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Landmark Supreme Court Decisions

Oct 08, 1999 1037 Words
Landmark Supreme Court Decisions

Scott Nagao
3/10/97
Period 7

About 32 years ago, in December of 1965, a group of adults and students from Des Moines, Iowa gathered to show their dislike towards American involvement in the Vietnam War. They decided to wear black armbands and fast on December 16 and 31 to express there point. When the principals of the Des Moines School System found out their plans, they decided to suspend anyone who took part in this type of protest. On December 16 - 17 three Tinker siblings and several of their friends were suspended for wearing the armbands. All of them did not return to school until after New Years Day. Acting through their parents, the Tinkers and some other students went to the Federal District Court, asking for an injunction to be issued by Iowa. This court refused the idea, forcing them to take the case to the Supreme Court. After hearing their case, the Supreme Court agreed with the Tinkers. They said that wearing black armbands was a silent form of expression and that students do not have to give up their 1st Amendment rights at school. This landmark Supreme Court case was known as Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District.

From the case of Tinker v. Des Moines Ind. School Board obviously came some conflicting viewpoints about the armbands. The school board said that no one has the absolute right to freedom of expression, where the Tinkers said that only banning armbands and not other political symbols was unconstitutional. The school board said that the armbands were disruptive to the learning environment, where the Tinkers said they were not. Finally, the school board said that order in the classroom, where political controversy should be discussed, is entitled to constitutional protection. The Tinkers believed that the armbands were worn as the students views, and therefore should be constitutionally protected and respected by the school. These were all important arguments in the case.

Personally, I agree with the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the 1st Amendment rights of the students in school. Why shouldn't students have the same rights as other people? If the students wore obscene clothing, ran out of classrooms, or set the school on fire in protest of the war, then yes, I could see disciplinary action being taken against them. However, the Tinkers simply wore black armbands. Because this was not disruptive or obscene, I feel the school should not have punished them.

Another landmark Supreme Court decision came in 1988 in the case of Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier. In 1983 the principal of Hazelwood East High School removed two articles from the school newspaper. He objected to these articles because they described three students' experiences with pregnancy and divorce. He felt that topics such as these would be inappropriate for student readers. The school board voted in favor of the principal's action. Cathy Kuhlmeier and several other students sued the school district in the U.S. District Court of St. Louis. Despite claiming that their 1st and 14th Amendment rights had been violated, the Court found no violations. After taking the case to the United States Court of Appeals, their case was taken to United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, however, also upheld the principal's actions finding no violation of their rights. They said that because the newspaper was run by school officials, that it could be controlled by them, "so long as their actions related to legitimate pedagogical concerns ".

This case also had some arguments to consider. The school district said that students' rights are not violated when educators use editorial control for educational reasons. Kuhlmeier believed that this was unconstitutional. The school district said that because the paper was not a public forum that censorship was appropriate. Kuhlmeier believed that the paper was a public forum, therefore, she should be able to express her opinion to the community. Finally Hazelwood School District believed that educators were responsible for controlling school publications because they reflect on the school itself. Kuhlmeier believed that controlling school publications stifled the students' free thought and expressions; it limited them to only school-approved subjects or opinions.

In this case, I agree with Cathy Kuhlmeier. I am not saying that certain subjects such as obscene and non-school related topics shouldn't be censored, because they should. However, in Kuhlmeier's case, I feel that pregnancy and divorce are issues that face students at school. Because of this, I believe that the principal's actions were wrong, and that the articles should have been published.

In comparison, both of these cases shared some very similar qualities. Both cases were composed of a student versus a school district. Both cases ended up in the Supreme Court. But the biggest similarity was that both cases concerned students' rights at school, mainly the 1st and 14th Amendment, the freedom of expression. Both plaintiffs felt that their rights were being violated by the decisions and actions made by the school districts.

In contrast, the time periods in which these cases took place were very different. In the 1960's, the war in Vietnam was going on, and there were a lot of controversial issues and viewpoints facing students at schools. In the 1980's, the war was over and there weren't as many controversial issues surrounding students' rights. One case involved freedom of expression through a school newspaper, the other through articles of clothing, but the major difference between the two cases were the decisions made by the U.S. Supreme Court. They agreed with the Tinkers in the belief that freedom of expression through armbands was okay. However, they disagreed with Cathy Kuhlmeier's belief in freedom of expression through a so-called public forum. As a student, I believe that freedom of expression is one of our most important rights. Without this right people won't know who we are; they won't understand our generation. Because of the many different definitions of freedom of expression, people will always be in controversy over them. Let's hope that our school district never faces a problem as big as the ones presented in this paper.

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