The Constitution lets people speak up and say things that are unpopular, Mary Beth Tinker told a crowd of students and teachers gathered in the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on Tuesday. “And that’s why we’re here today, celebrating the Constitution,” she said.
Tinker gave the inaugural speech of the Tinker Tour, a project that will promote free speech and civic engagement in dozens of cities this fall. The tour is named after Tinker and her famous Supreme Court case of 1969, which established that students have the right of free expression even while in school.
Mary Beth, her brother John and a friend were suspended from their Des Moines, Iowa, high school for wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War.
“I thought the armband was exactly equivalent to a political button,” John Tinker told the Constitution Day crowd. “It was a symbol of what we thought.”
Initially, Mary Beth removed her armband when school officials told her to do so. “We thought, kids can’t stand up for their rights against the principal and the math teacher,” she said.
But the American Civil Liberties Union took their case all the way to the Supreme Court, even though they lost at the district and appellate level.
Mary Beth said she faced discouragement from the three-year court case and hate mail she received.
“(But) you should use your rights to stand up for what’s right,” she said.
Greetings from the Big Apple – today we're speaking with students at Leonardo da Vinci Middle School in Queens, NY! #TinkerTour— Tinker Tour (@tinkertour) September 18, 2013