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First Amendment Unit

This unit is written from a combination of sources, the biggest being the First Amendment Curriculum Guide published by the Illinois First Amendment Center. A copy of the guide is at under the Lesson Plans tab, along with all other documents that are listed in this unit plan (titles of the documents will be bolded).
The Illinois curriculum guide contains excellent materials and assessments that you may want to adapt to your specific teaching style. We have also included lesson plans developed for the Garden State Scholastic Press Association.

This unit covers the history of the First Amendment, plus two of the amendment’s five freedoms – speech and the press. Lessons for the other three freedoms, religion, assembly and petition, are included in the Illinois curriculum guide if you wish to expand your study.

Unit Assessments are listed at the end of this plan.
New Jersey Curriculum Content Standards:


Identify interrelationships between and among ideas and concepts within a text, such as cause-and-effect relationships.


Identify, describe, evaluate and synthesize the central ideas in informational texts.


Select appropriate electronic media for research and evaluate the quality of the information received.


Critique the validity and logic of arguments advanced in public documents, their appeal to various audiences and the extent to which they anticipate and address reader concerns.


Produce written and oral work that demonstrates synthesis of multiple informational and technical sources.


Define and narrow a problem or research topic.


Employ relevant graphics to support a central idea (e.g., charts, graphic organizers, pictures, computer-generated presentation.


Assume leadership roles in student-directed discussions, projects and forums.


Critique published works for authenticity and credibility.


Identify and evaluate how a media product expresses the values of the culture that produced it.


Identify and select media forms appropriate for the viewer’s purpose.


Analyze media for stereotyping (e.g., gender, ethnicity).


Create media presentations and written reports using multi-media resources using effective images, text, graphics, music and/or sound effects that present a distinctive point of view on a topic.


Compare and contrast international government policies on filters for censorship.

Day 1 – History of First Amendment
Before class:

1. Make copies of the PDF “History of the First Amendment” for distribution

to each student (again, this and all other materials are at under Lesson Plans tab)

2. Make copies of Student Survey 1stAmend.doc for students.

3. Have at least five copies of different daily newspapers. Can be old or new.
Do Now: Write on the board: “What are the five freedoms of the First Amendment and how do they affect your life? Give examples, actual situations. Use anecdotes, anecdotal evidence.”

(If they need an example to get them started: reading a newspaper (freedom of the press); attending a club meeting (assembly); signing a petition to get a new skate park (petition).

Discussion: Discuss answers as a class.
Activity 1: Explain that they’ll now take a survey that will help them as they work their way through their First Amendment studies. Distribute the Student Survey. Direct students to NOT put their names on the survey sheets.

As students take survey, you write these choices on the top of the black/whiteboard, then write numbers down the left side (some questions on the survey don’t have these choices; for them, you’ll have to improvise):

a. strongly agree b. mildly agree c. mildly disagree d. strongly disagree e. don’t know
After they complete the survey, have students switch surveys to maintain anonymity. Have students tally the results. A student reads the questions aloud, asks for show of hands for each answer. Another student puts the tallies alongside each question’s number on the board. Students with calculators can work out the percentages.
NOTE: After tallying, be sure to discuss that flag burning is protected under the First Amendment. Explain that reporters can be ordered to jail in some states for refusing to reveal their sources, but that NJ has a shield law that protects journalists in that regard. If a reporter is asked to reveal a source in a federal court case, however, there is no protection. Journalists’ organizations are now working to get a federal shield law.
Next, review the findings of the survey that was given nationally to teens. The results are on page 16 of the First Amendment Curriculum Guide. It was given by the Knight Foundation (You can read it in more detail at
Some findings to mention:

• Nearly 75% of those polled say they don’t know how they feel about the First Amendment or that they take it for granted.

• Students are less likely than adults to think that people should be allowed to express unpopular opinions or that newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of stories.

• 75% of those polled lack knowledge and understanding about key aspects of the First Amendment and its protections.

