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Freedom of Religion and the Courts
Submitted by Melissa Pineiro, North Brunswick Township High School

Lesson Summary: Our faith in the Bill of Rights comes from the continuing effort by the courts to correct unfair practices, study grievances, and recognize constitutional applications of the Bill of Rights. This lesson will focus on and evaluate the interpretation of the First Amendment right of religious freedom through Supreme Court decisions.

Time Frame: 2 days
Suggested Grade Level: High School

New Jersey Core Standards: 3-12, 6.2, 6.4, 6.5,

Objectives: The students will be able to:

  1. Develop critical thinking skills
  2. Understand the workings of the Supreme Court
  3. Evaluate the Courtís interpretation of the First Amendment right to religious freedom

Resource Materials:

  • informational resources (i.e.-teacher prepared dittos on the various cases being used; student access to the internet for research purposes) -- suggested web sites:

  • possible list of cases:
    • West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette (1943)
    • Engel v. Vitale (1962)
    • Abington v. Schempp (1963)
    • Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972)
    • Widmar v. Vincent (1981)
    • Edwards v. Aguillard (1987)
    • Board of Education v. Mergens (1990)

Strategies and Procedures:

  1. Teacher will review the procedures/workings of the Supreme Court.
  2. Distribute handouts on the facts and issues involved in the case (or allow students to research).
  3. Organize the class into three groups: Supreme Court and two groups of attorneys (prosecution and defense).
  4. Group will meet and develop arguments in support of itís side. The Supreme Court group needs to prepare questions.
  5. Lead attorneys present the arguments with time for a rebuttal.
  6. Justices deliberate.
  7. Verdict is given.
  8. Teacher debriefs the activity (with actual verdicts).

Assessment:

  1. Teacher will evaluate oral arguments/responses/preparation.
  2. Students will write an editorial on the verdict (for homework).


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