The First Amendment

Essay by AFWTKUniversity, Bachelor'sA, February 2007

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Bitter conflicts have resulted over the debate of civil liberties in America. Civil liberties are "freedoms that individuals enjoy and that governments cannot invade" (Miroff, Seidelman, Swanstorm 450). The civil liberties of U.S. citizens are largely embedded in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution, but America's judicial system has had to resolve many conflicts arising between civil liberties some consider to be basic freedoms that others see as threats to order and morality. Through the First Amendment, the Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of speech, press, assembly, and religious exercise as well as separation of church and state. But the First Amendment has not always conferred an absolute protection of all forms of speech, especially some forms of symbolic speech. Symbolic speech is a form of "political expression that communicates with visual symbols instead of words" (Miroff, Seidelman, Swanstorm 457), and has caused numerous disputes, many of which have been decided by the nation's courts, in recent years.

A landmark court case for defending the rights of symbolic speech was Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District in 1969. John and Mary Beth Tinker, and their friend Christopher Eckhardt, decided to wear black armbands to their schools in Des Moines to protest of the Vietnam War. The school board heard a rumor about this and chose to pass a policy banning the wearing of armbands to school, suspending students who violated this policy. The Tinkers and Eckhardt chose to violate this policy, and were suspended from school ("Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District"). The parents of the Tinkers filed a lawsuit against the school board, which they eventually appealed to the Supreme Court. The Court had to decide whether students lost their rights to free speech while they were in school and whether wearing...