippi freedom summer. that summer only about three or 4% of african americans were registered to vote in mississippi and throughout much of the south because of the terror of the ku klux klan. so young people again spoke up and led the way as young people
do to speak up for justice and equality and democracy. and it was called freedom summer 1964. >> and our parents went down south to participate in that and also did our older brother leonard with them down there. >> that's right. because our father was a methodist minister, and we later became involved with the quakers. so they said don't wait for heaven to put your values into action. let's just do it right now on earth. let's take action to speak up for love and all those things we preach in all religions. and so these people were doing that, putting love into action, and also speaking up and using their first amendment rights. well, when they got there, throw of them immediately disappeared. cheney, schwermer and goodman. everyone swpted that the ku klux klan had them, but they kept searching and searching for
them. and on august 4th, the fbi found the bodies of cheney, schwerner and goodman. it was a very, very sad time that summer. and on the very same day, something very sad happened that was going to change so many lives in the united states forever. off the gulf of tonkin, off the coast of vietnam, a u.s. navy ship claimed it had been attacked. and it turns out it hadn't been attacked, but it didn't stop the u.s. congress from voting almost unanimously to send thousands of troops to vietnam, and that's really when it started. it was already going on, but more in secret by lyndon johnson. but after august 4th and all of this was going on at the same time in those mighty times that are so much like our times that all of you are living in today. well, students in mississippi didn't think that was right. they spoke up when they used
their first amendment rights. and they wore these buttons to school that said one man, one vote, sncc, student nonviolent coordinating committee. and they were suspended from school for doing that. it was a black school. it was a segregated school of black students, and they were suspended. and a court case started working its way through the courts. it was called burnside versus buyers. we had no idea that that case was going influence all of our lives and all of the lives of all of you students who are watching this today, because this is the case that established these substantial disruption standard in schools. that you can have free speech rights. you cannot substantially disrupt school. because these kids in mississippi eventually won their case, and the courts said that they should have had the right to wear the buttons and use their first amendment rights because they didn't substantially disrupt school.
and that's where that standard comes from. but there were also sad things continuing. now on the news, what did we see here, john? >> well, this is a picture from the war in vietnam. during the war in vietnam, we were confronted with pictures like this on our television sets every night. and there were pictures of people that had been napalmed, pictures of villages that had been burned down. >> what was napalm, by the way? can you tell what that was? >> napalm is gasoline that has had things added to it to make it like a jelly. so when the bomb blows up and this jellied gasoline sprays out, it sticks to your skin and it burns you up. it sticks to everything. it burns up your homes. it burns up the people. it burns up the mothers and the babies too. and we saw it every night. we saw it in black and white.
but this -- this happened, and we watched it over and over again, and we didn't know what to do about it. there was a large march in washington. i went on a march to washington. and on the way back, we discussed what we could do to continue to protest the war. a man on the bus said he had heard that people were going to wear black armbands to protest the war. the black armband is an old traditional symbol of mourning. and people for hundreds of years have worn black armbands when members of their families have died and they want to indicate to their society that they're in a period of mourning. and so we decided to wear black armbands to express our mourning for the deaths on both sides of the conflict in vietnam, and also, we were trying to encourage the adoption of robert kennedy's call for a christmas truce that year in 1965.
well, when the school system found out that we were going to wear black armbands, the principals got together and banned the wearing of black armbands. and we didn't know what to do, but we felt that out of conscience, we had to -- we had to do it. and we also -- we grew up in the des moines school system. and in the des moines school system, we were taught that america is a free country. and in america we have freedom of speech. so we felt that we had the right to wear the black armbands. i think we understood that we didn't have the right to disrupt the school. and so we adopted this black piece of cloth. it doesn't make any noise at all. but it just represents a belief. and our belief was that the war in vietnam was wrong. and so when we got kicked out of school, we appealed it to the
school board. and this is mary beth, our mother behind mary beth our father leonard, and chris singer to his right. also you see her black armband. >> she was suspended also, chris singer. >> i was back there somewhere. i wasn't in the shot. but we all attended the school board meeting. and the school board decided to support the principals. so we had been kicked out of school, and our lawyer with the -- what was then the iowa civil liberties union, now is the american civil liberties union iowa chapter, recommended that we go back to school without the armbands on so we couldn't complicate our case with truancy issues and that we sue the school system for violating our first amendment rights. so that's what we did.
