Mary Beth Tinker never thought a teenage act of defiance would make history and set U.S. legal precedent.
But 45 years later, she’s still known as the 13-year-old Iowa eighth-grader who fought for public school students’ First Amendment rights and won.
She and fellow students prevented from wearing black armbands to school to mourn soldiers killed on both sides of the Vietnam War took their case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The landmark 1969 Tinker vs. Independent County School District 21 decision in which the court famously held that individuals "do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate," has become the standard by which all other student First Amendment cases are judged.
Tinker will be in Salt Lake City March 29 to advocate for free speech and civic engagement that celebrates the First Amendment.
Her "Tinker Tour," sponsored by the law firms of Jones Waldo Holbrook & McDonough and Parr Brown Gee & Loveless, will make a stop at the Society of Professional Journalists Region 9 conference planned that day at the Brigham Young University Salt Lake Center.
The conference is open to anyone interested in journalism and willing to pay the $25 registration fee.
In addition to Tinker, Tom Zoellner, a former Salt Lake Tribune reporter and author of five books including the newly released "Train," will present on the topic: "Finding the importance in big-topic stories."
A number of Tribune staffers also will participate in panel discussions about the National Security Agency Utah Data Center, cameras in the courtroom and the nationwide legal battle over same-sex marriage.
Tinker is an ideal speaker for a gathering of journalists because the First Amendment, of course, is our guiding principle. Now as much as ever, we worry about attempts to whittle away at a fundamental right.
We want young people to understand and treasure the First Amendment and embrace the responsibility that accompanies the privilege.
Tinker can help draw attention to the fact that their own free-speech rights are being challenged every day.
The Tinker Tour, for example, makes note of modern-day attempts to restrict students’ use of social media and other digital communications tools in an effort to combat cyberbullying and sexting.
In the past four years, according to the tour, three federal appellate courts have determined the Tinker standard is equally applicable to students’ speech on off campus social networking pages as to speech
And in Tinker herself, perhaps young people can realize they have the power to make a difference.
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