This lesson explores Texas v. Johnson, the controversial 1989 Supreme Court decision on flag burning. First, students read about and discuss Texas v. Johnson. Then in small groups, students role play aides to a U.S. senator on the Judiciary Committee. The committee is considering a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning flag burning, and the aides must make a recommendation on whether the senator should support or oppose the proposed amendment.
Students will be able to: understand the meaning of one central idea of the First Amendment (symbolic speech); cite textual evidence to analyze a primary source (Supreme Court opinion and dissent); become familiar with reading and comprehending a Supreme Court opinion and dissent; evaluate two Supreme Court Justices’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue; and assess different arguments about the meaning and importance of the American flag as a national symbol.
As part of the Bill of Rights, freedom of speech is guaranteed by the Constitution, but it is not defined by it. That task is left up to the people through a representative government that makes the laws and a judicial system that interprets and applies the laws to resolve disputes. In this lesson, based on the Annenberg Classroom video “A Conversation on the Constitution: Freedom of Speech,” students gain insight into the many challenges involved in defining and protecting free speech. They also learn about principles that come from Supreme Court decisions and case law that are applied to define the limits for us today.
What does the First Amendment mean in the lives of teens? Over the years, the Supreme Court has struggled with First Amendment issues to determine what constitutes protected speech and, in particular, the speech of students. These activities, which engage all learning styles, apply Supreme Court precedents to relatable, teen scenarios. The modified trial simulations have been well tested in federal courtrooms. The resources are ready for immediate use in courtrooms and classrooms.