>> so that's what happened, yes. >> and we lost at the district court. judge stevenson, he felt that it was a first amendment issue, that it was a free speech issue, but that the school authorities had the right to make the rule about that. and so we lost our case at the district court, the federal district court level. and so we appealed it to the circuit court in st. louis. and normally at the circuit court, the case is heard by a three-judge panel. the three-judge panel, because of the burnside v byars where the students had won that case. >> back in mississippi. >> the circuit court thought that the -- the three-judge panel thought that the whole panel, the whole court should hear the case, but they were short one judge. so instead of nine, they only
had eight. and those eight judges split in their decisions, 4-4. and so that made it very much more likely that the supreme court would hear the case to clear up this conflict at the circuit court level. so we appealed to the supreme court. >> oh, yeah. and how many cases a year does the supreme court take? not very many. >> you tell me. >> well that. >> take about 80. they take about 80 cases out of 10,000. of about 10,000. >> so less than 1%. >> they thought this was an important case because it had to do with student speech rights, and there had only been one case, west virginia versus barnett in 1943, which ruled that students cannot be forced to say the pledge of allegiance in public schools. and that was the only case having to deal with student speech before ours. >> by the way, they determined that case, the pledge of allegiance case in 1943. >> yeah. >> in the middle of a war.
>> right. they stood up for students' rights not to say the pledge of allegiance. that was a very strong case. in our case, the judges also split, but its was a 7-2 split. >> yeah. >> and we won. it was a very resounding victory for student rights. in our case, it was the first time that the court said that students in public schools are persons under the constitution, and they were endowed with their first amendment rights. so that has been the rule now for the past almost exactly 50 years. and it has really empowered student voices, student -- in our case, it was written -- the majority opinion was fordice. and he rallied in his opinion all of the arguments supporting free speech in a democracy. and it's a really wonderful decision. if you have the opportunity, please look that up and read abe
fordice's decision in tinker v des moines, because it's a very strong argument for freedom of speech and beyond that, he argues that in the schools, it's especially important because students are going to grow up to be voting citizens. and it's important that students not think that we believe in the first amendment. it's just window dressing, but we don't really believe it. >> yep. >> that we be sincere in our belief in our support for the first amendment. so it's a very strong opinion. >> well, not everybody was so happy about us speaking up and standing up for peace. and some of them even sent us some mail, like this postcard saying that they hate us and that we were communists, and they threw red paint at our house. and a lady even called me and threatened to kill me. others stood up for us like lieutenant corporal harry cory that said we should have our
first amendment rights. and this is around the time that we actually lost. i'm not sure why we're smiling, but that was at the -- that was at the appeals court when we lost the case. and chris eckhart was there with us as well, the third plaintiff. and then the happy day, february 24th which we're celebrating this weekend. we're celebrating all year. 2019 will be the 50th anniversary of this day when the supreme court said by 7-2 that neither students or teachers leave their first amendment right to free expression at the schoolhouse gate. and one of my favorite parts of the ruling is that students are persons. do you like being persons, everybody? kind of nice, yeah. who likes that? come on. let's hear it. yeah. [ applause ] yeah, there is just nothing like being a person with the responsibilities and the rights of the constitution in our democracy. so it was a great day for young
people all over the country, and we're celebrating that today. so thank you, all, for being here with us to help celebrate. we're going open it up i think soon for some questions and your comments. thank you, everybody. here is to the first amendment! all right. [ applause ] >> thank you, john and mary beth. as mary beth mentioned, it's time for you now. for those watching this event live, share your questions on twitter using the #tinkerversary, or through our online forum through iptv.org/tinker. but we're going start with a question from the students who are here with us in the room. does anyone have a question?
