Civic Literacy Curriculum
Question 65: Which of the following rights does everyone living in the United States have?
Q65: Which of the following rights does everyone living in the United States have?
A. Freedoms of speech, press, and petitioning the government
B. The right to bear arms
C. Freedom of religion
D. All of these
There were bills of rights in America before the U.S. Constitution had one. Indeed, precisely because most states had bills of rights in their state constitutions checking their state governments, critics of the Constitution wanted a similar set of guarantees in the federal Constitution.
Most of the state ratifying conventions demanded an amendment or amendments clarifying the limited power of the federal government to protect the authority of the states, and several insisted on protections of specific individual liberties as well. The basic structural concerns were addressed in 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. The individual rights proposed by some of the conventions were fleshed out by James Madison in the rest of the Bill of Rights.
For roughly the first seventy years after the Constitution was ratified, it was up to state constitutions to prevent states from violating freedom of speech, religious liberty, the right to keep and bear arms, and the like. But in the aftermath of the Civil War, Congress decided to ensure states were also bound by a basic floor of rights. To do this, Congress created the Fourteenth Amendment, to apply the individual rights in the first eight amendments of the federal Bill of Rights to the states, though the states also remain free to guarantee more expansive rights in their own state constitutions.
The Supreme Court has generally held that the rights listed in the Bill of Rights protect not just citizens, but everyone living in the United States. Thus, everyone, not just citizens, can enjoy the freedoms of religion, speech, assembly, and petitioning the government from the First Amendment, and the right to keep and bear arms from the Second Amendment.
Initially, the rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights applied solely to the federal government, but Congress concluded these were so fundamental as to apply the first eight to the states through the 14th Amendment. This activity asks the students to look at the individual rights guaranteed in the first eight amendments and argue which one they find most valuable.
- Begin class with a brief discussion of the different individual rights guaranteed to everyone who lives in the United States (by the Bill of Rights, via the Fourteenth Amendment.)
- Depending on the size of the class, you may want to put the students in pairs.
- Explain that they are to prepare an impromptu speech about which listed constitutional right they think is the most important right and why it should be vigorously protected.
- Each speech will be two to three minutes in length.
- Provide each student or pair with a copy of the Bill of Rights.
- Preparation time for an extemporaneous speech can vary. Use your judgment based on the class, but provide at least five minutes for them to prepare.
- Once everyone has completed the planning, have them present their speeches to the class.
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.
Being able to identify the rights held under the Constitution is important. If someone does not know what his or her rights are, then how can those rights be exercised? Or defended?
While there are some rights that are afforded only to citizens, there are far more that are for everyone -- regardless of their citizenship status. Can you name one right that everyone living in the United States has, regardless of citizenship? Why do you think that this is a right everyone deserves?
Some constitutional lawyers argue that the proper understanding of the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees equal protection and due process to all persons within America, but that the specific protections of the Bill of Rights were written to apply to citizens only. Putting the legal argument aside—would it be better if the protections in the Bill of Rights apply only to citizens, or to everyone within the borders of the United States? Why? Use current or past events in your answer.