Civic Literacy Curriculum
Question 13: What is the “rule of law”?
Q13: What is the “rule of law”?
A. The king doesn’t have to follow the law. Leaders are exempt from the law. Only some people have to follow the law.
B. Everyone must follow the law except government leaders. They are above the law.
C. Only everyday American citizens must follow the law. They are not above the law.
D. Everyone must follow the law. Leaders must obey the law. Government must obey the law. No one is above the law.
The “rule of law” is the idea that a consistent, and evenly applied set of rules, rather than the arbitrary will of those in power, binds all the members of society. These laws must be made by proper procedures and published in advance.
The binding nature of law means that everyone—not just citizens, but also the government, its leaders and officials—must follow and obey the law. Indeed, lawmakers, judges, and officers of federal and state governments must take a specific oath to faithfully follow the U.S. Constitution, which is the “supreme law of the land.”
By way of contrast, under a monarchy, kings claimed the right to rule came from God himself—called divine right -- and thus they were subject only to God, not to human laws. World leaders today generally don’t invoke divine right as the source of their authority. However, some will claim that the need to keep their people safe justifies them breaking or ignoring the laws of their countries, even if that means violating the civil liberties of the people or procedures for elections. In this view, the “rule of law” does not bind them—they rule under something closer to absolute power instead.
While the “rule of law” seems logical to us today, it was once rather revolutionary. This activity will help the students think about how impactful the decision to uphold the “rule of law” was upon the way that the country functions to this very day. Without the rule of law, those in government would have the ability to do whatever they wanted to do, regardless of what the people want or what the laws are.
- Provide each student with a copy of the Absolute Power Worksheet.
- Provide each student with a copy of the Flash Fiction Worksheet.
- Provide each student with a copy of the Planning Sheet.
- If this is a graded activity, provide each student with a copy of the rubric.
The Teaching Materials for this exercise includes a rubric.
- Ask the students to imagine that you are reinstituting “absolute power of students” and removing the “rule of law” in the classroom. Because of this, one student in the classroom would no longer have to follow the rules. Ask them what they think of this idea.
- Provide the students with the Absolute Power Worksheet and ask them to complete it. Explain that the purpose is to help generate ideas for the story they are going to write.
- Alternatively, you can forego handing out the worksheet and just use the questions to guide a general class discussion, listing their answers on the board.
- After the students have had a chance to write/talk about their ideas, provide them with the Flash Fiction Worksheet and given them a chance to turn their ideas into a piece of flash fiction.
- Review the guidelines for flash fiction. Explain that they do not have to write a complete story, just a section of one (this may help reduce anxiety in students who feel that they are “not creative” or “can’t write”).
- Depending on the class, you may want to provide them with a class period to write or assign it for homework.
- Some students might not know where to start. If that is the case, encourage them to use one of the ideas from their worksheet and start there.
- After the students complete their stories, ask for volunteers to read their stories aloud.
One of the legacies of the English constitutional tradition was that even the king was not above the law. This remained a founding and foundational value for Americans.
The Founding Fathers made it a point to insist that governing officials derived their power from the people and were bound by the Constitution—that they too had to follow the rule of law. How it would be different if governing officials did not believe they had to follow the rule of law?
World leaders today generally don’t invoke divine right as the source of their authority. However, some will claim that the need to keep their people safe justifies them breaking or ignoring the laws of their countries, whether civil liberties or procedures for elections, and thus the “rule of law” does not bind them. Can you think of examples of this? Are such leaders right in making these claims?