Compare the national to your class results. Are we more or less informed about our rights than the rest of the nation? Guide them to see that the national survey results showed young Americans are not as well-informed about their First Amendment rights as they should be.
Activity 2: Divide the class into five groups. Distribute a newspaper to each group.

Have them clip from the newspaper examples of stories or photos dealing with each of the Five Freedoms protected by the First Amendment:

Some answers:

• Religion (church meetings, religious celebrations, religious issues, etc.);

• Speech (speaker addressing an audience, letters to the editor, columnists, etc.);

• Press (editorials, stories about press conferences, interviews, etc.);

• Assembly (stories of meetings, demonstrations, parades, etc.);

• Petition (articles dealing with citizens protesting governmental policy, with citizens criticizing government officials, with people organizing in opposition to those in authority, etc.).

ASSESSMENT: The group, on a fresh piece of paper, should staple or glue the clips to the paper and summarize in a sentence or two the nature of each example. Then answer these questions thoughtfully and thoroughly:

• Why does the press cover these types of stories?

• Why should the press cover these?

• How does it help all citizens?

End/Review with students:

What are the five freedoms of the First Amendment?

What is a shield law?

Do Americans understand their rights as well as they should? Do we?

Homework: Read the History of the First Amendment (you sent it or copied and distributed it at the beginning of class). It prepares them for Day 2.
Day 2 – History continued.
Before class:

Gather materials:

5 sheets of newsprint

5 different colored markers

5 sets of Post-It notes in corresponding colors to the markers

5 copies each of the five historic documents (in the Day 2 folder on the CD).

• Write the name of each freedom on a separate piece of newsprint, each with a different colored marker. It becomes the color of that freedom. For example:

Red = freedom of religion

Green = freedom of speech

Blue = freedom of the press

Yellow = right to petition

Orange = right to assemble

Down the left side of each freedom sheet, write the names of the five historic documents, spaced evenly on the sheet, separated by a line between each.

Hang the newsprint pages side by side on the white/blackboard,

for use during the lesson. The space between the document names will be filled in by stickies, across all five sheets.
Write these vocabulary words somewhere on the board. Check them off as you hit on them:

Founding Fathers, Federalist, Anti-Federalist, Constitution, Amendment, Bill of Rights, Ratification.
In Class:
Do Now: Write on the board: “Has the meaning of the First Amendment changed at all since it was adopted in 1791? Explain your answer.”

(Through today’s activities, they should be able to gather – and at the end of the lesson you should re-enforce – the notion that the First Amendment is a dynamic document whose meaning changes with times and interpretations, even though the words stay the same. It is not a static document).

Discussion: Discuss answers as a class. Weave the discussion around last night’s reading.

Try to hit on vocabulary words listed above.

Activity 1:

Tell the students you have some disturbing news to share with them. Read the following: (If they scoff, remind them that it happened in Europe in the 1930s, so it’s not so far-fetched; those who questioned our patriotism during Sept. 11 were also roundly criticized).
A radical contingent of authoritarian-minded Senators has just introduced a bill to nullify the First Amendment! Citing a need for national unity in the face of increasing external threats to national security, the Senators are proposing the following –
That a state religion grounded in one set of values be developed to increase national unity. This religion will be funded by taxpayers through an additional levy of 1% on federal income taxes. All Americans will be required to participate in this religion.

That producers of all forms of media – newspapers, TV, movies, the Internet, magazines, art, music, etc. – will need to submit their work to a government review board prior to publication or dissemination. Failure to do so will result in punishment such as fines, jail time, and/or disbanding of the media source.

That all Americans will need to sign an oath of loyalty to the U.S. and government officials. Americans will not be permitted to criticize the government.

That all gatherings – meetings of organizations and clubs, parades, etc. – are hereby cancelled until the sponsoring groups are vetted by government officials to ensure their loyalty to the nation and its officials.

