Two Troy High School students interviewed Wayne State University Distinguished Professor of Law Robert Sedler for a documentary film on a precedent-setting Supreme Court case from 1969.
High school juniors Jason Ji and Frank Boudon chose Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District as the topic of their film, which they’re making to enter in the annual National History Day Inc. contest.
The Tinker case, which began in 1965 in a Des Moines, Iowa, school, was about students’ rights to wear black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam War. The case defined the constitutional rights to free speech of public school students and is still used by courts today.
On Thursday, Jan. 30, the Troy students interviewed Sedler, considered one of the nation’s foremost scholars on constitutional law, in his Wayne Law office about the case and filmed his responses for their documentary.
The professor answered the students’ questions about Tinker and its relevance today and told the teens about a local federal case he litigated in 1999 for the American Civil Liberties Union when he successfully defended the right of a Lincoln Park High School student to wear a pentacle as a symbol of her Wiccan religion. School officials had banned the pentacle, lumping it in with gang symbols. The precedent set by Tinker played a role in the 1999 case, Sedler said.
“Tinker was very much a breakthrough case,” the professor told the students. “It was the basic and precedential case on students’ rights to free speech.”
After the hourlong interview with Sedler, the teens were pleased.
“We got some really good stuff,” Ji said.
National History Day Inc. is an independent academic program for students, who compete at local, state and national levels, where their entries are evaluated by professional historians and educators. The national contest is held each June at the University of Maryland.