Tag Archives: Free Speech

Tinker v Des Moines 1969

Tinker v Des Moines 1969

1969. It was a time of empowerment. Blacks. Women. College students. The disabled. LGBTQ. Migrant laborers.  Native Americans. Immigrants.

And high school students.

Tinker v Des Moines

Tinker v Des Moines 1969

December 16, 1965

On December 11, 1965, high school student Christopher Eckhardt held a meeting with a group of students at his Des Moines, Iowa home. The group decided to wear black armbands in school on December 16 as both a Vietnam War protest and in support of Robert F Kennedy’s proposed extension of a truce the Viet Cong proposed truce on Christmas Eve. The student would keep wearing the bands until January 1, 1966.

Principals of the Des Moines schools learned of the plan and on December 14, 1965, adopted a policy that required any student wearing an armband in school to remove it. Any student who refused would be suspended until they agreed to comply.

On December 16, 1965, Chrisopher Eckhardt (16), Mary Beth Tinker (13) and her siblings, Hope (11) and Paul (8) wore black armbands. Christopher and Mary were suspended. The two younger students were not.  Mary Beth’s brother, John Tinker (15), was suspended for doing the same on the following day.

Tinker v DesMoines
Mary and John Tinker
Tinker v Des Moines 1969

Echhardt explains why

Christopher Eckhardt: I wore the black armband over a camel-colored jacket. The captain of the football team attempted to rip it off. I turned myself in to the principal’s office where the vice principal asked if ‘I wanted a busted nose.’ He said seniors wouldn’t like the armband. Tears welled up in my eyes because I was afraid of violence. He called my mom to get her to ask me to take the armband off. Then he called a school counselor in. The counselor asked if I wanted to go to college, and said that colleges didn’t accept protesters. She said I would probably need to look for a new high school if I didn’t take the armband off.

Tinker v Des Moines 1969

The beginning

The Iowa Civil Liberties Union approached the families and the ACLU agreed to help the family with a lawsuit. The Tinker and Eckhardts filed suit in U.S. District Court which upheld the board’s decision.

Tinker v Des Moines


A tie vote in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit meant that the U.S. District Court’s decision continued to stand.

Continues still…

The Tinkers and Eckhardts to appealed to the Supreme Court. The case was argued before the court on November 12, 1968.


On February 24, 1969 the US Supreme Court sided with the Tinkers in  Tinker v. Des Moines. Justice Abe Fortas delivered the opinion of the 7-2 majority. The Supreme Court held that the armbands represented pure speech that is entirely separate from the actions or conduct of those participating in it. The Court also held that the students did not lose their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech when they stepped onto school property. In order to justify the suppression of speech, the school officials must be able to prove that the conduct in question would “materially and substantially interfere” with the operation of the school. In this case, the school district’s actions evidently stemmed from a fear of possible disruption rather than any actual interference. (Tinker article) [Oyez article]

Tinker v Des Moines Independent Community School District
Mary Beth Tinker, and her brother, John Tinker, stand next to locker 319 in 2013 at Harding Elementary School in Des Moines
Tinker v Des Moines 1969

John & Yoko

Appropriately, on December 16, 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono put up eleven billboards in major cities worldwide with the slogan: War Is Over!

Tinker v Des Moines 1969
John & Yoko’s billboard
Tinker v Des Moines 1969

John F. Tinker Foundation

Today, the  mission of the John F. Tinker Foundation is to promote awareness and understanding of the First Amendment rights of students and teachers, and to facilitate civil conversation about controversial social issues.

Here is a link to a 2019 Smithsonian Magazine article entitled The Young Anti-War Activists Who Fought for Free Speech at School

Tinker v Des Moines 1969

One Book Called Ulysses

One Book Called Ulysses

The United States v One Book Called Ulysses
… and the vague fellows in the cloaks asleep in the shade on the steps and the big wheels of the carts of the bulls and the old castle thousands of years old yes and those handsome Moors all in white and turbans like kings asking you to sit down in their little bit of a shop and Ronda with the old windows of the posadas glancing eyes a lattice hid for her lover to kiss the iron and the wineshops half open at night and the castanets and the night we missed the boat at Algeciras the watchman going about serene with his lamp and O that awful deepdown torrent O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down Jo me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.
December 6, 1933

When Country Joe McDonald had 400,000 yell out his Fish Cheer on August 16, 1969 at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, he had James Joyce and one book called Ulysses to thank.