That anyone who dissents from the opinion of the majority of loyal Americans will be silenced and either fined, jailed, or deported.
This group of Senators, who have adopted the moniker, Defenders of America, argues that attacks on Americans both at home and abroad indicate that there is a crisis and that the fundamental security of the U.S. is at stake. Thus, these Senators argue, their proposed changes to the Constitution are imperative. An unnamed source close to the Defenders of America noted that the Senators feel confident that, given the apathy and ignorance of most Americans regarding First Amendment freedoms, as well as fears of terrorism and cultural clashes, most Americans will support their proposal to cancel the First Amendment in favor of increased national security and unity.
Senators who oppose the Defenders of America are forming their own group, Guardians of Liberty, to prevent the Defenders of America from eradicating the First Amendment. The Guardians of Liberty are calling upon the nation’s young people to assist them in their efforts to educate their fellow citizens about the development, history, and importance of First Amendment freedoms. Your teacher has been contacted by the Guardians of Liberty to coordinate efforts at your school. He/she will now explain to you how you can help the Guardians of Liberty prevent the elimination of First Amendment freedoms.
Explain that to help the Guardians of Liberty, we must better understand where the First Amendment came from.

Break the class into five groups. Each group gets five copies of one historic document. Copies of each document are at

Acting as document detectives, students will read documents carefully to locate references to First Amendment freedoms. Using post-it notes, students will write a one-sentence summary of any reference they find. If it refers to freedom of the press, for example, it would go on a blue Post-It note.

If the reference ENFORCES press rights, the Post-It also gets a big E on it.

If the reference THREATENS the right, the Post-It also gets a big T on it.

(In this way, we can see the threats and enforcements from the back of the room.)

Some of the documents are actually older than the press, so they won’t have blue Post-Its. In other instances, a matter enumerated in the document might seem unconnected to any of the five rights. There’s usually a way to fit it to at least one right.
By the end of the exercise, the newsprint sheets should be full of stickies. Students are then invited to look at them all. What patterns can they see in the stickies, in the big Es and Ts? (

(Religion will be very big in some documents, for instance.)

Afterward, a spokesperson from each document group should present their group’s findings in a few sentences to the class. Students are taking notes.

Included in their brief presentations:

• Name and year of document

• Main argument it was making

• Any oddball items (one talks about witchcraft, another is anti-Semitic)

• How it fits into the evolution of the First Amendment – did it help the cause or set it back?

Ending/Review – Be sure to note in your ending discussion:

••The Magna Carta was first formal action to limit the power of the king.

••Did the Magna Carta guarantee free speech? NO. But it started us thinking about human rights.

••Has the First Amendment’s meaning remained the same since it was written, or does its meaning change with time and circumstances? YES, it is a dynamic document.

Day 3 – Freedom of Speech
Before Class:

Gather Materials:

Copies of “Favorites-Least Favorites” for each student.
Put these Vocabulary words somewhere on the board: (See Glossary in Illinois curriculum guide, p. 80, for definitions.) Check them off as you hit on them:

1. Obscenity

2. Symbolic Speech

3. Unprotected Speech

4. Truth

5. Hate Speech

5. Political Speech

7. Slander

8. Boycott

9. Commercial Speech

10. Protected Speech

11. Censorship

12. Defamation

In Class:
Do Now: Write on the board:
A student wears a button in class that says, “Legalize Marijuana.” The student’s action is:

a) Constitutional b) Unconstitutional––– WHY?

Discussion: The answer is A.

The student’s action is CONSTITUTIONAL because it advocates a political position.

You may then ask them, what if the shirt said, “Smoke Marijuana”? In that case, the action would be UNCONSTITIONAL because it advocates an illegal act.
One of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment is the freedom of speech. What exactly constitutes speech? It’s not always spoken words, the Supreme Court has ruled.
Clothing, hairstyle, Internet, text messaging, statements made in public are all forms of speech.
• Why isn’t all speech protected? Discuss the Nine Forms of Unprotected Speech. Advise them to write these down, since they will form the basis of the unit test (Definitions are in glossary of the guide, p. 80, if you need to brush up):
1. Obscenity

2. Defamation

3. Expression intended and likely to incite imminent lawless action

4. Fighting words

5. Unwarranted invasion of privacy

6. Deceptive or misleading advertisements or those for illegal products or services

7. Clear and immediate threats to national security

8. Copyright violations

9. Expression on school grounds that causes a material and substantial disruption of school activities
IMPORTANT – Supreme Court precedent is the defining factor in speech cases. There is no written “set of rules” for citizens to follow; their freedom is shaped by Supreme Court decisions – that’s why the First Amendment is dynamic. It’s always changing.