>> stand up and ask your question, please. >> all right. my name is hy holliman. i'm from sioux city, west. i was talking to my teacher during our lunch period. he brought up an interesting point, and i think it kind of goes along with the first amendment. in these more modern times where social media is used more now to cause whether it's assembly for a protest or anything like that, how does that play into the first amendment to you guys? >> social media so important. a great way to speak up and stand up for things that you believe in. and it's -- the courts -- there hasn't been a case at the supreme court having to do with student speech and social media. there has been a case around adults and facebook. and the court was very protective of the man's rights in that case. but i think it's only a matter of time before a case does make it to the supreme court.
of course with social media, we want to be respectful with how we use that, because we want to use our rights to make the world better and not to make it more dangerous. >> i'd like to say something regarding speech generally, and it applies to social media. because a lot of the questions around social media speech have to do with implied threats and harassments. and i think that you're going to find that speech is distinguished between speech which is expressing an idea and speech which is more or less an assault. now currently an assault is defined as a physical assault, but if you've ever been verbally assaulted, you understand that it has a physical effect. and hate speech can have a physical effect. and it also can encourage violence, real physical violence. so my view and my expectation is that speech will be
distinguished more -- for instance, i can't walk into a bank and say give me your money and then claim, you know, that that was free speech. i can't rob a person with my speech. and likewise, i think it's going to be distinguished between assaultive speech and speech which is actually conveying an idea. >> there is no legal definition of hate speech, and i believe along with many others that the limit to speech that is not covered should be physical violence. and so in schools it's a little bit different because we have to maintain an environment there where everyone feels safe. so certain case -- there was a case in san diego where a student wore a shirt that said "god is ashamed of your homosexuality." and the courts ruled against that, saying that impinges on the rights of others. because in the tinker ruling, there are two things that the
court said students still cannot do with free speech. number one, substantial disruption of school. and that comes directly from the mississippi burnside case. and number two, impinge on the rights of others. whatever that means. and that's been debated ever since. sometimes the courts can curtail your right to free speech because they said it can impinge on the rights of others. so let's hear another one. >> at the lower courts, some of the social media cases have been regarding claimed disruption in the school because of speech which occurred on the internet. and so i think that's one of the tough issues. >> yeah. there are a lot of mixed rulings about that. sometimes the students have prevailed and other times no, depending on how much of a threat of violence is involved. >> speaking of social media. >> yes? >> we have a question from lynn gromos on twitter. how did your friends and
teachers treat you when you wore those armbanded? >> my teachers were pretty nice about it, really. and my friends were also not hostile to me. i'd have to say they were fine. >> my friends were also more or less supported me. i'll tell a little story. i was having lunch -- i went the first three periods of the day and nobody said anything about my black armband. well, my friends mentioned it. i wasn't reported to the office none of the teachers. if a teacher saw it, one in particular i'm thinking about, he didn't report it. so after gym class, my last period for the morning, i put my clothes back on. i put the black armband over my white shirt. i didn't put my jacket back on. and it stood out really well. and so i went to the lunchroom like that, and ate lunch with my
friends. they were discussing it. it wasn't a big deal really. and some kids came over and started harassing me. and they were calling me a commie, a communist, a coward, that patriotic, and they were harassing me. and a football player came over, and i didn't really know him at the time. i know him better now, but i didn't know him at the time. he said to the kids who were harassing me, he said, look, you have your opinion about the war, john has his opinion about the war, john has a right to his opinion, leave him alone. and i thought that was just excellent, to have a football player -- >> that was good. come on, everybody, come on. [ applause ] . >> standing up for your rights. >> we have another question from twitter.
