The Bill of Rights and Freedoms of the Press - Assembly - and Petition
First Amendment freedoms like press, assembly, and petition are essential to self-government. The Founders saw these freedoms as a bulwark of free, republican government and a means of assuring justice.
Why Are the Rights to Assembly and Petition Important to Liberty?
The Founders knew that an individual’s voice is at its most powerful when he can freely come together with citizens of like mind and speak as one. People in the United States have organized, demonstrated, petitioned, and protested in a variety of ways and on a variety of topics, many controversial, since our very beginnings. These rights, however, are not unlimited and must find balance with the rights and safety of others. This lesson explores this balance.
Reasoned and respectful sharing of ideas between individuals is the primary way people influence change in society/government, and is essential to maintain self-government.
Inalienable / Natural Rights
Freedoms which belong to us by nature and can only be justly taken away through due process.
Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.
Except where authorized by citizens through the Constitution, the government does not have the authority to limit freedom.
The Founders knew that an individual’s voice is at its most powerful when he can freely come together with citizens of like mind and speak as one. People in the United States have organized, demonstrated, petitioned, and protested in a variety of ways and on a variety of topics, many controversial, since our very beginnings. These rights, however, are not unlimited and must find balance with the rights and safety of others.
- Understand the history and tradition of the rights to petition and assemble.
- Identify ways, past and present, in which Americans petition the government.
- Understand limitations on the right to petition and assemble.
- Create a petition pertaining to a social or political issue they care about.
- Appreciate the importance of the protections of assembly and petition to a free society.
- Handout A: Background Essay—Where Did the Rights to Petition and Assembly Come From, and How Do Americans Exercise Them?
- Handout B: Assembly and Petition True/False Challenge
- Handout C: A Petition
- Cut-Out: Assembly and Petition True/False Challenge
- NCHS (5-12): Era III, Standard 3C
- CCE (9-12): IIA2, IIC1
- NCSS: Strands 1, 4, and 10
Background 15 minutes the day before
- Have students read Handout A: Background Essay – Where Did the Rights to Petition and Assembly Come From, and How Do Americans Exercise Them?
- After reading, students should answer the questions at the end of Handout A.
Warm-up 5 min.
Conduct a large-group discussion on the following questions:
- What does it mean to “assemble”? What is a “petition”?
- What happens in a society when individuals cannot meet to discuss political ideas, or express their views to society and government leaders?
- What types of petition and assembly have you seen in your school? Community?
Activity I – 15-20 Minutes
- Prior to the start of class, cut out the numbered cards of Cut Out: Assembly and Petition True/False Challenge, and create 10 stations around your classroom.
- Distribute Handout B: Assembly and Petition True/False Challenge. Explain to students that they will travel from station-to-station in small groups, determining whether each station’s numbered statement, corresponding to the numbered statements on their handout, is either true or false. Instruct them to only complete the true/false line on their handout at each station during this portion of the activity.
- Position groups of 2-3 students at each station, having students bring Handout B and a pen/pencil with them. Start station rotation, giving 30 seconds for students to determine whether the first station’s statement is true or false. Continue rotation at 30 second intervals until all 10 stations have been visited by all groups.
- Return students to their desks. With both Handout B and the Answer Key in front of you, review statement 1, asking for a show of hands as to whether students believe it is a true or false statement. Then, read the answer for statement 1 from the Answer Key. Have students complete the “Reason, if applicable” portion of Handout B for statement 1, briefly summarizing the answer after you’ve read it.
- Continue process for statements 2-10, clarifying and discussing any questions or commentary regarding the answers as you go through them. Emphasize, where applicable, that the First Amendment limits only the government’s ability to regulate assembly and petition, and that individuals and private businesses do not have to let people assemble or petition on their property.
- Wrap up by asking students if any of the answers surprised them.
Activity II – 20 minutes
- Divide the class into groups of 4. Distribute Handout C: A Petition.
- Tell students that their group will create a petition on a social or political issue that matters to them. Read the directions of Handout C aloud, clarifying expectations and questions. Then, have students begin their group assignment, completing Handout C. Tell students they will only have 10-15 minutes for this portion of the activity.
- After 10-15 minutes, call the class together, but keep students in their groups. Have a member of each group read their completed Handout C to the whole class. As each group presents, write the topic of their petition on the board.
- After all groups have presented, review the petition topics you’ve written on the board. Tell students they’re going to choose a class petition. Have students vote, narrowing it down to one petition that garners the most support amongst the class.
Wrap-up 10 min.
Choose one of the following options:
- Conduct a whole-class discussion on the following questions: Do you find it easier or more difficult to communicate your ideas by yourself, or together with others? Why was it important to allow everyone’s petition an equal voice in class? What does this tell you about the importance of assembly and petition to both liberty and self-government?
- Use a teacher-created, free account on http://www.gopetition.com/ or http://www.ipetitions.com/. Post the selected class petition online, checking on it over the next few days to see if it’s received any outside support. You should create this account prior to the lesson.
- After posting it, browse through a few petitions that have been posted on the website by other citizens (if choosing this option, you should preview and select a few petitions ahead of time, controlling for appropriate content).
- After reviewing a few other petitions, ask students the following questions: In what ways are the website and its petitions similar to what the Founders envisioned when they protected the right to petition in the First Amendment? In what ways is it different? How does this website, and the petitions on it, give citizens a voice in government?
- Have students reflect on the class petition activity with a 2-3 paragraph response. Students should consider the following questions:
- If you:
- Supported the petition chosen by the class, what about it appealed to you? Were students who did not agree with you required to sign it? What does this tell you about liberty and self-government, for both those who opposed it and those who supported it?
- Did not support the petition, why not? Are you free to begin a petition of your own in opposition to it? What does this tell you about liberty and self-government, for both those who opposed it and those who supported it?
- Assume for a moment you support the class petition (even if you did not). What methods would you use to gather citizen support for it? Would you assemble with others? If so, what would that look like? If not, what would you do to convince government to listen to you and your ideas?
- Why are the rights to petition and assembly important to maintaining a free society?
- If you:
- Have students find a news article about a recent assembly or protest somewhere in the U.S. Have students write a short summary and opinion of the protest that includes the following information:
- When/where/why the assembly or protest took place.
- The message of the protestors, and the ways in which they communicated their message. (If the group has a website or other online information available, encourage students to visit it and include information from it.)
- A brief explanation of why the assembly is protected by the First Amendment. Conversely, if the assembly was broken up by police, a brief explanation of why it might have been broken up, or otherwise not protected by the First Amendment.
- Handout A: Where Did the Rights to Petition and Assembly Come From, and How Do Americans Exercise Them?
- Handout B: Assembly and Petition True/False Challenge / Cut-Out: Assembly and Petition True/False Challenge
- Handout C: A Petition