Distribute copies of the “Favorites-Least Favorites” sheet. You can print it from page 38 of the “First Amendment Curriculum Guide” at under Lesson Plans.

Ask students to quietly fill in their favorite and least favorite items.
When they finish, they keep the chart and discussion begins. But first, you will

write these words on the board: I, me, my, yes, no, like, um, you know.

These are outlaw words. During discussion, no one is to utter these words. If they do, you write their name on the board. Tell them each infraction costs them a point on their grade for this activity. They start with 50 points (you won’t really grade them; the threat makes it interesting).
The objective is to get them to engage in debates about their favorite and least favorite things, while gauging their adherence to speech limitations.

Afterwards, point out behaviors you’re likely to have seen: they sometimes tell on each other; they felt pressure to conform, it was difficult to communicate when speech was limited. Point out that the world still has totalitarian regimes where speech is extremely limited.

What are our rights of free speech? It’s all up to the courts. Let’s investigate what the courts have done in 5 landmark cases: assign three-four students to every case. Divide the class into 5 groups.

DAY 4 – Speech Cases
Do Now: To test your knowledge: What are the 9 forms of unprotected speech? (Don’t look at your notes.) Review their answers.
Next, write the names of the cases below on the board, then assign one case to each group:

The list below includes explanations for your information. They must research to learn about them.

Bethel v Fraser – The same rights given to adults do not apply to those of children in a school setting. This case includes a speech that contains double meaning. You should determine whether your class is mature enough to handle hearing the speech. One suggestion: ask them if they think they’re mature enough to hear it. They usually do well when challenged to be mature.
Texas v Johnson – Flag burning is protected speech.
Schenck v United States – WWI pacifist is jailed for distributing anti-war leaflets. The Court decided speech can be prohibited if (1) it is “directed at inciting or producing imminent lawless action” and (2) it is “likely to incite or produce such action.” NOTE: THIS WAS LATER OVERTURNED. PROOF OF THE DYNAMIC NATURE OF FIRST AMENDMENT.
Tinker v Des Moines – High school students wear armbands to protest Vietnam War. Court said their speech was protected: students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate,” as written by the justices.
Morse et al. vs. Frederick – “Bong Hits for Jesus” case. At issue was whether a school should be allowed to limit messages that appear to advocate illegal drug use, even if the student if off school grounds. NOTE: ADVOCATES OF FREE PRESS BELIEVE THIS RULING ERODES STUDENTS’ RIGHTS.
Each group must find out:
– Names of plaintiff and defendant

  • Date of initial lawsuit AND date of Supreme Court ruling (usually years apart).

  • Facts of the case - in other words, what happened in a sentence or two?

  • Nature of the dispute – what does each side want?

  • Decision of the court, and the exact vote.

  • Summary of both the majority and minority opinions

  • The “test” or standard provided by the court, which will be used whenever a similar case arises.

  • Effect on our free speech rights.

Each group creates a Google doc, shared with the teacher, where their findings are written. You could also upload the First Amendment ChartBLANK to Google docs, which they must also fill out for their case. When finished, it provides a study guide for the whole class.

Ending/Review: Review the Nine Forms of Unprotected Speech.

You will name one form, then call on a student to describe it.

Remind students they must present their case findings tomorrow, first by acting them out, then by explaining what happened. They will be graded on creativity and on having presented all information listed above in a clear, concise manner. They should be prepared to take questions.
Day 5 – History, Speech Freedom Review
Before Class:

Gather Materials

Distribute copies of History of Press Freedom, or send a copy to students online. Distribute for them to read for homework.

