Lesson 1: Freedom of Speech and Press

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1 Many Americans think of the Constitution as words on paper preserved under glass at the National Archives. But the Constitution is also the product of an ongoing conversation among Americans about the meaning of freedom in their daily lives. Linda Monk, The Words We Live By Objectives: 1. Students will understand the history of freedom of speech. 2. Students will understand the importance of being informed about their rights and responsibilities. 3. Students will understand the importance of learning to use their voice in a responsible manner in order to make positive change in their home, school, and community. Procedures: Step 1: W.U.Y.B. (Wake Up Your Brain) - By way of an introduction to the lesson, students will share their points of view on an open-ended question designed to build basic civic knowledge, promote active leadership skills, and/or develop the art of deliberation. The goal for this activity is to have every student in the class voice his/her opinion. To support students for whom this would be a challenge, a THINK/PAIR/SHARE strategy is suggested. First, present an open-ended question or scenario to the students. There are several examples below: You see someone in your school getting bullied by another student for trying to stand up for what he/she believes in. What would you do? Why? Be prepared to support your answer. A senior varsity player brought a first-year varsity player along with him to a party that was busted for underage drinking. Both players were caught and suspended from school. When they returned to school, the coach allowed the senior player to play two days later while the first year varsity player could not play for the rest of the season. Do you think this was a fair decision? Why or why not? Be prepared to support your answer. Have students work in pairs. Give the pairs 1 minute each to share with their partner. Then have the students share their opinions with the whole class. Try to have every student give his/her opinion. (Approximate time to complete should be 10 minutes.) Alternative W.U.Y.B. - Some students might be more comfortable at first to share their opinion through symbolic speech. Ask all of the students to stand. Identify a place in the room where students should go who agree with a statement you are about to read and a place where students who disagree with the statement should go. After they have symbolically spoken, ask for some feedback about why some students agreed or disagreed with the statement.

2 Possible statements: The right to free speech should be protected in all situations. Wearing a t-shirt in school that promotes using drugs should be protected by the right to free speech. The Constitution should be amended to include protection for anything a person writes on his/her own personal social media account. Step 2: Providing Background of Information : The History of Freedom of Speech This activity is designed to expose all of the students to the important background information about the origin and evolution of our freedom of speech. Create a timeline with dates across a chalk board or on a piece of butcher-type paper. Pair students and give each pair a paper with one event that occurred along the timeline. Finally, have the students read and discuss when they think their event occurred and ask one from each pair to place the event on the timeline. Freedom of Speech: A Timeline 1641 The first written protection of free speech in America is the Massachusetts Body of Liberties. Published in 1641, it contains 100 liberties intended for use as a guideline for the General Court of the time. This document incorporates rights that are considered to be ahead of its time. Some of the rights in this document later appeared in the Bill of Rights, most notable among them is freedom of speech In the trial of newspaper printer John Peter Zenger the first roots of a free press in America are born. Zenger is the front man for some rich lawyers who wrote anonymous articles criticizing the Royal Governor of New York. Zenger is brought to trial for seditious libel, for criticizing the government through speech. However, an American jury refuses to convict him The State of Virginia passes the Virginia Declaration of Rights. The Virginia Declaration is the first bill of rights to be included in a state constitution in America While preparing to write a United States Constitution, only three states add freedom of speech to their list of proposed amendments. The U.S. Constitution is adopted into law on Sept. 17 by the Federal Constitutional Convention and later ratified by the states on June 21, The U.S. Constitution is the oldest written constitution still in use The United States Constitution is ratified The U.S. Constitution is in operation.

3 1791 On Dec. 15, Virginia becomes the 11 th state to approve the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, thereby ratifying the Bill of Rights. And now that The First Amendment is approved, the nation erupts in a controversy over the extent of free speech Intense political rivalry leads to the enactment of the Sedition Act of 1798, an act that essentially outlaws any criticism of the United States government Congress lets the Sedition Act of 1798 expire, and President Thomas Jefferson pardons all person convicted under the Act. The act had punished those who uttered or published false, scandalous, and/or malicious writings against the government to 1917 State and local government limit free speech in several ways: Southern states censor the mail in order to keep abolitionist materials out of the hands of their citizens; Pro-slavery legislators prevent Congress from hearing petitions opposing slavery; Courts often issue injunctions to prevent strikes. While labor unions claim that picket lines are protected speech; The Espionage Act of 1917 is passed during World War I to restrict criticism of the war In Schenck v. United States, the Supreme Court, for the first time in history, rules on free speech issues. This case represents those who were convicted of violating the Espionage Act of With Schenck v. United States, the Supreme Court begins to consider the answer to what is free speech and what are its limitations? The Court categorizes free speech activities in two ways: Pure Speech - Involves spoken word alone; i.e. debate, public meetings. Pure speech receives the highest form of protection. Speech-plus - demonstration and picketing that combine speech and action. Government may regulate the action components of speech-plus. The Court limits free speech in the following ways: Obscenity - Speech can be "indecent" without being legally obscene. Obscenity varies from community to community rather than being held to a uniform national standard. Defamation - Hurting a person's reputation by spreading falsehoods. Slander - Defamation using spoken word. Libel - Defamation using written word. Fighting words - Abusive/insulting words delivered face-to-face to an individual.