this is from ashley. she has joined us from the online forum. she is from a high school in connecticut. she asked, how did being involved in this at a young age affect and essentially change your life? >> it has changed both of our lives because it's given us an opportunity to spend time with young people, like today, and encouraging young people. >> it affected my life, i'm sure. when you have done something significant at a young age, you sort of feel like you need to do something else or that's the only thing you'll be -- you will have accomplished. so i remained a lifelong peace activist. it's still my major identification as an activist. i'm very opposed to militarism. i think the large military budget is very detrimental to our society. it's preventing us from
addressing real issues that we have. but the case and winning it at a young age gave me confidence to kind of chart my own course, and i've done that, and i'm very happy that i was able to do that. but it's given both of us the opportunity to speak to students and teachers and administrators. i talk regularly with graduate school classes of school administrators, and so i am very blessed to be able to have that kind of contact and influence. >> let's take a question from the audience. raise your hand if you have one, please. and we will throw that microphone to you. >> my name is steven. what are your thoughts on the current problems, and especially arising on college campuses of groups of students actively
promoting violence to censor speakers they may not agree with and just violate the first amendment of the whole opposite side of the spectrum that's became a huge issue, especially right now? >> i'm against censorship of speech at college campuses. colleges should be places where people can speak and engage and have dialogue and i think that's very, very important. >> should we take another question from twitter? >> sure. >> ruby gonzalez from lopez early college high school in brownsville, texas, sends us this question. what advice would you give to students who might be hesitant to speak up in their schools for fear of retribution from the school? >> the fear of speaking up
because of violence, potential violence? >> were we afraid? i was. i was in eighth grade. i was really shy and nervous. >> i had the armband in my coat pocket when i walked to school because i was afraid of what somebody on the street might do as i was walking to school. >> but we had examples in our life. we had the birmingham kids that were killed for speaking up for the things they believed in, and we had our parents who were examples to us. so i say to kids, find a few other people who care about the issue that you care about and find out what's already going on in that issue. and when you do, it makes life to meaningful and interesting and some days even fun. >> i want to point out, too, that we were not isolated individuals. we were really part of a peace movement. in our childhood, we grew up surrounded by the peace movement. we were immersed in the peace
movement. and we knew that we had the support of adults around us, we knew that there was a philosophical basis and a moral basis for what we were doing, and i think that lent us strength to do what we did. >> if you feel isolated and you feel alone -- and i have felt that way times in my life, for sure, try to find at least one other person, maybe in your school or maybe in your community, or someone that you can find a friend to stand by you. that can make all the difference. >> des moines, we're looking at you. raise your hand. do you have a question? >> hi, i'm michael rosenberg. i wanted to know, what was your reaction you got from the community over your protest? >> some people in the community were very supportive and many
were very -- some were very angry. they misunderstood the idea of patriotism, i think. some people think patriotism means that following the policy that the government decided and that's where the school president made a mistake, also. he came out with a quote saying our government has made a decision about vietnam and we should follow it. that's not democracy. and really this is a story of journalism, also, because there are so many journalists that spoke up and covered this case. but, no, our role in democracy is not to just follow what has been decided. it's also to think about things and to criticize the decisions of politicians and the government when we feel that it's gone astray. >> in 1965, by the end of '65, the war fervor had really been whipped up and the people were
being told by the media that if we did not stop the north vietnamese that they would be attacking california. it was called the domino theory. and so people whose information was only coming through the established media channels and that were receiving most of their information via the white house or the state department, they felt that we were destroying their country and they were afraid of people like us and that's why there was so much anger directed toward the peace movement. you cowards, you communists, how could you do this to our country? but people that had a broader sense of what was going on and a knowledge of history and a sense of their own humanity and the rightness of humanity, of
conscience, i think we got support from them. so the society is a very broad society, and so people acted in different ways depending on where in that broad spectrum they came from. >> and as the concerns and feelings about the war grew through the years, more and more of the military got involved in speaking up for peace. and i think that's really what helped to end the war. it wasn't a student movement against the war only, it was also military soldiers, so many soldiers themselves. so by 1969 when we won the case, it was kind of hard to be really happy about our victory because it was one of the worst years for the war, but so many soldiers by then were also speaking up about peace. so it wasn't -- >> the soldiers were coming back and they knew what the war was.