Do Now: Write on the board:

“To test your memory of yesterday’s lesson: what are the nine forms of unprotected speech?”


1. Review the nine forms, pointing out that the courts decide what’s Constitutionally-protected speech by applying the Nine Forms. The students will do the same when asked whether speech is protected or unprotected in different situations.

2. Discuss the following terms, helping students to work out the meanings of the more difficult ones.
• Obscenity: something such as a word, act or expression that is indecent or lewd.

• Founding Fathers: Delegates to the Constitutional Convention

• Symbolic speech: A” message” or conduct intended to convey a particular message which is likely

to be understood by those viewing it

• Unprotected speech: The nine areas of unprotected speech

• Truth: Conformity to fact or actuality

• Hate Speech: Speech intended to degrade, intimidate, or incite violence or prejudicial action against

someone based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, or

disability. The term covers written as well as oral communication.

• Political Speech: Any form of speech that is directly linked to the government; in that the speech performs a valuable function as a check and balance of the government. Speaking out against

government intervention or financial contributions are considered political speech because it

is a method of expressing political ideologies.

Slander: A false and malicious statement or report about someone

• Boycott: a form of symbolic speech. To abstain from or act together in abstaining from using, buying, or dealing with as an

expression of protest or disfavor or as a means of coercion

• Commercial Speech: Speech (as advertising) that proposes a commercial transaction

Protected Speech: Speech that is interpreted as protected by the Supreme Court or implied by the First

Amendment. The Court has never held that the Constitution establishes an “absolute” right

to free speech.

• Censorship: To edit, expurgate, stifle, repress

• Defamation: Communication to third parties of false statements about a person that injures the reputation of or deters others from associating with that person.
• Give students 10 minutes to discuss their cases for presentation. Then make presentations in order of the case dates. WARN THEM TO TAKE NOTES, as tomorrow will be the Unit Test.

They should give presentations in the order below, by date:

Points that you should stress if the groups fail to hit on them: these are “tests” that the court established to cover cases like these that come in the future:

  1. Schenk v. US 1919 Test: The case establishes a clear and present danger test. If the speech would create a substantive evil that could have been prevented, the speech is not protected.

2. Tinker v. DesMoines 1969 Test: It can hardly be argued that Students or teachers do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression “at the schoolhouse gate.”

3. Bethel v. Fraser 1986 Test: the determination of what manner of speech is inappropriate properly rests with the school board.

4. Texas v. Johnson 1989 Test: Symbolic political

speech is also protected, not just verbal speech.

5. Morse v. Frederick 2007 Test: A school principal may restrict student speech at a school event consistent with the First Amendment when that speech is reasonably viewed as promoting illegal drug use.
Review: Point out Case Law vs. Legislative Law: the two ways we get our laws. One is through the state and federal legislatures; the other, case law, is through the settlement of disputes in the courts.

Is the Supreme Court more disposed to rule on the side of more First Amendment freedom or less? (We can’t tell, but the wind is blowing a bit more conservatively. Morse v. Frederick shows this.)

Distribute “Study Sheet for First Amendment Test.”

Review, ask for questions, clarifications.

(You should have read the test, made sure you have covered what is included.)
TEST TOMORROW on History and Speech.
Day 6 – Test
1. Invite students to review with each other for 5 to 10 minutes, then give the test.

2. Distribute copies of History of Press Freedom – or e-mail it to students. Ask them to read it for homework, to prepare for tomorrow.

Day 7 – Press Freedom
Before Class:

Gather Materials:

1 of the same newspaper for each student or each pair of students
Do Now: Write on the board for students to answer on their unit paper: If you had to choose, which of the five freedoms would you sacrifice?
Discussion: Students give rationale for their decision. Can the class reach a consensus? Go through each freedom, discussing its importance or disposability.

