Guide to Presenting the Slide Show

 

This guide should be used to present the Constitution Day Slide Show available on the website of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, www.aclu-in.org/events/constitution-day.  The slide show may be taught directly from the website if there is an Internet connection, or it may be downloaded in PDF format. Projecting the slide show onto a screen will provide the best viewing experience in a classroom setting. Presenters are urged to customize and personalize the presentation—which may be used for all ages—to their specific classroom or audience.

Click here to download the Constitution Day Slide Show in PDF 

Click here to download the Guide to Presenting the Slide Show in PDF

 

Slide 1: Introduction

  • If necessary, introduce yourself to the class and let them know why you have an interest in the U.S. Constitution.
  • Tell students about Constitution Day and why it matters.
  • Tell students what you'll be covering, e.g., key constitutional principles, constitutional amendments, structure of government, voting rights.
  • Encourage students to ask questions and share their own interests in the U.S. Constitution.
  • If possible, relate the presentation to a topic the class has been studying.

Example questions for elementary students:

By now you have all studied the Pilgrims, and why they came to our country in the 1600s.

Q.-Can someone explain what the Pilgrims were looking for and why they came here?

  • They were angry at the King of England and wanted to make their own rules.
  • They had left the Church of England over different religious beliefs, and wanted freedom of religion.
  • You are studying Indiana history and the structure of the government.

Q.-Why did the people who formed the government believe there was a need to have a set of laws?

  • The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 established a single government for all land northwest of the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi River. Once the Indiana Territory was established, there was a desire to be more self-governing and have less concentration of power with the territorial governor, William Henry Harrison. There was also the divisive issue of whether or not to allow slavery, which was forbidden by the Ordinance.

Source: Hoosiers and the American Story James H. Madison and Lee Ann Sandweiss. IHS press. 2014.

Q.-Who is responsible for making laws, enforcing laws and interpreting laws in Indiana?

  • Legislative Branch makes laws (Indiana General Assembly); Executive Branch enforces laws (the Governor, Attorney General and other elected officials); Judicial Branch interprets laws (Indiana courts of law).

Example question for middle schoolers:

You've learned about the American Civil War and the end of slavery in this country.

Q.-The Civil War ended slavery for 3.5 million African Americans in the Confederacy, and was the catalyst for what constitutional amendment? When was the amendment passed?

  • Thirteenth Amendment passed in December, 1865. Slaves in the border states and those located in some former Confederate territory occupied before the Emancipation Proclamation were freed by state action or by the Thirteenth Amendment: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude.... shall exist within the United States...."

Slide 2: What is a Constitution?

Q.-Can someone explain what a Constitution is?

  • A list of laws or rules
  • The rights and or responsibilities that we have as citizens
  • A constitution is an agreement among people. It is a "deal" or a contract we make with each other and with the government. We write down this agreement so it can be more easily understood and enforced.
  • The United States Constitution was originally signed more than 200 years ago, in 1787.

Slide 3: What makes up the U.S. Constitution?

Q.-What makes up the U.S. Constitution?

  • It has an introduction called a Preamble and it has 7 Articles.
  • Later, we would add 27 different amendments to it.
  • In the years following 1791 (when the first 10 amendments were enacted), we would add 27 different amendments to it. The most recent amendment addressing how members of Congress can give themselves pay raises was ratified in 1992, more than 200 years after first being introduced in 1789.

Q.-Does anyone know what we call the first 10 constitutional amendments?

  • The Bill of Rights

Q.-Can anyone recite the beginning of the Preamble?

  • "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union...."

Q.- What did the authors of the Constitution mean by "We the people?"

  • They meant to extend the rights given by the Constitution to all American citizens.

Slide 4: Who authored and signed the U.S. Constitution?

Q.-Who authored the U.S. Constitution?

  • The fourth U.S. President, James Madison, had a central role in drafting the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and is widely considered to be the "Father of the Constitution." Other "founding fathers" and "framers" also contributed.

Q.-Who signed the U.S. Constitution?

  • 39 delegates (representatives) from 12 states; white males aged 26 to 81.

Slide 5: Why are Constitutions important?

Imagine for just a second that your classroom was all on its own. There is no teacher, no principal, no parents, and no rules.

Q.-What do you think having no rules would be like?

  • Yes, you would be able to do whatever you wanted.
  • But, there would probably also be a great deal of disorder.
  • Some people might even be unfair and mean to other people who are less powerful than they are.

And at some point, some of you would probably decide to create a set of rules for the benefit of everyone in the class, and to protect those who are unable to protect themselves.

Constitutions are important because they give us those rules. The U.S. Constitution:

  • Helps to define our responsibilities as citizens; e.g., our responsibility to serve on a jury, to follow laws, to vote and to pay taxes
  • Helps the government understand its responsibilities; e.g., listening to and serving the people, following the law
  • Without a Constitution, we risk having a government that has too much power and a society that has no control or rules to protect us.

