Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Making Civics Real Workshop 1: Freedom of Religion  
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Workshop 1

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Other Lessons: Controversial Issues in Practice

Lesson 2: The Free Exercise of Religion

The hypothetical situations in Lesson 2 are more personal than those in Lesson 1. The discussions of Lesson 1 will have helped to ease students into debates, so that their opinions are not simply generated by feelings and they can step back and be more objective when they deal with a topic that goes directly to their personal value system and beliefs. Religious beliefs concerning blood transfusions or the acceptance of certain practices are very concrete issues, and students can be expected to voice some very strong opinions.

By the end of the lesson, students should be able to:

  1. sharpen their research skills;
  2. distinguish between the rights of an individual, those of a particular group, and the common good;
  3. discuss how conflict may arise between these three entities;
  4. apply historical and contemporary legal solutions to these conflicts in modem day dilemmas; and
  5. differentiate between the central issues of Establishment and Free Exercise.

Issue Debated:
What right, if any, does the state have to infringe on the Free Exercise of religion as guaranteed by the First Amendment?

Hypothetical Motivator:
Choose one of these two hypothetical situations:

  1. Stare law requires that parents provide their children with necessities, including adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. A child is born with a serious illness requiring a blood transfusion in order to live. The child's parents, who are Jehovah's Witnesses, refuse permission for the transfusion because their religion prohibits this medical procedure. (Arbetman 1983)
  2. A city in North Carolina passes an ordinance prohibiting the handling of poisonous reptiles "in such manner as to endanger public health, safety, and welfare." A religious cult that handled snakes as part of its religion's ceremony refused to obey the law. (Arbetman 1983)

Materials Used:
(1) List of Relevant Legal Cases for Lesson Two; (2) Scavenger Hunt Clues; (3) Hypothetical situations.

  1. Set the Stage
    1. In the hypothetical situation presented, what should the state do? What can the state do?
    2. What is the central issue here?
    3. How does the First Amendment deal with this?

  2. The Role of the Court
    The Scavenger Hunt. The technique used to involve students in the role of the Court is a "scavenger hunt." The class is divided into groups of three or four. Each group should be given two lists: (1) a list of legal cases reviewed by the Court and (2) the scavenger hunt list which is a list of "clues," consisting of issues reviewed in the legal cases (see next page). Each group must be assigned a different set of clues from the list. Using the case list, students are to find the cases that deal with or "match up" with their set of clues. There should be only two or three cases for each group of students.

    Once students have found the "matching cases" they must develop a worksheet explaining how the cases relate to their clues and what the Supreme Court decision and rationale was in each case. After the hunt, each group reports its cases and findings to the entire class. A class member may ask questions or get clarification at any time. Individual opinions are also accepted. Students are encouraged to make any connections with cases from other groups, as well as any preceding cases covered in class.

    The scavenger hunt can be fun. With some classes, the full cases from the Supreme Court Reporter are used; in others, workbooks or special excerpts are created for this unit. When the students begin sharing the findings it is helpful to set them up around the room in mini-panels, allowing each group to be seen, yet remain distinct. As each panel presents, all students should be taking notes.

  3. Coming Full Circle
    Return to the original hypothetical case: How might the Supreme Court rule in this case? How would you rule? What right, if any, does the state have to infringe upon the "free exercise" of religion as guaranteed by the First Amendment?

    There will be heightened discussion as the ruling on the case comes closer. It is easy for students to get sidetracked or to remain on one point too long, and the teacher will need gently to move them through all the questions while keeping the discussion objective and factual.

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