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4. Civil Liberties: Safeguarding the Individual, Using the Video
Topic Overview Using the Video Readings Critical Thinking Activity Web-Based Resources

Classroom Applications Post-Viewing Activity and Discussion Watch the Video and Discuss Pre-Viewing Activity and Discussion


Using the Video Unit 4

Pre-Viewing Activity and Discussion (30 minutes)

Before viewing the video, discuss the following questions:
  • What would the nation look like if there had never been a Bill of Rights?

  • What, if any, limits should be placed on individual liberty?

  • How did Thoreau believe that most men serve the state?

  • What are the implications of applying the bad tendency test as opposed to the clear and present danger test in judging free speech and press disputes?

  • What should constitute an unreasonable search and seizure?

  • What should be done when two guaranteed liberties collide?

  • Should liberties not mentioned in the Bill of Rights (e.g., privacy) be protected by courts?

Watch the Video (30 minutes) and Discuss (30 minutes) [Top]

The video includes three segments:

1. First Amendment Rights Are Not Absolute

Like most high schools, Middlesex High in Saluda, Virginia, has its own student-run school newspaper, The Big Blue Review. The paper's student editors decided to run several stories on Valentine's Day about sex education that included information about venereal diseases and so-called "safe sex" practices. Carl McWhorter, faculty advisor for the newspaper, supported the student editors, but Middlesex High's principal objected to the content in the articles and decided to suspend distribution of the Valentine's Day edition of the paper. Although the students consulted attorneys from a legal defense center, the issue was resolved without going to court. The experience seems to have taught both sides how difficult it is to balance conflicting interests.

Discussion Questions

  • Should the press be allowed to publish anything?

  • If there are limits on publication, can they be defined prior to publication?

  • Should student publications be treated differently than privately held media outlets?

  • Do school administrators have special responsibilities to censor student produced publications?

2. The Fourth Amendment and Student Drug Tests: The Case of Lindsay Earls

Extracurricular activities such as sports, marching bands, choirs, and quiz bowls, have long been a basic part of high school. In recent years, out of concern for the continued drug use among some teens, school administrators across the country have implemented random drug testing programs for students involved in school sports and other activities. Several court cases challenging these testing programs have required the courts to grapple with the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable searches. Usually the issue involves conflicts between students' rights to privacy and the schools' obligation to ensure their safety and well being. In a closely watched 1995 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that random drug tests for student athletes were reasonable because team players already had a lower expectation of privacy and because of the extra danger of physical exertion while under the influence of drugs. But the question of whether schools can require drug tests for students in non-sports programs remained unsettled until 2002.

Discussion Questions

  • What constitutes an unreasonable search?

  • Is mandatory drug testing an invasion of privacy?

  • Should all students be required to submit to drug tests?

  • Should faculty and administrators be required to submit to drug tests?

3. When Rights Collide: The Free Press Versus the Fair Trial

The Sixth Amendment guarantees criminal defendants a right to a fair trial, but the First Amendment guarantees the media the right to cover criminal trials as well. This potential conflict between two rights arose in the Sam Sheppard murder trial and subsequent appeal. On the morning of July 4, 1954, Marilyn Reese Sheppard was murdered. Her husband, Dr. Sam Sheppard, was initially questioned by the police and released. But after several stories in the local newspapers criticized the police for letting Sheppard go, he was put on trial for the murder of his wife. The trial was a media spectacle that included biased press coverage against Sheppard and improper police statements calling Sheppard a "barefaced liar." Sheppard was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. Was press coverage so obtrusive as to deny Sheppard his Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial? This famous case (still famous as the inspiration for the television show and movie, The Fugitive), struggled to balance these competing rights.

Discussion Questions

  • Did Dr. Sheppard receive a fair trial?

  • In the current media age, with its all-news channels, can any high-profile defendant receive a fair trial?

  • What measures can be taken to guarantee high-profile defendants a fair trial?



Post-Viewing Activity and Discussion (30 minutes) [Top]

Try the Critical Thinking activity for Unit 4. This is a good activity to use with your students, too.

1. What Other Constitutional Rights Do You (Or Should You) Have? (15 minutes)

The Ninth Amendment states: "The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." What other rights or liberties that are not articulated in the Constitution should we enjoy? For example, should the right to privacy, which the Supreme Court affirmed in Roe v. Wade (1973), be guaranteed through constitutional amendment? Other possible rights might include a right to education, a right to health care, or even a right to have fun as an extension of the unalienable right to the "pursuit of happiness" that is asserted in the Declaration of Independence. Discuss what other rights might be covered by the Ninth Amendment.

2. Why Worry About Civil Liberties If You Don't Have Anything To Hide? (15 minutes)

Some people express the attitude that says: "I don't mind drug searches in school, or sobriety checkpoints, because I don't have anything to hide." Do you agree with this statement? Use the readings to discuss where various political thinkers might have stood on this issue. Also consider what might be the value to society if more people held that view. What might be the value to society if more people questioned that view? Do the terms of this debate change when the U.S. is in a wartime situation against a foreign power, or in a domestic situation such as the "war on drugs?" Why or why not?



Homework [Top]

Read the following Readings from Unit 5 to prepare for next week's session.

  • Introduction-Civil Rights: Demanding Equality

  • Tocqueville, Democracy in America: "The Idea of Rights in the United States"

  • W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk

  • Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave

  • Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Women and Economics

Read next week's Topic Overview.


Classroom Applications [Top]

You may want to have your students do the post-viewing activities: What Other Constitutional Rights Do You (Or Should You) Have? and Why Worry About Civil Liberties If You Don't Have Anything To Hide? They are provided for you as blackline masters in the Appendix of the print guide.



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