Slide 6: Freedom of Religion

Q.-What are some of the rights that the Constitution protects?

The first one we'll talk about is freedom of religion in the First Amendment. It says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...."

Q.-Why is the freedom of religion so important?

  • Without our Constitution, government would be able to force religious beliefs on its citizens
  • Without our Constitution, government might be able to prevent you from practicing your religion
  • We see this happening in other places in the world that don't have constitutions.
  • Sometimes we see freedom of religion being challenged in our own communities:

A judge in Indiana stopped the city of Evansville from letting some people put up 31 six-foot-tall plastic crosses on city-owned property along the riverfront. The judge said the display violated the First Amendment. She said, "A display of that magnitude crosses the line into endorsement of a specific religion."

Q.-When does a religious display on public property cross a constitutional line?

  • When a judge rules that it endorses a specific religion.

Slide 7: Freedom of Speech

Look at the First Amendment again. You'll notice that it doesn't just deal with religion. It also says that Congress shall make no law... "abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people to assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances." We'll talk about speech and the right to assemble and petition in this slide, and we'll talk about freedom of the press in the next slide.

Q.-What does this part of the First Amendment mean?

  • Freedom of speech: Means that although your parents and some adults can tell you what you can and cannot say, for the most part, the government cannot unless such speech would harm others, such as falsely yelling "Fire!" in an auditorium full of people.
  • Freedom to assemble: Means the government has to allow us to gather in groups to discuss and protest things we want to change.
  • Freedom to petition: Means the government has to provide us with a way to complain and make changes, known as a petitioning the government for a redress of grievances.

Q.-What was the free speech issue in question in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969), a landmark case in which the U.S. Supreme Court extended the First Amendment's right to freedom of expression to public school students?

  • Students wore black armbands to school to protest U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

Q.-Can you name a protest you have heard about?

  • Women's Suffrage marchers in the early part of the 20th Century
  • The March on Washington in 1963 for civil rights
  • Protests against wars in Vietnam, Iraq and other places
  • Occupy Wall Street
  • Black Lives Matter

In 2016, there was a petition to put a woman on the U.S. $20 bill.
Q.-If you could start your own petition, what would you petition the government to change?

Slide 8: Freedom of the Press

Freedom of the Press is part of the First Amendment, and was included to protect printers and publishers from government interference in communication and expression. Freedom of the press means the government cannot stop the news media from reporting and publishing the news, and it keeps citizens informed of government actions. There are some countries (China and Turkey, for example) whose governments put reporters in jail.

Q.-Name an example of government interference with the news media.

  • When newspapers published a report on the Vietnam War that some government officials didn't like, they had to go to court to avoid being punished. The landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, New York Times Co. v. United States, made it possible for them to print this report, known as the Pentagon Papers.

Q.-Name the modern-day whistleblower who exposed illegal government surveillance programs:

  • A former contract employee at the National Security Agency, Edward Snowden, leaked classified information to The Guardian and to The Washington Post revealing that the U.S. government was conducting global spy programs to monitor Internet use, search emails and contact lists and track the locations of cell phones.

Q.-Why is it important for news media to publish information without government interference?

Slide 9: Prohibition of Searches and Seizures

The Fourth Amendment reads: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated." It also says that the government must have a reason to conduct a search and that this reason must be demonstrated by a "warrant" that is issued by a judge.

Q.-Without the U.S. Constitution, what would stop police officers from indiscriminately arresting and searching people?

  • A judge in Indiana struck down a law that permitted police to arrest and search people who had certain immigration documents—for no other reason than the fact that they possessed those documents.
  • A woman was held by government officials at the Indianapolis airport who told her they'd been "reading her emails for a year." They asked her very personal questions and did not permit her to leave for almost six hours.

Q.-When do you think it is OK for government officials to question people and search their personal possessions?

The U.S. Supreme Court has said that school officials may search a student or a student's property if they have a reasonable suspicion that the search might uncover evidence that the student violated a school rule.

Q.-What are some things you think the government doesn't have the right to search without a good reason?

  • Your desk or locker
  • Your back pack
  • Your house
  • Your computer or cell phone
  • Your body

Slide 10: Equal Protection of the Laws

The Fourteenth Amendment requires that States give everyone "equal protection of the laws," which means the government cannot practice discrimination.

Q.-What are some times when discrimination has been allowed or even endorsed in our society?

  • Japanese internment camps during World War II.
  • Segregation of public schools by state law under the doctrine "separate but equal," until the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954) that declared those laws unconstitutional.
  • Prohibition of interracial marriage until a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Loving v. Virginia (1967), invalidated those laws.
  • Discrimination in military colleges based on sex—A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in U.S. v. Virginia (1996), struck down the Virginia Military Institute's male-only admissions policy.
  • Prohibition of marriage based on sexual orientation—A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) held that states may not prohibit marriage between members of the same sex.

Q.-Where would women in sports be without equal protection of the laws and federal laws that have allowed women and girls to participate in school programs? (Title IX is a federal law that provides this protection.)