One Book Called Ulysses
One Book Called Ulysses


One Book Called Ulysses

Little Review serialization

Ulysses was serialized in the American journal The Little Review from 1918 to 1920. The publication of the Nausicaä episode led to a prosecution for obscenity. 

The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice objected to the book’s content and took action to attempt to keep the book out of the United States. At a New York trial in February 1921 the court declared the story obscene and, as a result, Ulysses was effectively banned in the United States.

In 1922, the American-born bookseller and publisher Sylvia Beach living in Paris released the whole novel in France.

Throughout the 1920s, the United States Post Office burned copies of the novel.

One Book Called Ulysses

Random House

In 1933, Random House publishers openly arranged to import the French edition and have a copy seized by customs. It then contested the seizure in United States v. One Book Called Ulysses.

The seizure of the work was contested in the United States District Court in New York City

One Book Called Ulysses

Judge John M. Woolsey

On December 6, 1933, Judge John M. Woolsey ruled that Ulysses was not pornographic—that nowhere in it was the “leer of the sensualist.”  Woolsey stated that the novel was serious and that its author was sincere and honest in showing how the minds of his characters operate and what they were thinking.

Woolsey wrote: If Joyce did not attempt to be honest in developing the technique which he has adopted in “Ulysses,” the result would be psychologically misleading and thus unfaithful to his chosen technique. Such an attitude would be artistically inexcusable.

He later wrote: “Ulysses” is an amazing tour de force ….It is brilliant and dull, intelligible and obscure…,I have not found anything that I consider to be dirt for dirt’s sake. Each word of the book contributes like a bit of mosaic to the detail of the picture which Joyce is seeking to construct for his readers.”     (click for full Woolsey text >>> Complete text)

On August 7, 1934, the Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision.

One Book Called Ulysses
from Molly Bloom’s soliloqy
One Book Called Ulysses


Student Free Speech Movement

Student Free Speech Movement

A hallmark of the 1960s’ cultural revolution was the the student free speech movement. In 1964, the tip of the baby boomer generation was starting college and some of them actually followed the curricula and critically examined information.

Mario Savio

During the summer of 1964, between his junior and senior year at the University of California, Berkeley, Mario Savio had gone to Mississippi  to join the Freedom Summer projects  there.  Savio taught at a freedom school for black children in McComb, Mississippi.

In July, Savio, another white civil-rights activist and a black acquaintance were walking down a road in Jackson and were attacked by two men.

He also attended the Mississippi Free Democratic Party  convention. The whole experience inspired him.


The post war Red Scare and Cold War continued into the 1960s. Protesters were suspect. College campuses included.

On September 14, 1964 UC Berkeley Dean of Students Katherine Towle, wrote a letter to the student political groups telling them that they could no longer use a designated plaza to solicit support for “off campus political and social action.” The plaza had been the most accessible location for student-to-student interaction.

The United Front began protests and for two months negotiations between the college administration and United front sputtered along. By December the student free speech movement…

Student Free Speech Movement
Mario Savio, shown here at a victory rally in UC Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza on Dec. 9, 1964, was the face of the free speech movement.
 Student Free Speech Movement

Mario Savio at UC Berkeley

December 2, 1964: student free speech movement activist Mario Savio and other students occupied the University of Berkeley’s Sproul Hall to protest a ban on campus activism. Joan Baez sang in support. (NYT article)

Student Free Speech Movement
Joan Baez at the Free Speech movement protest on Dec 2

Student Free Speech Movement

Sproul Hall

On December 3, police arrested nearly 800 students attempting to control the student free speech movement.

On December 7 classes were cancelled, but on December 8 the Academic Senate  voted overwhelmingly for no restrictions on the content of speech or advocacy. It appeared that the Student Free Speech Movement had won.

From jofreeman.com: When the faculty left the hall, students cried, cheered, and applauded. Symbolically, the FSM had won, but the struggle was not over; only the Regents could set policy. When they met on December 18, they voted to support the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, but insisted on law and order. The faculty felt the spirit of their resolution had been met, but the FSM did not. When the new campus administration wrote detailed regulations, content of advocacy was ignored in favor of stringent time, place and manner rules. Scuffling over the rules and how they were applied continued….

 Student Free Speech Movement

Movement spreads

The student free speech movement would spread. On December 12, Savio warned in New York. (NYT article)

By March 9, 1965, a NYT headline read:

Clark Kerr Will Resign as U. of California Head

But by March 14 Kerr rescinded his resignation and :


On April 26, 1965 Savio quit the Free Speech Movement (Savio quits), but student activism didn’t.

Mario Savio died on November 6, 1996.

 Student Free Speech Movement