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Be the Judge
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Censorship: What Is It?
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Mary Beth Tinker, 13.
Bridget Mergens, 18.
What do these two names have in common? These
young women fought for their First Amendment
rights before the United States Supreme Court.
The First Amendment and Bill of Rights were
written in a way that has left it up to the
people and courts to figure out the boundaries
of our rights. People of all ages and
backgrounds are involved in these court cases,
which look at whether certain rights should be
expanded or restricted. Sometimes there are so
many questions and different decisions by lower
courts on similar situations, that they reach
the Supreme Court for interpretation.
Although judges are supposed to be objective in
their judicial decisions, just like us, their
experiences and views are influenced by societal
values and attitudes of that time period. An
older Supreme Court case from decades ago may be
decided differently if it were before the court
today. Courts occasionally overturn their
previous decisions. Court rulings and judges’
written opinions have a huge impact on how the
people and other branches of government
interpret our rights.
Find out how Mary Beth Tinker, Bridget Mergens
and others tested the boundaries of the First
Amendment before the Supreme Court, and how
their actions helped shape history.
Tinker v. Des Moines (1969)
Tinker, 13, was
opposed to the
Vietnam War. To
views she and
would wear black
the peace sign
to protest the
war. They wore
the armbands to
school and were
out how Mary
Westside School District v. Mergens
Bridget Mergens, 18, wanted to form a Christian club at her high school in Omaha, Nebraska. The principal denied the request, so Mergens and other students appealed to the school board. The school board upheld the principal’s decision, but this wasn’t the end of the story.
On March 29, 1960, the New York Times printed a full-page advertisement alleging that the recent arrest of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Alabama was intended to hamper the civil rights struggle. The advertisement did not mention anyone by name but contained several factual errors. Find out how this case affects freedom of press and the Internet today.
On August 2, 1965 a group of demonstrators—including comedian Dick Gregory—marched to the home of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley to protest segregation of the city’s public schools. A large crowd of spectators began threatening the demonstrators and throwing rocks and eggs. Find out what happened next.
Brown v. Louisiana (1966)
On Saturday, March 7, 1964 five African-American men entered a segregated library in Clinton, Louisiana. The library was part of the Audubon Regional Library system, which did not allow blacks into any of its library branches. A library assistant asked the men to leave. They sat down and remained. The assistant called the sheriff. Find out what happened next.
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