Vocabulary: List on the board, check them off as you hit on them. (See Glossary p.80 for definition of Vocabulary terms.)
1. Prior Restraint 4. Censorship 7. Editorializing 10. Subjectivity 13. Opinion

2. Shield laws 5. Copyright laws 8. Defamation 11. Objectivity 14. Features

3. Ethics 6. Libel 9. Intrusion 12. The Fourth Estate 15. News

Criticism Crossout

Distribute the same newspaper to each student. Have each student individually cross out every story, picture, editorial, letter to the editor, or other item criticizing or questioning the local or federal government, every article that criticizes a public figure, every story dealing with religion or any other freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Compare results. Then, discuss how Americans benefit from a free press and how Americans would be adversely affected if the First Amendment did not guarantee freedom of the press.
Next, we want to get students thinking about their local, state and federal governments, what difference those governments make in their lives and why students might want to know about the way government works, which press freedom gives them.
On the board, make three columns, labeling them:

Town Hall State Capitol, Congress/White House,

and County Courthouse Trenton Washington, D.C.
1. Ask students to brainstorm as a group, listing the services that government provides and placing them in the appropriate column of the government level that provides them.
Some examples:

Town and county governments: picking up the trash; repairing sewer pipes; registering voters; fixing voting machines; issuing marriage licenses; finding a landfill for our trash; reading wills; running elections; operating the county jails; operating district and small claims court; running the libraries; inspecting houses; keeping the peace; providing water service.
State Capitol in Trenton: fixing highways; putting suspects on trial; licensing doctors, lawyers, accountants, other professionals; run state colleges; issue liquor licenses; fix state bridges; protect the environment.
Congress/White House: investigates mobsters; decides if we go to war; sets the drinking age; guard the borders; provides Social Security for the elderly; provides health coverage to the poor and elderly; collects taxes.
2. Ask students to think about situations in which they would need to check government records. Some examples that you can use, which are open to them under the New Jersey Open Public Records Law:

a. The neighbors are building a new house and the materials look shoddy. You’re worried about the safety of the house. You could visit the local building inspector and ask to see the inspection records.

b. There’s a pit bull living down the street and he looks vicious. You could go to the town hall and look up the dog’s license, see if he’s had his shots.

c. Your real estate taxes are going up and up. You could check county records to make sure you and your neighbors are paying the same amount.

d. The school board voted to end school trips. At the same time, you’ve heard the administrative offices have new desks, chairs and computers. You could examine the records to see how much the furniture cost and whether it was necessary.

e. The town council was supposed to vote on building a new swimming pool. At the meeting, they meet privately, then they vote no, with no public discussion. You could request and receive the minutes of that closed meeting.

3. Explain to students that New Jersey, like most other states, has an Open Public Records Law. It was one of the worst in the nation in terms of guaranteeing public access to government records but it was overhauled in 2002 and the changes were welcomed by the press and other access advocates. One new feature of the law was the formation of the Government Records Council, which is supposed to be a helper for citizens who are seeking public records from state agencies.

Here are some FAQs about the New Jersey OPRA, taken from, that you may want to review with students:

Also, you may want to distribute copies of “OPRA graphic – CourierPost” from, which the newspaper created to help readers understand OPRA.
# Is there a form I have to use?

Each public agency must adopt a records request form to be used to request records under OPRA.

# Do I have to pay for copies in advance of receiving them?

When a request form is submitted, the custodian will determine if prepayment is required.

# How soon can I get the records I requested?

Under OPRA, the custodian of government records must comply with the request "as soon as possible," but no later than seven business days after the request is received. If the record is in storage or archived (and thus may take longer to retrieve), the custodian will advise the requester of that fact within seven business days and tell the requester when the record will be available. The request form, signed and dated by the custodian, will serve as evidence of the transaction in case the request is denied and the requester decides to appeal that decision.

# What happens if my request is denied?

If a request for a record is denied, there are two avenues of redress. The requester may file a suit in Superior Court or apply to the Government Records Council for relief. For appeals to the Government Records Council, the complaint must be in writing, and it should set forth the facts regarding the circumstances of the request, the specific records asked for, and the denial of access by the records custodian. Appeals in the Superior Court require a $200 filing fee and must follow established court rules. If the denial is found to be unreasonable, either the court or the council can reverse the decision.

