Without a doubt, the best part of teaching American Government to high school students is the three weeks we spend studying the evolution of civil rights and civil liberties. Walking our way through the incorporation of the Bill of Rights to the states is, I hope, enlightening for the students. I know that it is amusing for me.
I always find that the first amendment is chock full-o-fun for kids and grown-ups alike. I explain that students may wear black arm bands at school to protest the Vietnam War (Tinker v. Des Moines) but may not carry posters that read "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" (Morse v. Frederick) as it contravenes the school 's anti-drug policy in Juneau, Alaska. I threaten to line them all up for a mandatory urine drug test a la the ruling in Hazelton v. Kuhlmeier.
Then we move on to freedom of religion and I get to tell the story of the woman who founded a religion whereby she was a goddess and worshippers ---- all men ---- were required to pay her to have sex with her. She called it a spiritual odyssey. The state called it prostitution. High school eyes widen and then they laugh.
The prep school kids always get a great big laugh out of the idea of student-led prayer before football games in Sante Fe, Texas. The Supreme Court was not nearly as amused when they ruled against that practice in Santa Fe v. Doe.
Soon after that, I spend nearly an entire day defining obscenity as did the Supreme Court in their ruling in Miller v. California. Yesterday, one of my students announced that conversations with his little brother ALWAYS lack spiritual, literary, scientific and political value. He wondered if that made them obscene.
And today, I patiently explained to dogmatic E that cross-burning didn't qualify as symbolic speech, while the rest of the class just begged me to suspend E's 1st amendment rights. They'd read the precedent, you see, and were eager to give it a try.