Iowa State University’s hosting its third annual “First Amendment Days” on campus. Today (Wednesday) features guest speakers who put Iowa on the map in a landmark freedom-of-expression case decided by the United States Supreme Court. John Tinker was a high-school student in Des Moines when he and his sister Mary agreed with another friend that they’d go to school wearing black armbands, to protest the war in Vietnam. He says when school authorities found they planned it, he says they told they kids they couldn’t. “We wore armbands anyway and they kicked us out of school, so we sued for our rights to free speech.” They lost in the district court in Des Moines, and Appeals Court in St. Louis split on a 4-4 verdict…so the case went before the Supreme Court and became “Tinker versus Des Moines,” a landmark free-speech ruling that’s taught in law schools and history classes to this day. He says since then it’s been used a lot by students asserting their free-speech rights in the public schools, and so far courts have continued to afford those rights. Tinker hastens to add that courts have “shaved a little off the sides” of that free-speech right, noting that students on a school paper may have to follow school rules on what’s printed using school facilities. And he says it doesn’t mean a student can disrupt the educational process, or even wear a t-shirt featuring dirty words or a beer’s brand-name. The court’s only protecting “pure political speech,” he says, not commercial or obscene speech. In cases where the ideas expressed are simply political, the courts have consistently upheld a student’s right to do that. John and MaryBeth Tinker will speak in the Sun Room at the ISU Memorial Union at 7 tonight about “Freedom of Expression in an Age of Fear.” He says high-school students will also be there, and he’ll tell them that while they can’t be disruptive, they do have free speech rights — even if their school administration is not necessarily going to tell them that. Tonight’s speech by the Tinkers is at 7 P.M. Tomorrow (Thursday) there will be a presentation from the “Freedom from Religion Foundation” based in Madison, Wisconsin, and the right to assemble will be demonstrated with an attempt to gather 1-thousand, 111 people on campus simultaneously reading President Kennedy’s inauguration speech to break a Guinness world record.
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