Religion and the States: Why the Constitution is Silent on God

This short video explains why the Constitution is silent on religion. The Founders believed that religion was a matter best left to the states. As Professor Jeffry Morrison notes, the Founders were not unconcerned about religion, but a belief in federalism led them to allow individual states to make decisions about religious matters.

  • Resource Type: Video
  • Subject: Federal Government
  • Grades: 11, 12

James Madison and Religion

This short video reviews James Madison’s attitudes towards religion. Although he believed that religious belief was essential in a virtuous republic, he also was a religious libertarian for whom God alone was the “lord of conscience.” Professor Jeffry Morrison suggests that Madison’s Calvinist teachers (e.g., Dr. John Witherspoon) shaped his belief that government should be blind toward religion.

  • Resource Type: Video
  • Subject: Rights and Responsibilities
  • Grades: 11, 12

From Provocative to Productive: Teaching Controversial Topics

Get first steps for creating a respectful yet vibrant environment for students to explore diverse ideas on controversial topics, from politics to profanity, religion to racism. Four guidelines and a debate leader checklist provide a foundation for those seeking to steer productive conversations about controversial subjects.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit)
  • Subject: Foundations of Democracy
  • Grades: 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Religion in Colonial America

This short video examines impact of Reformed Christianity on the minds and hearts of the Framers of the Constitution. Influenced by the writings of John Locke, Algernon Sydney, and John Calvin, Founders such as George Washington and John Adams believed that religion should play an informal, though important, role in American Society. Professor Jeffry Morrison examines Adams’ contention that colonial fears of British bishops helped to inflame revolutionary sentiments.

  • Resource Type: Video
  • Subject: Foundations of Democracy
  • Grades: 11, 12

Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972)

Under what conditions does the state’s interest in promoting compulsory education override parents’ First Amendment right to free exercise of religion? This resource is a case summary of Wisconsin v. Yoder, which tested the right of parents to withdraw their child from school for religious reasons.

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

Freedom and Religion: A Lesson Plan on “The May-Pole of Merry Mount”

What kind of religious beliefs and practices support civic freedom and virtue? Compare two guiding ideas of the American republic—the pursuit of happiness and the spirit of reverence—as editors Amy A. Kass, Leon R. Kass, and Diana Schaub discuss Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story with Yuval Levin (Ethics and Public Policy Center). Includes a discussion guide and model conversation.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans, Primary Sources, Video
  • Subject: Citizenship
  • Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12

James Madison and the First Amendment

This short video traces the evolution of Madison’s attitude towards the religious liberty guarantees of the First Amendment. Initially opposed to a Bill of Rights as both inappropriate and dangerous, Madison’s views changed as a result of political and philosophical considerations. Professor Jeffry Morrison emphasizes Madison’s belief that religion should play a vital but informal role in the life of the republic.

  • Resource Type: Video
  • Subject: Rights and Responsibilities
  • Grades: 11, 12

You Can’t Say That: In My Opinion

Apply what you learned about constitutional exceptions to the First Amendment by studying a modern situations. Be sure to summarize the facts of the situation and then present your opinion about whether the actions of the individual in the scenario were protected by the First Amendment. If you disagree with the court, school or law enforcement’s decision, be sure to explain why you disagree.

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

Life Without the Bill of Rights?

Celebrate Constitution Day with a fun, interactive game – Life Without the Bill of Rights? is a click-and-explore activity that asks you to consider how life would change without some of our most cherished freedoms. Life Without the Bill of Rights invites you to understand the significance of constitutionally-protected rights including freedom of religion, speech, and press, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, and the rights of private property.

  • Resource Type: Games, Quizzes
  • Subject: Foundations of Democracy
  • Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12

Constitutional Conversations

Constitutional Conversations is a series of discussions by America’s leading scholars. Topics include: James Madison and American Constitutionalism; Women and Early American Constitutionalism; Religion and American Constitutionalism. Another video series, called Presidents and the Constitution, features journalist Hugh Sidey interviewing Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.

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