How do we know if it’s a First Amendment Issue?

Summary

The plans to build an Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero in New York City and other recent controversies have sparked debate about the meaning of the First Amendment.

Critical Thinking Questions

  • Do the developers have a First Amendment right to build a structure that will be used in part as a mosque, even if 70% of New Yorkers think they should voluntarily move it?
  • Have Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s rights been violated by people who have strongly criticized her for her racially-charged words on-air?
  • Does a community have a right to ask visitors to dress modestly? How, if at all, does the First Amendment apply in these situations?

Student PDF Extensions

Have students discuss the following recent events using this PDF activity guide to determine if there is a First Amendment issue at stake.

Student Handout (PDF)

Discussion Questions for the first blank

  • Is the first blank an individual?
  • Is the first blank a minor? If so, are children’s rights the same as adults’?
  • Do individuals who have formed a group keep the same rights as individuals? Do organizations such corporations, teams, unions, etc., have First Amendment rights?
  • Do non-citizens have the same constitutional protections as citizens?

Discussion Questions for the second blank

  • Is the person or institution in the second blank a government agency or government actor? (For example, the FBI, state police, a city government, a public school official)?
  • Can violations be punished through the force of law?