First Amendment of the U. S. Constitution
The purpose of this lesson is to introduce students to the Bill of Rights as they explore the first clause of the First Amendment:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.…”
Introduction to the Bill of Rights: Students will read background material on the need for the Bill of Rights including some of the historical arguments for its inclusion in the Constitution.
Motivation and Activities
- Have students name the five rights enumerated in the First Amendment and discuss whether they think the rights are listed in any special order. (right to free exercise of religion, free speech, publish, assemble, raise grievances with the government)
- Have students name some of the documents that led to the writing of the Bill of Rights.
- Students will divide into teams and present a debate on the topic: Resolved that these United States need a Constitutional Amendment for freedom of religion in which the government cannot establish a religion. A group of students may serve as debate judges and question the debaters.
- Take a class vote on the truth/falsehood of the following statements. Before revealing the polled statistic, if their estimate is far from the given figures, have them discuss the possible reasons for the divergence.
- Only 56% (of Americans) believe that the freedom to worship as one chooses extends to all religious groups, regardless of how extreme (T)
- 53% favor banning speech critical of religion (T)
Source for Statistics and Additional Explorations
Materials & Resources
Students will need access to computers with web-capability (or printed copies of the following items):
- Moses Seixas letter welcoming General George Washington to Newport, RI., August 17, 1790
- General Washington’s letter to The Jews of Newport, August 21, 1790
- The Newport Mercury, RI., 1790 facsimile newspaper
- Preamble to the Constitution of the United States
- The Bill of Rights
- Key documents in the history of religious liberty, including the Mayflower Compact (1620); John Locke’s Letters Concerning Toleration (1689-92); Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom (1786); Papers of George Washington, French Declaration of the Rights of Man (1789), Royal Charter of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (1663) [These documents are available in digital form from the Avalon Project.]
Avalon Project at the Yale Law School
The Avalon Project website presents digital documents relevant to the fields of Law, History, Economics, Politics, Diplomacy and Government.
Bill of Rights Institute
The Bill of Rights Institute is one of GWIRF’s partners in educating students on religious liberty and the separation of church and state.
Facing History and Ourselves
Facing History and Ourselves is one of GWIRF’s partners in educating students on religious liberty and the separation of church and state.
First Amendment Center
The First Amendment Center offers comprehensive research coverage of key First Amendment issues and topics, daily First Amendment news, commentary and analyses by respected legal specialists, and a First Amendment Library of legal cases and related materials.
Library of Congress
Comprehensive source for digital versions of key documents of American history, with teacher resources and ideas on how to use primary source materials in classrooms.
TeAchnology, U.S. Constitution Teaching Theme
TeAchnology provides free resources for teachers. The site has over 42,000 lesson plans, 9000 free printable worksheets, rubrics, teaching tips, worksheet makers, web quests, math worksheets, and other teacher resources. Material is available for Kindergarten through High School teachers.
Additional material is available at www.tourosynagogue.org
All modules meet curriculum standards of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS).
See www.socialstudies.org for additional information.
- Standard 1 — Understands the ideas about life, politics and government
- Standard 2 — Understands the historical perspective
- Standard 8 — Understands the institutions and practices of Government created during the Revolution and how these elements were revised between 1787 and 1815 to create the foundations of the American political systems based on the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights
- Era 3 — Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820s)
- Standard 7 — Uses reading skills and strategy to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts