Civic Literacy Curriculum
This curriculum guide is intended to cover question 6.
Q6: What do we call the first ten amendments to the Constitution that protect the basic rights of people living in the United States?
A. The Law of Men
B. The List of Rights
C. The Bill of Rights
D. The Rights of Men
Q6(B): Which of these rights are protected in the First Amendment?
A. Freedom of speech and press
B. Freedom of religion
C. Freedom to assemble and petition the government
D. All of these are rights in the First Amendment
Q6(C): What is freedom of religion?
A. You can practice any religion, or not practice a religion.
B. You can practice any religion from a list provided by Great Britain.
C. You can practice religion with a government license.
D. You can talk about other people’s religions
The first ten amendments to the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights, were ratified in 1791. These amendments limited federal power by protecting both the rights of individuals and the authority of the states.
Some members of the Constitutional Convention originally argued that a Bill of Rights was unnecessary because of the doctrine of “enumerated powers.” This doctrine means that the federal government can only do what the Constitution specifically allows it to do. For example, one did not need to specifically protect freedom of speech when the federal government did not have explicit authority to restrict speech in the first place. Critics nonetheless demanded a Bill of Rights as an additional check and security before they would ratify the Constitution.
As a result, the constitutional ratifying conventions in most states demanded an amendment or amendments clarifying the limited power of the federal government to protect states’ sovereignty, and several insisted on specific individual liberties as well. While many proposed amendments were ultimately rejected, basic structural concerns were addressed by what became the Ninth and Tenth Amendments. The Tenth Amendment reiterated that the federal government’s powers were limited to those granted by the Constitution. The Ninth Amendment similarly held that a list of civil liberties—what the federal government could not do—did not imply the federal government could do everything else. James Madison translated the individual rights proposed by some of the conventions into the rest of the Bill of Rights.
These provisions initially applied only to the federal government, though most state constitutions had similar provisions applying to their state governments. Many of these state provisions actually preceded and even served as models for the Bill of Rights. The Fourteenth Amendment changed this, making the first eight amendments also apply to each of the states as well, providing a floor of for individual rights at both the state and federal level.
The First Amendment outlines many key civil liberties which government cannot infringe: the freedoms of speech and press, to assemble and to petition the government, and freedom of religion (both to practice or not practice a religion)
This activity offers students the opportunity to demonstrate their understanding of the Bill of Rights by letting them develop their own infographic on the Bill of Rights. This assignment will engage both verbal and visual learners.
- Provide each group with at least one sheet of 8.5 x 14 paper. Some groups may need two or three, depending on how they design the page.
- Provide each group with a copy of the Bill of Rights.
- Provide each group with a sample infographic (page 1).
- The sample has just the first two amendments on it. The students will want to put all 10 amendments on their group’s infographic.
- Provide the class with old magazines (optional).
- Gather necessary art materials for the students (e.g. poster board, colored pencils, markers, old magazines, scissors, glue, etc.) or instruct them to bring them to class.
- If this is a graded activity, provide each group with a copy of the rubric.
The Teaching Materials for this exercise include additional sample infographics and a rubric.
- Divide the class into three groups based on level. Group A is the group that needs some extra support. Group B is the core group that has the core knowledge to complete the activity. Group C is the enrichment group who have mastered the material and are prepared to extend their knowledge.
- Provide each group with the appropriate handouts and art materials.
- If you wish, give the students the option of using pictures cut from old magazines to illustrate their infographic. Be sure to provide glue and scissors or have students bring the supplies themselves.
- Provide, or instruct the students to bring, markers, crayons, etc. to class so that they can illustrate their work.
- Instruct students to work together to design an infographic that will explain the Bill of Rights. They should put each amendment into their own words and provide at least one illustration that relates to the amendment and/or shows the amendment in action.
- Circulate throughout the room as the students complete their infographics to check for understanding.
Below are two discussion prompts that can be used by teachers in a classroom setting.
- The first discussion prompt will be one that is designed to support students that are not really understanding the content in a way that would help them to answer the test question.
- The second discussion prompt will be one that is designed to further student understanding of the content by making real-world connections, including connections to current events, and historical events.
The defenders of the Constitution argued that a Bill of Rights was unnecessary because the structures of the Constitution, such as federalism, themselves served as a Bill of Rights limiting the federal government. Indeed, Hamilton added that a Bill of Rights was not only unnecessary but could be dangerous and counterproductive. Writing in specific individual rights could imply that Congress had all governing power except those carved out, in effect reversing the limiting premise of the enumerated powers (Federalist 84). Skeptics of the Constitution argued that it was better to be safe than sorry and that clarifying both the limited nature of the enumerated powers and a list of essential rights could do little harm. Eventually, James Madison cobbled together the proposed amendments from the state ratifying conventions into a Bill of Rights. To avoid the problem of a Bill of Rights undermining the limiting nature of the enumerated powers of the federal government, he also added the Ninth Amendment.
Why did the Founding Fathers add the Bill of Rights to the Constitution? What do you think would happen if limits were not placed on government power or the rights of the people were not specifically detailed? Explain your answer.
The First Amendment guarantees several civil liberties that the government cannot infringe. The first of these protects freedom of religion: what does the freedom of religion guaranteed under the First Amendment mean? Can you name another right guaranteed in the First Amendment?
Some of the defenders of the Constitution argued that a Bill of Rights would be a bad idea, because it would condition citizens to only think about individual rights, and not about the careful structures in the constitutional design, such as limiting federal authority to the powers in the Constitution and leaving the rest with the states. The skeptics argued that it would still be better to have additional checks clearly codifying these limits on federal power. Were the constitutional skeptics right in insisting we should have a Bill of Rights? Were the backers correct in saying people would lose focus on asking questions about whether an issue belonged to the states or to the federal government?