Respecting Freedom of Speech

In the course of this lesson, students will consider the point where respect and freedom of expression intersect. For homework the night before, students are asked to review the language of the First Amendment, as well as examine their definition of respect by responding to a writing prompt. The next day, students are asked to consider five controversial instances of “free speech” and participate in a discussion that attempts to draw the distinction between: private versus government action regarding speech; rights of the speakers and rights of the listener; and right to free speech and responsibility to act or speak with respect. What role does freedom of expression play in maintaining a free and open society?

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans
  • Subject: Rights and Responsibilities
  • Grades: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

The Campus Speaker: A Case Study in Free Speech

Use this classroom-ready lesson to examine free-expression issues surrounding a controversial speaker invited to appear at UC Berkeley. We provide questions to help guide your students on if and when offensive speech should be banned, and what are the competing groups and interests.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit)
  • Subject: Rights and Responsibilities
  • Grades: 10, 11, 12

Free Trade: Should our democracy participate in free trade agreements?

This lesson provides students with background information and arguments for and against participating in free trade agreements. Students are encouraged to deliberate the issue and come to their own conclusions based on evidence and reason.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit)
  • Subject: Federal Government
  • Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12

Free Lesson Plans

The Bill of Rights Institute offers free eLessons to supplement current curriculum or to be used as independent lesson plans by educators in their own schedules. Teachers may subscribe to our newsletter and receive two free lesson plans each month, or simply visit our website and choose from our archive. Each eLesson contains historical content, connections to real life, classroom activities, downloadable PDFs, answer keys, discussion questions, and/or suggestions for further reading.

  • Resource Type: Books, Editorial Cartoons, ESL Appropriate, ESL Materials, Essays, Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit), Photography, Primary Sources, Research (Digests of Primary Sources)
  • Subject: Foundations of Democracy
  • Grades: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Locke v. Davey (2004)

Does the Free Exercise Clause require states to fund religious instruction if providing merit-based college scholarships for secular instruction? This case summary shows how the Supreme Court answered that question in 2004.

  • Resource Type: Research (Digests of Primary Sources)
  • Subject: Judicial Branch/Supreme Court
  • Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12

The First Amendment: What’s Fair in a Free Country?

Young people have a profound sense of the importance of fairness. “It’s not fair” is often used as a one-size-fits-all argument when a child feels victimized. In situations where the child has an interest in protecting his or her actions, “It’s a free country!” is often the argument of choice. On the other hand, children are very sensitive about speech and policies they consider to have a negative effect on their well-being.

Balancing rights and responsibilities is difficult, even for the Supreme Court. This lesson demonstrates to students that doctrine of freedom of speech and its proper application is an ongoing process.

  • Resource Type: Essays, Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit), Research (Digests of Primary Sources)
  • Subject: Rights and Responsibilities
  • Grades: 3, 4, 5

Constitutional Index – Amendment 1 Free Exercise Clause

The Constitutional Index breaks down the U.S. Constitution by Section, Amendment, and Clause and contains broader topics and themes. These are used to cross-reference Library resources in an effort to annotate constitutional history.

  • Resource Type: Primary Sources, Research (Digests of Primary Sources)
  • Subject: Rights and Responsibilities
  • Grades: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

U.S. v. Lopez (1995)

Did Congress have the power to pass the Gun Free School Zones Act? After a 12th-grade student was arrested under the act, he and his lawyers challenged the constitutionality of the law.

  • Resource Type: Research (Digests of Primary Sources)
  • Subject: Judicial Branch/Supreme Court
  • Grades: 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

A Conversation on Freedom of Speech

Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Anthony M. Kennedy and Sandra Day O’Connor and students discuss the First Amendment’s right to free speech, and in particular students’ free speech rights in the Supreme Court cases Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District and Morse v. Frederick. In the Tinker case, students wore black armbands to school in silent protest of the Vietnam War. In the Morse case, a student held up a sign that said “Bong HITS 4 Jesus” at a parade.

  • Resource Type: Closed Captions, Video
  • Subject: Foundations of Democracy
  • Grades: 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

The Press and the Civil Rights Movement

Civil rights leaders effectively used the First Amendment and the press to expose the injustices of racial segregation. Reporters who covered the civil rights struggle give up close and personal accounts. Learn more about the First Amendment’s power to bring about profound social change and the role and challenges a free press embraces when tackling controversial issues.

  • Resource Type: Closed Captions, Lesson Plans, Video
  • Subject: Rights and Responsibilities
  • Grades: 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12