The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom: The Road to the First Amendment

James Madison worked hard to get the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom passed. His main opponent was Patrick Henry, who offered a counter bill. Henry delivered a series of speeches in favor of his bill. They were so powerful that they prompted Madison to write his “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments,” which met widespread approval and led to the Legislature passing the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans
  • Subject: Foundations of Democracy
  • Grades: 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

Puritan Massachusetts: Theocracy or Democracy?

In the 1630s, English puritans in Massachusetts bay colony created a self-government that went far beyond what existed in England. Some historians argue that it was a religious government, or theocracy. Others claim it was a democracy. Following the reading, in small groups, students investigate, discuss, and decide the question: Was the government in Puritan Massachusetts a theocracy, a democracy, or neither?

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

Sacred Blade at the Heart of School Dispute

Students often perceive conflicts as being between good and evil or right and wrong. Yet in our democracy, the most difficult conflicts are generally between two goods—two values that many Americans share, such as liberty and security. In this lesson, students grapple with a school-based dilemma in which freedom of religion conflicts with safety; the lesson is based on an actual case in California and is similar to a case that went all the way to the Canadian Supreme Court.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit)
  • Subject: Rights and Responsibilities
  • Grades: 4, 5, 6, 8

Landmark Supreme Court Cases – Freedom of Speech: General

From the first days of American history until today, the Supreme Court has been pivotal in interpreting the Constitution and shaping America’s constitutional republic. Read summaries of the majority ruling in landmark Supreme Court cases that have had an impact on our rights as citizens.

  • Resource Type: Modules (Teaching Unit)
  • Subject: Rights and Responsibilities
  • Grades: 9, 10, 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

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