Student journalists get lesson on free speech from legend

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Aspiring journalists heard from a woman who changed history when it comes to free speech rights for students.

13 News looked into how the namesake of a Supreme Court case is influencing younger generations to do the same.

"There's so much controversy in our culture in our democracy, but without controversy we don't have a democracy,” said student rights activist Mary Beth Tinker.

It’s been nearly five decades since Tinker, as a student, challenged her school district over wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War, and made a permanent impact on free speech in schools.

"Tinker vs Des Moines was decided in 1969 by a vote of seven to two and its said that students and teachers have free speech rights in the public schools,” Tinker said.

For students at the Kansas Scholastic Press Association Conference, it was a lesson in how young journalists can cover controversial topics.

They discussed things like religious freedom, feminism, and sexual assault to name a few.

Manhattan High School Senior Elizabeth Alexander said she was incredibly motivated by Tinker’s words.

“Especially since our school is trying to cover more controversial and sensitive topics so definitely her word of advice especially when covering the Vietnam war, and Birmingham all sorts of events,” Alexander said.

Tinker said the Supreme Court decision helped build a foundation for student journalists like Mahmood Khatib. Khatib says he's experienced racism since he arrived to the U.S. three years ago.

"We were getting groceries and someone approached my mom and asked if we were going to join ISIS,” Khatib said.

Khatib believes what he's heard at the conference helped him find his voice.

"It's a very special moment for me knowing that even if I’m not an American citizen, living in this country grants me rights to express myself,” Khatib said.

But as far as we've come, Tinker said there is more to do, and students will keep that in mind as they set goals for this coming school year.

"I just admire these young journalist so much and their advisors who are keeping the free press alive and its so important for democracy,” Tinker said.

In total more than 800 students attended the conference, with a theme celebrating 25 years of a free student press in Kansas.