The Supreme Court's decision in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969), did for the ideal of freedom in America's public schools what Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), did for the ideal of equality. It made a core value of the Bill of Rights spring to life for young people facing unjust policies and authoritarian treatment at the hands of adult officials in local school systems. In his remarkable opinion for the majority, Justice Abe Fortas upheld thirteen-year-old Mary Beth Tinker's First Amendment right to wear a black antiwar armband to school by declaring censorship of student expression invalid unless a school can demonstrate that it causes 'material disruption' of the educational process. To be sure, this powerful libertarian doctrine has been eroded (much like the egalitarian vision of Brown) by the sharp undertow of the Burger, Rehnquist, and Roberts Courts, but it still shines imperishably bright from the last century as a beacon not only for student rights but for constitutional democracy in public settings generally. It expresses the idea that every social institution must respect freedom of speech unless the exercise of that freedom would thwart the very purpose of having the institution in the first place.
Jamin B. Raskin,
Student Speech: The Enduring Greatness of Tinker,
Available at: https://digitalcommons.wcl.american.edu/facsch_lawrev/1049