Teach the First Amendment
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” – The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
Teach the First Amendment
Help tomorrow’s citizens find their voice. Teach the First Amendment.
Overview: Why teach the First Amendment?
The most basic liberties guaranteed to Americans — embodied in the 45 words of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — assure Americans a government that is responsible to its citizens and responsive to their wishes. These 45 words are as alive and important today as they were more than 200 years ago. These liberties are neither liberal nor conservative, Democratic nor Republican — they are the basis for our representative democratic form of government.
We know from studies beginning in 1997 by the nonpartisan First Amendment Center, and from studies commissioned by the Knight Foundation and others, that few adult Americans or high school students can name the individual five freedoms that make up the First Amendment.
The First Amendment isn’t an artifact of legal history buried in the past. It is a living part of the everyday lives of every one of us. Especially in education, First Amendment issues offer almost limitless applications and opportunities.
Teachable aspects of the First Amendment include:
- How our core freedoms of speech, press, religion, assembly and petition came to be guaranteed is a fascinating saga of American history – involving towering figures, particularly James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. It is a saga that began even before U.S. history and continues to evolve today.
- Students should know that the Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment, did not spring whole into existence with no debate by our Founding Fathers. Rather, it arose through great contention and controversy, illustrating the early — and continuing — workings of U.S. government and our legal system.
- We have the freedom to speak, write, worship, assemble, and ask the government for change, but how do we as citizens use those freedoms? What does it mean to exercise freedom responsibly? The First Amendment offers teachers a way into matters of civility and respect for others in society.
- Current affairs. Examples of the First Amendment in action and in the news are inexhaustible. They can form the basis for class debates. From student protests, to issues of religious freedom in schools and in society at large, to press censorship and freedom of information, teachable First Amendment moments are everywhere.
- Literature and arts. Language arts, journalism, the visual arts — all offer instances in which First Amendment freedoms can conflict with attempts to suppress or restrict free expression.
In this section of the website, 1 for All has gathered a host of resources and ideas to help teachers teach the First Amendment. As more become available, they will be added.
The primers, lesson plans and resources below will draw young people into an exploration of how their freedoms began and how they operate in today’s world. Students will discuss just how far individual rights extend, examining rights in the school environment and public places. The primers and lessons may be used in history and government, civics, language arts and journalism, art, and debate classes. They may be used in sections or in their entirety. Many of these materials indicate an overall goal, offer suggestions on how to teach the lesson and list additional resources and enrichment activities.
PRIMERS AND LESSON PLANS
1 for All First Amendment Lesson Plans:
- What If There Were No First Amendment?
- Free Speech on College Campuses
- First Amendment Lesson Plan: Newsgathering and Privacy
- Religion in Public Schools
- Freedom of assembly in the 1960s civil rights and antiwar movements
- Petitioning the Government
First Amendment Primers from the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center. These interactive guides include:
- Free Expression on Social Media
- Is Your Speech Protected by the First Amendment?
- First Amendment Threats Tracker
- Protest Primer
- Leaks and the Media
- Quick Guide to Libel Law
Social Media, the Classroom and the First Amendment
A guide for middle school and high school teachers published by the First Amendment Center and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
Living with Our Deepest Differences
Ten-lesson curriculum designed to help teachers educate students about religious liberty in a pluralistic society.
This site offers lesson plans on news, journalism ethics, law/First Amendment, and news literacy.
Offers lesson plans and teaching guides to strengthen students’ understanding of First Amendment rights.
American Bar Association
Offers a high school lesson plan, Teaching About Freedom of Speech on the Internet. The ABA’s Division for Public Education also provides teaching resources, including webinars on Civility & Free Expression: Developing a Public Dialogue through the Arts and Civility & Civic Action.
NewsHour Extra stories written for students from PBS Kids and lesson plans based on the top domestic issues facing our country will help students improve their analytical skills and understand the importance of civics.
A comprehensive research compilation covering all aspects of First Amendment law.
Archival site of the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center, containing news and commentary on First Amendment issues through 2012.
Significant historical events, court cases, and ideas that have shaped our current system of constitutional First Amendment jurisprudence, compiled by the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center.
From the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center.
Provides training to help journalism educators teach the basics, standards, and importance of journalism. Also bestows a variety of scholastic journalism-related awards.
An independent, nonpartisan, and nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing public understanding of, and appreciation for, the Constitution, its history, and its contemporary relevance. As a program of national outreach, the center provides the Interactive Constitution resource.
Learn more about the U.S. Constitution and your rights as a citizen.