February 24 marks the 40th anniversary of the Tinker decision, a landmark Supreme Court case affirming students’ First Amendment rights to free speech in public schools. In honor of this anniversary, the ACLU has released a short video about a Florida high school that banned students from wearing clothing supporting equal rights for gay people.
The principal at Ponce De Leon High School censored Heather Gillman and other students after they began wearing clothing with rainbows and other symbols of support for gay equality in response to anti-gay harassment at the school. After a trial, a federal judge ruled in Heather’s favor, finding that the school violated Heather’s First Amendment rights.
Heather and countless other courageous students have followed in the footsteps of Mary Beth Tinker, her brother John, and their friend Christopher Eckhardt, who were suspended from Des Moines public schools in 1965 for wearing black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War. With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, the students filed a lawsuit, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, which was eventually appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a landmark decision on February 24, 1969, the Court ruled in favor of the students, holding that students don’t lose their constitutional rights at the classroom door. The Tinker precedent is still used to determine whether a school’s disciplinary actions violate students’ First Amendment rights.