Rights in Conflict
Tarry L. Lindquist, educational consultant, adapted this lesson from material under the same title from Justice Education Teaching Strategies K-6 (JETS-5), Pennsylvania Department of Education; the lesson is used with permission. Cases are taken from Lawmaking, Law in Action Series, Riekes-Mahe, West Publishing Company. Staff at the Washington State Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) edited the lesson and updated it in 2012. For more information, contact AOC Court Services, 1206 Quince Street SE, PO Box 41170, Olympia, WA 98504-1170. For an electronic copy of this lesson, or to view other lesson plans, visit Educational Resources on the Washington Courts Web site at: www.courts.wa.gov/education/.
One class period (approximately 50 minutes)
The teacher should have spent a minimum of two class periods prior to the arrival of the judge studying the Bill of Rights and its meaning.
One copy of Handout 1 (Rights in Conflict Case Studies) for each student
The guns of World War II were blazing. From 1941 to 1945, the United States was in the middle of the fighting. Many Americans thought it was important to show loyalty to the country. One state, West Virginia, ordered its teachers and students to salute the flag every school day. They also had to say the Pledge of Allegiance every school day. Any student who refused would be sent home from school. The student would not be allowed to return until he or she agreed to obey the order.
A religious group called Jehovah's Witnesses objected. They asked to have their children excused from the flag ceremony. The group said this was against their beliefs. Jehovah's Witnesses believed the law of God was higher than the laws of any government. They thought that God's law forbade the worship of any man-made thing or sign. So they believed it was wrong for them to say a pledge to a flag. The Jehovah's Witnesses offered instead to say a pledge of allegiance to God and to respect the United States flag.
West Virginia school officials refused to accept this offer from the Jehovah's Witnesses. School officials sent the children home from school. The officials warned that the parents would be arrested. They also said the children would be sent to reform school.
The Jehovah's Witnesses brought their case to court. They said they had been denied their freedom of religion. They added that the order to recite the pledge also denied their freedom of speech. This case eventually went to the United States Supreme Court.
Note: You might probe for more depth in the answers. For example, you could ask: What makes you think that? Can you give an example? Can anyone else say that another way?
"We think the action of the local authorities in compelling the flag salute and pledge transcends constitutional limitations on their power and invades the sphere of intellect and spirit which it is the purpose of the First Amendment to our Constitution to reserve from all official control."
"The decision of this Court in Minersville School District v. Gobitis [310 U.S. 586
Approximately 15 minutes of time should have elapsed.
Q: What is the Bill of Rights and why do we have them?
A: The Bill of Rights lists certain basic rights given to the people by the United States to protect from an abuse of power by the government.
Note: Most students do not understand that the Bill of Rights protects us from the federal government, not from principals, playground supervisors, baby sitters, or parents. It is through the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause that most of the first ten amendments have been incorporated to apply against the states. In this way, principals, teachers, police and others acting with authority from the state are limited by the Bill of Rights.
Major questions dealing with peoples' rights in conflict present some of the hardest problems for society. People come to a better understanding about what is fair if they have to decide what should be done when the rights of two or more people conflict.
Note: The fishbowl strategy allows students to hear others think aloud and encourages full participation by all students. If you notice some students not speaking during their stint in the fishbowl, you might prompt them by saying: We haven't heard from you yet. What's your idea?
Case 1: No case name identified
Mr. Botein could not find his laptop computer anywhere. A neighbor said the Conleys, a family that lived across the street and had teenage boys, had an Apple laptop computer that looked just like the Botein laptop computer. Mr. Botein got mad and called the police. He demanded that the police look in the Conley house for the laptop computer.
Does Mr. Botein have the right to have the police search the Conley house? Why or why not? Whose rights are in conflict here? What if one of the neighbors said they had seen one of the Conley boys take the laptop computer across the street from Mr. Botein into his own home?
Issue: What right should the law hold most important -- the right of the Conleys to privacy or the right of the Boteins to get their property back?
The courts have set down certain regulations to ensure people's rights to privacy. By law, a search warrant issued to a police officer by a judge would be needed before a police could search the Conley house. There must be good evidence to prove the Botein laptop was actually in the Conley house and it was there illegally before a search warrant could be issued. The rules arise from the way the U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted the Fourth Amendment.
Repeat the "goldfish bowl" strategy with groups two and three.
Case 2: Tinker v. Des Moines School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969)
John and Mary Beth Tinker decided to wear black armbands to school as a protest. The school allowed the students to wear symbols like political buttons, but the principal told the Tinkers they would not be allowed in school wearing armbands. They decided to go to school wearing the armbands anyway. Their armbands stood for their feelings against the Vietnam War. Some students just outside of the school got angry at John and Mary Beth for wearing armbands. The principal sent John and Mary Beth home and refused to let them come back to school if they wore their armbands.
Should the Tinkers be allowed to wear armbands to school if they want to wear them? The Tinkers did not say any words of protest. Does the First Amendment apply to wearing armbands? Do you think it should? Why or why not? Whose rights are in conflict here?
Issue: What right should the law hold more important -- the right of the Tinkers to express freely their ideas or the right of the school to protect good order?
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Tinkers, since it was an orderly and symbolic expression of free speech. Justice Fortas said: "It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate." He also stated "that any conduct by students which materially disrupts or causes a substantial disorder or invasion of the rights of others, is, of course, not protected by the Constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression."
Case 3: Louisiana ex rel. Frances v. Resweber, 329 U.S. 459 (1947)
Several years ago Willy Allen was convicted of armed robbery and murder and sentenced to die in the electric chair. They strapped Willy into the chair and pulled the switch. Willy Allen did not die. The electric chair failed to work.
Is it right to try again to execute Willy Allen? Why or why not? Whose rights are in conflict here?
Issue: What right should the law hold most important -- the right of Willy not to suffer cruel and unusual punishment granted to him by the Eighth Amendment or the right of society to be protected adequately from criminals like Willy?
Information: In 1947, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to carry out the sentence and electrocute Willy Allen. Recently, the Court has strictly regulated the use of capital punishment. Whether or not capital punishment should be used against people convicted of very serious crimes continues to be a controversy in our society.
Rights in Conflict
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