they had seen it. they had witnessed it with their own eyes. so the soldiers came back and said this is not what we're being told it is, they really did swing a lot of the public. and by 1969 the broad center of the curve had shifted much more toward the anti-war position. >> we have a question from mary. she submitted this form online. she's from christopher columbus high school in miami, florida. which free speech issues still exist today and actually surprise you even as we honor the 50th anniversary of tinker v. des moines? >> it surprises me how the first amendment is so unequally applied today. and as i travel the country speaking about journalism, it's actually scholastic journalism week this week so we're celebrating that, and so many students don't have journalism
at all. and so there's an inequality about that, and that's what really surprises me the most. if you go to more upper class schools or more white students, they're more likely to have free speech rights and journalism and all of the five rights of the first amendment. but there are students around the country that are working on and so many of them are journalists. we have some today, from florida, from texas, from arkansas, from iowa, and everyone is working on that. >> it surprised me to read recently in the news, i forget where it was, that a student was arrested for not pledging allegiance to the flag. >> in all fairness, the school has said that it wasn't for not saluting the flag, it was for the substantial disturbance. i have strong feelings about
this myself and i think that the police were wrong. >> i know the teacher that was involved in that lost her job, and that's a consequence of the school system understanding that the student did have rights and that gives me a great deal of pleasure to know that the school system is more aware of that these days. >> yes, definitely. and it's also, i think, an example of over-policing in the schools and that's an issue of the american civil liberties today. they go to the supreme court more than any organization and they helped us and they're helping students today with issues exactly like that. >> we'll take another question from our audience here in des moines. which student is going to get the cube? >> i have it. [ laughter ] >> i was just more curious as to how you achieved the funds to go to court.
you mentioned it being about four years long. did you receive donations, did you pay out of pocket? how did you achieve the funds? >> as far as the funding, the american civil liberties union, the way they conduct a lot of their cases is with pro bono lawyers, in other words, lawyers who donate their time. and we had a wonderful young lawyer named dan johnston who has not only good at arguing the case, but helping us to feel safe and secure, which was a problem at that time because a lot of people were threatening us. so we had no money. we had a large family, and through the help of the american civil liberties union, we were able to proceed. >> our lawyer passed away a few years ago, but he always added that he was a very young lawyer at the time, i believe he was 29 years old when he won the supreme court case. and he said if you win a supreme court case at that age, the rest of your career tends to be
anticlimactic. [ laughter ] >> we have a question from kevin submitted online from lopez early high school in brownsville, texas. how did you feel when you presented your case to the supreme court, not knowing how they were going to rule? >> we didn't do that ourselves, personally. we testified at the trial court here in des moines at the federal court. i testified first and i was a little nervous, but i wasn't excessively nervous. i had an audience full of adults and students who i knew supported me. and it was an interesting situation. our lawyer was very good and very friendly and he was able to make us feel comfortable on the stand. the school board attorney was not so friendly.
he was really trying to rope us into saying something that would be detrimental. but, honestly, i felt like i could anticipate exactly where he was trying to get me to go, and i could avoid that. but, anyway, at the appellate court in st. louis and at the supreme court, it was our lawyer who made the case to the court. so we could just sit back and watch. actually, i couldn't watch at the supreme court because i missed some flights. i got bumped off of a flight from chicago. >> that's right. the des moines school board, even though they were speaking up against us then -- and there were some supporters, but they've changed their mind and they've been welcoming and supportive. >> it's been wonderful. >> and they even wore black
armbands last year, i think after the parkland shootings, to speak up about supporting the issue. >> we have just a couple minutes left for questions. somebody in the audience here, ask a quick question with the cube, please. just a quick question, please. >> i'm omar, and i wanted to ask, did you have any family members that rejected you or shunned you after you appeared in the supreme court? >> we did not have any family members that rejected us after the ruling. some people were kind of mad about it, but not too many. i'm glad you asked that question. and we were talking at lunch about what you were talking about with discrimination and how you were worried about the internment of the japanese and that that could happen again if we don't speak up against
prejudice and discrimination. >> although we didn't have family members that were killed in the war or even served in the war, we had a lot of sympathy for the soldiers who were in vietnam. and i always want to make that distinction, because you're going to hear me talk against militarism. but i'm not speaking out against the soldiers. i view the soldiers as another victim of the militarism that is so strong in our society, and i have a lot of sympathy for the people. and i have a number of friends who have been soldiers. >> i think that wraps up the question portion. i think back to you, mary beth. >> thank you, everyone, for your great questions and comments. [ applause ] >> so now we have a special treat.
