Being An American ELL

The Bill of Rights (ELL)

Clock Two fifty-minute class periods

For the Bill of Rights to remain more than what Madison referred to as a “parchment barrier,” citizens must understand the purpose, content, and meaning of this important American document. In this lesson, students will identify and analyze the protections in the Bill of Rights as well as evaluate Supreme Court decisions in cases centered on Bill of Rights protections.

Founding Principles

Equal Protection image

Equal Protection

The principle of equal justice under law means that every individual is equal to every other person in regards to natural rights and treatment before the law. There are no individuals or groups who are born with the right to rule over others.

Equality image

Equality

Every individual is equal to every other person in regards to natural rights and treatment before the law.

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Freedom of Religion

The freedom to exercise one's own religious beliefs without interference from the government is essential to the existence of a free society.

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Freedom of Speech

The freedom to express one's opinions without interference from the the government is critical to the maintenance of liberty within a free society.

Inalienable / Natural Rights image

Inalienable / Natural Rights

Freedoms which belong to us by nature and can only be justly taken away through due process.

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Limited Government

Citizens are best able to pursue happiness when government is confined to those powers which protect their life, liberty, and property.

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Property Rights

The natural right of all individuals to create, obtain, and control their possessions, beliefs, faculties, and opinions, as well as the fruits of their labor.

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Rule of Law

Government and citizens all abide by the same laws regardless of political power. Those laws respect individual rights, are transparently enacted, are justly applied, and are stable.

Overview

The addition of the Bill of Rights to the Constitution was celebrated as a victory for the champions of individual liberty. But for the Bill of Rights to remain more than what Madison referred to as a “parchment barrier,” citizens must understand the purpose, content, and meaning of this important American document. In this lesson, students will identify and analyze the protections in the Bill of Rights, as well as evaluate Supreme Court decisions in cases centered on Bill of Rights protections.

Quotes

[A] bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse. - Thomas Jefferson (December 20, 1787)

The Framers of the Bill of Rights did not purport to “create” rights. Rather, they designed the Bill of Rights to prohibit our Government from infringing rights and liberties presumed to be preexisting. - Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. (February 28, 1990)

Critical Engagement Questions

How does the Bill of Rights protect liberty?

Objectives

Students will:

  • Identify the rights protected in the Bill of Rights.
  • Understand that government power must be limited to protect individual rights.
  • Analyze and apply provisions of the Bill of Rights through guided scenarios.
  • Evaluate Supreme Court rulings on cases centered on the Bill of Rights.
  • Appreciate the importance of the Bill of Rights in safeguarding individual liberty.

Materials

Handouts may have two versions. Version 1 is at a higher level than Version 2.

  • Handout A: The United States Bill of Rights
  • Handout B: What Rights Are Protected by the Bill of Rights? (Versions 1 and 2)
  • Handout C: You Be the Judge! (Versions 1 and 2)
  • Handout D: Outcome Discussion Cards (Versions 1 and 2)
  • Handout E: The Bill of Rights Today
  • Handout F: Mock Supreme Court Procedures
  • Handout G: The Bill of Rights Song

Background 10 min. (day before)

Have students read Handout A: The United States Bill of Rights and complete Handout B: What Rights are Protected by the Bill of Rights? (Version 1 or 2).

Warm-up 10 min.

Have students discuss their answers to Handout B: What Rights are Protected by the Bill of Rights? (Version 1 or 2) in pairs.

Activities 70 min.

  1. Divide students into eight groups and distribute Handout C: You Be the Judge! (Version 1 or 2).
  2. Assign one scenario to each group and instruct students to read and discuss their scenario. They should then discuss and answer the questions at the end. Allow groups about 10 minutes to complete this part of the activity.
  3. Once all groups have finished, reconvene the class and ask the members of the group that worked with Scenario 1 to read their situation to the class and report their answers.
  4. As a large group, locate the rights/amendments in the Bill of Rights involved with each scenario.
  5. Conduct a class vote to determine which side of the argument students agree with in the scenario. Record the results of the vote on the board.
  6. Continue until all scenarios have been presented.

Wrap-up 20 min.

  1. Distribute the cards on Handout D: Outcome Discussion Cards (Version 1 or 2) to students who are strong readers. Point out to students that the fictional scenarios they just discussed were all based on actual Supreme Court cases. Have them read the Supreme Court rulings for each scenario and allow class discussion on each.
  2. Make sure to emphasize to students that Supreme Court rulings are not substitutes for the Constitution’s text. The Court often overturns itself, and all citizens have the responsibility to evaluate their rulings in light of the Constitution.
  3. Ask students if they agree with the Court’s rulings. How would they use the Bill of Rights to support their opinions? Conduct a large group discussion to answer the questions:
    1. How does the Bill of Rights protect liberty?
    2. At their core, what do the protections in the Bill of Rights have in common?
    3. Why must government power be limited to protect individual rights?

Homework

  1. Distribute Handout E: The Bill of Rights Today. Have students research news stories that illustrate the individual rights and protections guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. Students could begin by searching the Teaching with Current Events pages on www.BillofRightsInstitute.org. Students should locate at least four examples and complete the graphic organizer to summarize the stories and draw connections to their lives.
  2. Have students discuss the Bill of Rights with their families and write a paragraph about the discussion.

Extensions

  1. Using Handout F: Mock Supreme Court Procedures, have students hold a Mock Supreme Court hearing using either the Kelo v. New London (2005) property rights case or the Safford Unified School District # 1, et al. v. Redding (2008) search and seizure case. Information on the cases can be found at www.Law.Cornell.edu.
  2. Have students learn Handout G: Bill of Rights Song (to the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”).

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