Religious Liberty and the Supreme Court50 min
- Understand how the doctrine of incorporation broadened the application of the First Amendment.
- Understand the facts of landmark Establishment Clause Supreme Court cases.
- Evaluate arguments about the scope of the Establishment Clause.
- Assess the Supreme Court’s interpretations of the First Amendment with respect to religion in public schools.
- Essay: Religious Liberty and the Supreme Court
- Handout A: Key Question
- Handout B: Document-Based Question
- Handout C: Organizing Documents
Have students read Essay: Religious Liberty and the Supreme Court and answer the questions.
Note to teacher: This essay focuses on the Supreme Court, the Establishment Clause, and public schools.
- As a large group, go over the answers to the comprehension and critical thinking questions from the Essay.
- Distribute one or both of the key questions on Handout A: Key Question. Note: You may choose to have the whole class do the same key question or have half the class work on each. Have students work with a partner to read and discuss the key question.
- Distribute Handout B: Document-Based Question as well as Handout C: Organizing Documents. Students should record their initial response to the Key Question on Handout C, and record their response again after carefully reviewing the documents.
- Depending on students’ background knowledge, literacy skills, and familiarity with document-based questions, you may choose to:
- Have students work individually to complete Handouts B and C together and write their essays for homework.
- Have students work in pairs to complete Handouts B and C together and write their essays in class next time.
- Assign three documents from Handout B to each pair of students. Have them complete the corresponding sections of Handout C, and then jigsaw to form new groups made up of one student each who reviewed each document. Essays can be written for homework or in class next time.
- Read the documents on Handout B and go over the scaffolding questions and Handout C as a large group. Essays can be written for homework or in class next time.
Have students write a detailed outline and/or their essay in response to the Key Question. Emphasize to students that they should not try to predict a “correct” answer, or predict what the Court would likely do. Rather, they should evaluate each document and develop their own reasoned argument.
- Have students read the Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools published by the U.S. Department of Education. Have them compile a list of questions they still have regarding the relationship between church and school. Have students write a letter to the appropriate official with their questions or consult with your school district’s legal counsel for answers. www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/religionandschools/prayer_guidance.html
- If you chose to have half the class write a response to each scenario, have students work in pairs to discuss the differences between the two scenarios. List two ways the scenarios differ. Are these differences significant enough to change their constitutional implications?
Engel v. Vitale (1962)
The saying goes “as long as there are tests, there will be prayer in schools.” And individual students can indeed pray for straight A’s or for other reasons. But the Supreme Court decision in Engel v. Vitale (1962) held that official recitation of prayers in public schools violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. The ruling is hailed by some as a victory for religious freedom, while criticized by others as striking a blow to the nation’s religious traditions.
Incorporation | BRI’s Homework Help Series
In this Homework Help narrative, learn about the constitutional principle of incorporation and its historic context. Has incorporating the Bill of Rights to apply to the states created greater liberty for Americans?
The Fourteenth Amendment and Incorporation
The Bill of Rights, setting limitations on Congress, originally applied only to the national government. In the effort to protect individual rights of the freedmen, the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified in 1868. It differs from every previous amendment because it limits what state governments may do. Over the next seventy-five years, the Court’s use of the Fourteenth Amendment increased. It used the Due Process clause in that amendment to strike down many state laws and to selectively incorporate parts of the Bill of Rights into the Fourteenth Amendment so as to make them apply to states as well as the federal government. This practice, known as “incorporation,” increased the Supreme Court’s power to define rights for the entire Union, and reduced the power of the states as compared to federal power. It also reduced the power of Congress as opposed to the Supreme Court, to define which rights are properly constitutional. This changed the meaning of the Bill of Rights from a series of limits on government power to a set of rights belonging to the individual and guaranteed by the federal government.
The “Peace Cross” at a Crossroads
The Supreme Court has long struggled to establish a single test to determine what constitutes a violation of the First Amendment’s ban against the government establishing a religion. This week, the Court will hear oral arguments in the case of American Legion v. American Humanist Assc., which could change that. After World War I, a group of mothers in Bladensburg, Maryland funded a cross-shaped memorial to honor their sons who were killed in Europe.