4 Speech that incites illegal actions Below are cases heard by the United States Supreme Court that highlight issues involving freedom of speech: 1943 In West VA State Board of Education v Barnette, Barnette is a Jehovah's Witness who refused to pledge allegiance to the United States flag while in a public school. The West Virginia State Board of Education had adopted a rule that forced all teachers and pupils to pledge allegiance to the flag each day. According to the rule, if a student refused he would be found insubordinate and expelled from school. In this case, Barnette was expelled from school and charged with juvenile delinquency. He could not be readmitted to school until he conformed. Barnette asked for an exception for all Jehovah's Witnesses because this pledge goes against their religious beliefs. He was denied the exception. The Court ruled that Jehovah's Witness children could not be expelled from school for refusing to salute the flag. The right to not speak is as equally protected under the First Amendment as the right to free speech In Tinker v DesMoines Independent School District, John Tinker, 15 years old, Mary Beth Tinker, 13, and Christopher Echardt, 16, wore black armbands to school during the Christmas holiday season to protest the Vietnam War. The district principals were afraid that the armbands would cause disturbances in the schools and, therefore, asked the students wearing armbands to remove them or face suspension,. When the Tinker children and Christopher refused to remove the armbands, they were suspended until after New Year's Day. The Court found for the students stating that wearing black armbands was close to a form of "pure speech" and that the principals were not justified in putting any limits on the students' free expression Six hundred high school students were at an assembly when Matthew Fraser made a speech nominating a fellow student for an elective office. Some observers believed that Fraser used a graphic sexual reference to promote his friend for office. As a result of this, Matthew Fraser was suspended for two days. The Supreme Court heard the case of Bethel School District v Fraser and decided it was appropriate for the school to prohibit vulgar and offensive language In Morse v Frederick a student, Joseph Frederick, attended a schoolsupervised event and held up a banner that said, Bong Hits 4 Jesus, a slang reference to marijuana smoking. The school Principal, Deborah Morse, took away the banner and suspended Joseph Frederick for ten days. Frederick sued stating that this was a violation of his right to free speech. The District Court ruled in favor of the Principal. The U.S. Court of Appeals reversed the decision. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals ruling

5 that school officials can prohibit students from displaying messages that promote illegal drug use. If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter! George Washington, 1783 Step 3: The First Amendment and Social Media: Students Rights & Responsibilities Students should read the Wilson Brothers v Lee's Summit North High School, a case that was heard in November 2012 by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Then pick six students to serve on a jury and divide the rest of the class into two groups: one group who will defend the Wilson brothers' right to free speech and ask that their suspension be lifted; one group who will defend the school's opinion that the Wilson brothers' right to free speech should not be protected under their circumstances and that the punishment or some punishment should stand. After each side presents their "case," let the jury of six make the decision. Wilson Brothers v Lee's Summit North High School In the Fall 2012, the twin Wilson brothers, juniors at Lee's Summit North High School, created a website that they called NorthPress. The website contained a blog. The website used a Dutch domain name but any United States user who knew the website address could access the site. The Wilson brothers added blog posts on their website that contained offensive, racist and sexual comments that were specifically directed at other students at Lee's Summit North High School. Although the Wilson brothers only gave five or six friends information on how top access the site, within three days of the offensive blog posts, the school's whole student body learned about NorthPress and its blog. According to reports from teachers at the high school, students were upset about the blog. In addition, students became distracted. As the word got out, local media arrived at the high school and parents reached out with safety concerns. With all of the attention, the school administration immediately suspended the Wilson brothers for 10 days from school. They scheduled a hearing for the boys in front of their School Board. Following the hearing, the Wilson brothers were suspended for 180 days. The Wilsons sued the school district for violating their rights to free speech. They also asked to have the suspension lifted while the case was being heard. The Wilsons argued that their offcampus speech cannot be subject to school discipline. Furthermore, they argued that the blogs were directed to only a few of their friends and that they did not create a substantial disruption.

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