TITLE: Symbolic Speech AUTHOR: Vicki Row, WY GRADE LEVEL/SUBJECT: 9, U.S. History OVERVIEW: An activity, showing how the Supreme Court affects our personal freedoms. PURPOSE: This lesson is to show students the role of the Supreme Court in respect to interpreting the law. OBJECTIVES: After completing this lesson, student should be able to: 1. Understand why the Constitution has changed over the years. 2. Recognize the power of the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of a law. 3. Identify three important Supreme Court decisions. ACTIVITIES AND PROCEDURES: The following Supreme Court decisions are the laws for discussion on 1st amendment Freedom of Speech. Any and all can be discussed in depth or simply touched upon. The wide range of cases help students to understand that this freedom has limits and bounds. Suggestion - Start study of freedom of speech with open ended question: 1. What does Freedom of Speech mean? 2. What can we not do in the name of Freedom of Speech? 3. What is Symbolic Freedom of Speech? After this groundwork has been laid, simply introduce the case by name. Write the name of the case on the board or overhead projector, including the year to help students understand what was happening in the world and the U.S. that may have influenced the Court to rule as they did. Do not tell students the outcome until they have exhausted their arguments. Prior to announcing the result, the class has to have a show of hands for or against. 1. Smith vs. Coguen (1975) - Coguen wore a small cloth version of flag on bottom of his pants. Convicted in Massachusetts of treating the flag contemptuously - no disruption. Conviction overturned. 2. Halter vs. Nebraska (1970) - Halter brewed home beer in accordance with state law. Placed American flag on beer bottle. Convicted of contempt displayed for the flag. Found guilty - use tended to cheapen flag in opinion of ordinary citizen. 3. Breen vs. Kahl (1969) - Williams Bay Wisconsin school board ruling "Boys hair should be washed, combed, and worn so it does not hang below the collar line in the back, over the ears on the side and must be above the eyebrows, they shall be clean-shaven." Breen, a junior, had shoulder length hair. He was expelled. Upheld by State Superintendent. Is this Freedom of Speech? Yes - Overturned. School failed to show physical danger, health, problem, disruption or disturbance. What if he had three braids - three directions and people laughed when he moved? 4. Cohen vs. California (1971) - Defendant arrested for Disturbing the Peach. He wore a jacket saying "F___ the Draft." He admitted he wore it to inform others of feeling about the Vietnam War. Did not engage in threaten, not did anyone around him seem upset - did not speak prior to arrest. Free speech does not guarantee you can say whatever - whenever - "offensive words" might cause violence - soldiers might not like the statement overturned. 5. United States vs. Daniel O'Brien (1968) - March 1966 - O'Brien and three others burned draft cards on steps of S. Borton Courthouse. He was ushered to safety by an FBI agent. Federal law says this is illegal (to forge, destroy, or mutilate card). Symbolizes Freedom of Speech - If law furthers an important government interest, law is illegal O'Brien was found guilty. 6. Tinker vs. Des Moines School District (1969) - Two students wore arm bands to school to protest Vietnam - refused to remove them when asked to do so. He was expelled. There was no evidence of class disruption. The expulsion was reversed and he was reinstated. 7. Wooley vs. Maynard (1977) - Convicted and sentenced to 15 days for covering the state motto on his license plate. The motto was "Live free or die." Wooley said the motto was repugnant to his religious and political beliefs. The conviction was overturned. QUIZ ON SYMBOLIC SPEECH: 1. You have taken an old American flag you had, and sewn a piece of it to your jean jacket. Your school has expelled you for disgracing the American flag. Do you feel guilty or innocent? Why? 2. A religious group wants to ban the sale of Playboy and Playgirl magazines and others of this type. If the group is successful, the magazines will not be sold at all within the city. Does this group have the legal right to do this? Why or why not? Are these materials offensive, obscure, or neither? Why? 3. The school tomorrow will expel any student wearing a beer or alcohol shirt. Convince the school that they might be in violation of Freedom of Speech.
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