Molly McMahon

Forty years after fighting for First Amendment rights for students in a Des Moines high school, John and Mary Beth Tinker will visit Miami University March 30 and 31.

The Tinkers, who are best know for their fight for student speech rights in the 1969 Supreme Court Decision, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District, will be part of Miami University’s O’Hara Lecture Series.

The brother and sister staged a silent protest along with another classmate in 1965 against the government’s policies in Vietnam by wearing black armbands to school.

The administration of the Des Moines Independent School District suspended the students until they agreed to remove the armbands, leading to the Supreme Court ruling in the Tinkers’ favor and redefining free speech rights for students.

“Because of their work in the judicial system and with free speech, I thought that they would be a good fit for the O’Hara event,” Clyde Brown, professor of political science, said. “The Tinkers’ initial involvement with First Amendment right was when they were teens, so they have been active in the debate for their whole life and will have a lot to discuss.”

While the schedule of events is still developing, Brown said they hope to have several events spanning the two-day visit. 

“We are still working on finalizing the schedule for this event, but once we have a fixed schedule and the date gets closer, we hope to advertise throughout campus and not just in the department of political science,” Brown said. “This is a good opportunity for all students, not just ones interested in media or law.”

While visiting, Brown said the Tinkers will discuss their involvement with the Supreme Court case as well as how the issues of first amendment rights affect college students and citizens as a whole.

“I am hoping that people will take away two things from this event,” Brown said. “One that the audience will begin to appreciate their rights as citizens, especially the freedom of speech and expression. Secondly, I hope that college students will reflect on their civil rights and their position in the U.S. political system.”

According to Brown, the lecture series hopes to expose all students to different aspects of the political system and the world outside of campus life.

First-year student Kailey Schmeling said she would consider attending the lecture because she believes it is important for students to understand what their speech rights are, as well as how such rights came about.

“I don’t know a lot about the case, but it seems really interesting from what I have heard,” Schmeling said. “It is really great that Miami is able to get speakers such as the Tinkers to come.”

First-year student Chris Bilek said he would attend the lecture because he remembered learning about the Tinker vs. Des Moines case in high school and thought it would be a good experience to hear the firsthand account of the case.

“I think that it is great that Tinkers are coming to Miami,” Bilek said. “As students we are encouraged to think big and challenge the status quo. It would be great to hear from the people who made sure we could legally be able to speak our minds.”