Pillars of the First Amendment

From the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts 

As the website notes, this lesson plan of First Amendment cases "provides examples of the six pillars of the First Amendment considered the foundation of the Constitution. Each freedom - religion [prohibition of establishment and protection of free exercise], speech, press, assembly, and petition - is illustrated by a high-profile case that has an impact on today's teens." 

"These cases are presented in a way that prepares students to explore the issues in a variety of formats in a courtroom - as a civil discussion, an Oxford style debate, a Supreme Court oral argument, or a Supreme Court case conference after oral arguments. Each format involves all students as participants."

The cases chosen in this group raise important and controversial issues: school prayer, flag burning, and a school's authority to restrict student conduct outside the classroom.


How do you use it?

Each lesson plan summarizes a Supreme Court case in a "Facts and Case Summary" section easily mastered by the teacher.  Each lesson plan also presents intelligent, stimulating "Talking Points" — questions and arguments supporting differing viewpoints.  

The amount of preparation required depends on whether the presenter already has a background in the topic.  To prepare, the presenter need only familiarize himself or herself with the information presented, the talking points, etc.  There is enough information here for a judge or teacher to lead a lively discussion without the necessity of doing additional research.

Who is the audience?

This resource is tailored towards high-school aged children, and could easily be used for college-aged students.  With some greater attention to background and context, the materials could be suited for advanced students in middle school. 

What other resources will complement this?

  1. 45 Words   Video & lesson Plan from the Newseum (H, A)  
  2. Freedom of the Press & School Newspapers  Lesson plan from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (H, A)
  3. Social Media & Student Speech  Lesson plan from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (H, A)

Additional Recommended Resources Off-Site Links

  1. A Constitutional Timeline
    • Multi-aged audience timeline that highlights key dates in history of Constitution, with links to text, audio and video clips. From National Constitution Center's Constitution Day site. 
  2. Interactive Constitution
    • Multi-aged audience site that enables users to search Constitution by keyword or topic, with access to explanatory materials throughout. From National Constitution Center.   
  3. The Annenberg Guide to the United States Constitution
    • Multi-aged audience site that lists the text of each section of every article in the Constitution, and provides explanation of what the text means in plain language.  From the Leonore Annenberg Institute of Civics. 
  4. Understanding the Federal Courts
    • Multi-aged online textbook-type document that includes sections on Article III, the Federal Court system and the geographical boundaries of the Courts of Appeal and the District Courts, the code of conduct for judges, juror qualifications, exemptions and terms of service, as well as categories of bankruptcy cases.  From the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts.