Dr. David Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
In discussing the functions of the First Amendment the Legal Institute states “The First Amendment guarantees freedoms concerning religion, expression, assembly, and the right to petition. It forbids Congress from both promoting one religion over others and also restricting an individual’s religious practices. It guarantees freedom of expression by prohibiting Congress from restricting the press or the rights of individuals to speak freely. It also guarantees the right of citizens to assemble peaceably and to petition their government.”
One of the foundational rights of the American people is the right to peacefully assemble. It is one of the most wonderful things about our American Democracy. It gives American citizens the ability to express their grievances about their government in a peaceful way.
Upon the death of George Floyd by the hand of law enforcement many were surprised at how quickly people took to the streets and how widespread the protests were. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the protests spread from Minnesota to as far as Cincinnati, New York and Chicago. There were protests all over the world, in places like Brazil, Denmark, Germany and New Zealand.
Another aspect of the protests that surprised people was how some of the protests quickly became violent. Some journalists placed the blame for the violence on law enforcement, stating that they escalated the situation. Of course people quickly resorted to judgment and began blaming people of color for the looting and destruction only to find out that many of the rioters were white. Further, white supremacist were using the protest to sow discord with the black protesters. It is important to again acknowledge that most of the protesters in the US were peaceful. But the overall lesson here is that Americans have the right to protest peacefully. President Trump drew a lot of criticism when he stated that he would send the US military to break up the protests.
It is of the utmost importance that students understand their right to speak their mind and protest peacefully. Below I have provided some lessons and resources to help students understand their first amendment rights as democratic citizens.
Lesson Plan: Freedom of Speech in Schools
First Amendment Lesson Plan Activities
Introduction to the First Amendment: My Five Freedoms
New York Times- Freedom of Speech? A Lesson on Understanding the Protections and Limits of the First Amendment
The First Amendment: What’s Fair in a Free Country?
The First Amendment and Our Freedoms
Introduction to the 1st Amendment
Lesson Plan: First Amendment 101
Dr. David Childs, Ph.D.