Without our Constitution, a girl in Winamac, Indiana would have been prohibited from even trying out for her school's football team. A judge decided the prohibition violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the case was dismissed. The girl was given the opportunity to try out for the team.

Q.-Can you think of some other examples of discrimination?

Slide 11: Why voting is important

Periodic elections keep government officials accountable to the people they represent:

  • The President of the United States runs for election and if he or she wins, he or she can run again in four more years.
  • Members of the House of Representatives must run for election every 2 years.
  • United States Senators must run for election every 6 years.

Q.-Why is it important to vote?

  • Periodic elections force candidates for political office to constantly check back with us, the American people.
  • Because we don't just elect government officials and walk away.
  • We elect people to public office, then we watch them and consider their actions before the next election.

Q.-How old do you have to be in order to vote?

  • The Twenty-Sixth Amendment, passed in 1971, prohibits states and the federal government from using age as a reason for denying citizens who are at least 18 years old the right to vote.
  • The drive to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 grew across the country during the 1960s, driven largely by student activism to protest the Vietnam War.

Q.-BONUS: Why would the Vietnam War be a catalyst to change the voting age?

  • People thought that if you were old enough to fight in a war, you were old enough to vote.

Slide 12: How does the Constitution limit government?

James Madison, our fourth U.S. President, argued that the best way to limit government was to have "ambition counteract ambition."

Q.-What did President Madison mean by this statement?

  • It means that we should have different parts of government watch each other, limit each other and check each other.
  • It's a way to keep any one person or group from having too much power
  • The U.S. Constitution created a separation of powers in three branches of government. These branches of government provide something we call "checks and balances" and they also slow down the decision-making process.

Q.-Who can name a branch of government and what that branch does?

  • Executive Branch (President, Vice President, Cabinet – carries out and enforces laws)
  • Legislative Branch (Congress—the Senate and House of Representatives—makes laws)
  • Judicial Branch (Supreme Court and other federal courts –evaluates and interprets laws)

Consider for a moment the silliest thing you did today or yesterday.

Q.-Would you have done that silly thing if you had stopped and thought about it first?

Q.-Would you have done that silly thing if you had consulted your family, friends or teachers?

That's the beauty of slowing down the decision-making process and checking your actions with others!

Slide 13: Why do we celebrate Constitution Day?

In 2004, Congress passed a law mandating any school receiving federal funds of any kind provide educational programming on the significance of this event. It is important to celebrate Constitution Day to create an awareness and understanding of constitutional rights so that people can challenge violations of these rights.

Slide 14: Constitution Review & Quiz

Let's review some of what we've learned:

Q.-What makes our Constitution work?

  • It is us... elections reflect our will... so we have to be informed, and we have to be involved.
  • The Constitution and the Bill of Rights protect the individual and help prevent the abuse of power, but only if we assert our rights.
  • Elections, separation of powers, checks and balances can slow the process down, but it only works when we think about each other and care about each other's welfare.

What the Constitution really is...It's a tool we use to make all our lives better.

Q.-What is the Constitution?

  • Tool we use to make our lives better
  • Deal or contract we make with ourselves and our government

Q.-BONUS: Does anyone know where the original Constitution of the United States currently is?

Q.-How do we limit government?

  • Bill of Rights
  • Periodic Elections
  • Separation of powers and checks and balances... three branches of government

Q.-Why do we limit government?

  • To keep it from having too much power
  • To keep it from making bad decisions

Q.-Can anyone name the three branches of government?

  • Executive
  • Legislative
  • Judicial

Q.-Name some of the rights or amendments we discussed.

  • First Amendment
  • Freedom of Religion
  • Freedom of Speech
  • Freedom of the Press
  • Fourth Amendment
  • Prohibition of Searches and Seizures
  • Fourteenth Amendment
  • Equal Protection of the Laws

Q.-What are some rights and Amendments we didn't discuss?

  • Voting rights. We discussed the need to vote, but we didn't talk about the RIGHT to vote. The Constitution recognizes a fundamental right to vote.
  • Second Amendment – right to bear arms
  • Third Amendment – quartering soldiers in houses during times of peace without owner's consent. This amendment was introduced in response to the British Army lodging soldiers in private residences during the Revolutionary War, and it reinforces the idea of privacy in one's own home (the "castle" doctrine).
  • Fifth Amendment –right not to incriminate oneself ("pleading the 5th")
  • Eighth Amendment – protection from cruel and unusual punishments

Slide 15: What if different people had helped write the U.S. Constitution?

Q.-How might the Constitution have looked different if different people had been involved in writing it?

  • Equal rights for minorities (women, African Americans, others) might have been included.
  • Many acts of discrimination against minorities might have been avoided.
  • History might look very different than it does today.

Slide 16: Happy Constitution Day!

Make every day Constitution Day by visiting this website often and continuing to learn about your rights!

 

The ACLU defends basic freedoms, every day, for every American. Support us with your tax deductible gift today.