However, prior to taking formal action the requester may want to contact the Government Records Council for advice. Depending on the circumstances, the Council's staff may be able to intervene and resolve the matter without a formal complaint being filed.

# What are reasons for denials?

Reasons for denial reside for the most part in the exceptions to disclosure defined in OPRA. Others could be a failure to fill out the records request properly or failure to provide proper identification or failure to meet established deadlines to provide access.

# Can I get immediate access to certain records?

Under OPRA, a requester must be given immediate access to budgets, bills, vouchers, and contracts (including collective bargaining agreements and individual employment contracts) that are readily available to the custodian at the time of the request. "Immediate access" means that the custodian must make every effort to provide access as soon as it is requested.

# What is the cost of paper copies of records?

The fee for copies of printed government records shall not exceed:

Pages 1-10 $0.75/ page

Pages 11-20 $0.50/ page

All pages after 20 $0.25/ page

4. Is the current OPRA enough to guarantee that we can get the information we need to be good citizens? Advocates at the state’s largest newspapers say that much work needs to be done to make New Jersey’s law as good as it should be.

5. Turning to the federal level of government: students will view a video that explains the Freedom of Information Act and demonstrates how the law has been weakened during the post-Sept. 11 era. You can find the video, which is 11 minutes long and of very high quality, at

After viewing the film, discuss the current condition of both the federal and state Right to Know laws. Discuss what actions can be taken to change things. Whose responsibility is it to work for change? How would you go about it? What rights under the First Amendment would you use?

6. Turning to student newspapers: Distribute the “Hazelwood Background Summary” and read together, either aloud or silently. Break students into groups to discuss and answer the following questions (this could be a written assignment:
1) What concerns did Principal Reynolds have regarding the two articles?

2) Do you think the principal had any options other than deleting entire pages from the student paper?

3) What is the constitutional right at issue?

4) Were there steps the students could have taken other than filing a lawsuit?

5) Should a principal be able to censor student newspapers? If so, under what conditions?

6) Should a principal or other school official be able to silence other forms of student speech?

If so, under what conditions?

7) How does speech by an individual student differ from speech by the school newspaper?

Try to help them understand that the Supreme Court decides whether a principal can censor their newspaper, for example through cases like Hazelwood.
ASSESSMENT: Two other issues are important for them to understand: Send them to the Student Press Law Center Web site to investigate these two terms: underground newspapers, nonpublic schools. ALTERNATIVELY, you can discuss them, using this information:

Underground Newspapers”

Students who publish “underground” (nonschool-sponsored) publications have the right to distribute them on school grounds during the school day. Officials may determine

reasonable times and places for the distribution. Underground newspapers cannot be censored or their staff members disciplined in the absence of exceptionally

compelling circumstances. A number of courts have ruled that underground publications are not subject to prior review. Officials cannot require that they be submitted for approval prior to distribution.

The bottom line is that courts protect the right of students to express themselves, even when their message may be controversial and cause discomfort to others. The protection,

however, has parameters. Students are advised to honor the substance and the spirit of the First Amendment by basing decisions on ethical standards. School officials are

encouraged to recognize student rights and to teach students about the First Amendment.

Nonpublic Schools

Students should understand that private and parochial schools are not agencies of the state. They therefore have far fewer protections under the First Amendment. Official

student publications, whether part of the curriculum or not, are protected from censorship within the parameters of Tinker and Hazelwood. If the publication is recognized by policy

or practice as a public forum (with the publication open for indiscriminate use for sharing information and opinions), then it is exempt from Hazelwood’s restrictions.


How does the NJ Sunshine Law stack up against other states’?

What are the details of the Hazelwood case?

How did Hazelwood affect student press rights?