we have two students who are using their first amendment rights to speak up about the things that they care about, and one of them is jenny nguyen from north high school. so come on up, jenny. [ applause ] >> now, north is my old high school, so welcome. >> that's right. >> good afternoon, everyone. my name is jenny nguyen. i am a senior and class president at des moines north high school. 50 years ago the tinkers not only stood up for their rights, but also for people across the nation and that changed our lives forever. because of your courageousness, we are able to express ourselves in what we wear, write and say. today i woke up not being afraid. not being afraid of going to school and expressing my ideas. i am glad to say that many kids today are not afraid to speak their minds. they know how to use their voice. but if it was 50 years ago,
students would be expelled or suspended for speaking up for their rights. that all changed because of the tinkers, so thank you. i want to tell you about something powerful that happened at north high school a couple years ago. recent political issues at the time motivated student leaders to organize a walk-out during school to protest. signs were made by multiple students and everyone was united as one. i participated because i know that my voice matters. and if i did not like something, i will speak up. today our generation are exposed to a lot more opportunities to express ourselves, from after-school programs to art classes, and journalism, for example. we have a great newspaper team here at north hue, the oracle. students get to create their own pages and design how they like to write about what they believe in. some of the topics that have been covered range from women to
lgbtq rights. these are usually sensitive, but the newspaper provides a platform for us to express ourselves. we are young, and because we are young, people think we don't matter and our opinions don't matter, but we do matter. we are the leaders of the next generation. so thank you to the tinkers for standing up and letting us have the freedom of speech we have today. thank you. [ applause ] >> and now -- thank you so much for that, jenny. and now we're going to hear from rebecca schneid from marjorie douglas stoneman high school in parkland, florida. thank you. >> my name is rebecca schneid and i am the editor-in-chief of the eagle eye, which is the newspaper at marjorie douglas
stoneman high school. last year it was the site of a shooting which killed 17 people. but i don't think that's what our high school is known for now. we're not known as a school of victims, we're known as a school of fighters who understood our first amendment rights to speak up for what we believe in. not only that, we were determined to advocate for the rights we believed we deserved, our right to life. and i think if you're going to take anything from today, it should be that it doesn't matter your age. we were 14, 15, 16, 17. if you are old enough to be affected by the ills of society, you're old enough to have a say in it and you're old enough to speak up for what you believe in. and i have not just seen that as a survivor of a school journalist. i wrote about stories that were important to me or my classmates, whether they be lgbtq issues or begun violence on the cities and streets, or rape culture, diversity, and
each of these are just as important as the other. and if any of these issues or anything else is important to you, i encourage you to stand up for your rights and to also speak up for them, write about them. i have seen that student press and voices are the most important thing in this country right now and they are the things that are keeping us together and they are the things that are holding politicians and everyone else accountable for their actions. so whatever you believe in, whether that be any of the issues that i said or something else, write about them, speak about them and affect change. thank you. [ applause ] >> thank you, thank you so much, rebecca. and thank you to all of you for being here and thank you for using your rights and thank you to everyone on the online audience for using your first amendment rights to speak up and make the world a better, safer, more just place for all of us to live. how about it, john? >> absolutely.
thanks for being here. thanks for caring about first amendment rights. thanks for caring about the world. and you are the future. i know any number of adults have told you that before, but it's really true. >> and you're present and we're really counting on you. we really are. so go out there and make the world a better place. >> thanks, everybody. >> thank you so much, everyone. [ applause ] >> john and mary beth, on behalf of iowa public television, the state historical society of iowa and young people across the country, thank you for sharing your time, energy and story with us today. to the students in this auditorium and those of you who joined us online, thank you for your questions and your participation. [ applause ]