Research and write a 300-word essay about the following legal cases, discussing how they help us to be informed American citizens about our government:

New York Times v. Sullivan

New York Times v. United States

Branzburg v. Hayes

Near v. Minnesota

Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeir
FYI: You may want to allow them time to research the cases for discussion. In any event, here are summaries.

New York Times v. Sullivan: The court establishes that public officials must prove malice to win a libel case. The court later expanded the law to include public officials. Difference between the two – public official is elected; public figure is a celebrity.

New York Times v. U.S.: known as the Pentagon Papers Case – the court declared that the government cannot stop publication unless it is a proven threat to the national security.

Branzburg v. Hayes: In this case, the reporter wrote a story about illegal drug use. He was ordered to reveal his sources. The court found that he was not protected. He must reveal his source if it involves illegal activity.
Near v. Minnesota: Minnesota had authorized the prevention of publication, as a public nuisance, of any malicious, scandalous or defamatory publication. The law was specifically aimed at the Saturday Press, a Minneapolis tabloid that in addition to exploiting rumors had uncovered some embarrassing facts about local political and business figures. The state courts gladly abated the Press, which then appealed to the United States Supreme Court claiming that its First Amendment rights had been violated.

The decision is important in two respects. First, it continued the process, begun only a few years earlier, of extending the protection of the Bill of Rights to cover the states as well as the federal government. Although the First Amendment says that "Congress shall make no law ...", the Court in a series of rulings held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the provisions of the Bill of Rights and makes them applicable to the states as well. In effect, the First Amendment now reads, "Neither Congress nor any state shall make any law ..."

Second, the Court established, as a central tenet of the Press Clause, that the government has no power of prior restraint; that is, the government cannot censor the press and prevent publication. This did not mean that a newspaper could not be held liable for false and defamatory statements, but that would remain a matter to be proven in court. Governments could not rule that such materials were libelous and thus prevent publication.

Hazelwood School District v.Kuhlmeier (1988) In the spring of 1983, the Spectrum student newspaper at Hazelwood East High Schoolnear St. Louis, Mo., was censored by the principal, who objected to two articles on divorce and teenage pregnancy. The principal said the stories were too sensitive and unsuitable for immature audiences. By a 5-to-3 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals and upheld the school’s censorship. While reaffirming Tinker, the Court established a higher standard under Hazelwood with two new considerations:

(1) Can school officials show they have a valid educational purpose for the censorship and that the censorship is not intended to silence a particular viewpoint they disagree with or that is unpopular? (If not, the Tinker standard applies.)

(2) Has the publication, either by school policy or practice, been opened up as a “public

forum” or “forum for student expression” where students have been given the authority to make the content decisions. (If it has, the Tinker standard applies.)

DAY 8 – Reporter’s Handbook on Press Law and the Courts
(Give out graded tests, collect their assignment on the five cases.)
Introduce the Reporter’s Handbook Study Guide, distribute a copy to each student. The handbook is published by the New Jersey Press Association as a service to the journalists of New Jersey. The study guide is a summary of the handbook, which outlines New Jersey laws and policies that every journalist should know.
Review the contents of the study guide, which will give students valuable information concerning criminal court procedures that they will need to know as adults. They usually have a lot of questions about criminal procedures and about public access to records and proceedings. By the end of the discussion, they should know what public records they have a right to obtain.
Possible Quiz questions for Reporter’s Handbook:
Criminal Procedures:
1. What are the two ways that you can be charged with a crime?

2. What is a plea bargain?

3. What is discovery?

4. How many members sit on a jury? Who qualifies to sit on a jury?

Access to Government
1. What is the Sunshine Law?

2. Give three types of proceedings that are NOT open to the press or the public. –

3. What is the New Jersey Right to Know Law?

4. Name two types of government records that are open to the press or public; and two types that are NOT open.
4. What is Megan’s Law and how does it work?


Day 1 News clipping assignment

Day 4 Oral presentations

Day 5 Test on history/speech

Day 6 Essay on Press Freedom Cases

Day 8 Test on Reporter’s Handbook

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