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Foreign War and Domestic Freedom: A Delicate Balancing Act
More on This Lesson:
Lesson Plan

This lesson is designed for Social Studies classrooms, grades 9-12

Lesson Objectives

By the end of this lesson, students will be able to:
  1. Describe the tension between external threats and internal liberty in democratic societies.
  2. Contrast previous historic moments when liberty was restricted with conditions in the United States today.
  3. Explain key arguments between those that seek to restrict liberties and those that do not.
  4. Formulate and compose a viewpoint.

Related National Standards

What is Government and What Should it Do?
Standard 4: Understands the concept of a constitution, the various purposes that constitutions serve, and the conditions that contribute to the establishment and maintenance of constitutional government.

What are the Basic Values and Principals of American Democracy?
Standard 13: Understands the character of American political and social conflict and factors that tend to prevent or lower its intensity.

How Does the Government Established by the Constitution Embody the Purposes, Values, and Principles of American Democracy?
Standard 18: Understands the role and importance of law in the American constitutional system and issues regarding the judicial protection of individual rights.

Historical Understanding
Understands the historical perspective

Level IV, Benchmark 10: Understands how the past affects our private lives and society in general.


Standard 9
Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media

Standard 6
Applies decision-making techniques
Level IV, Benchmark 1: Analyzes decisions that were major turning points in history and describes how things would have been different if other alternatives had been selected.

Estimated Time to Complete Lesson

The entire lesson would consume two blocks (90 minutes each) but may easily be adapted to one block by selecting to complete only Part I or Part II-III.

Materials Needed

Backgrounder for Teachers

In an effort to prevent abuse of powers by the United States government, the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution. Over time, various exceptions have been made to these rights with the belief that such exceptions were in the public interest.

During times of war especially, issues are raised that spotlight the delicate balance between civil liberties and national security. Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the U.S. government has put in place numerous measures meant to protect the nation from additional terrorism. Some examples include random searches at airports and upon entry to certain buildings, wider security perimeters around some public landmarks, and the passage of laws granting greater permissions to law enforcement agents to search, question, and detain suspicious persons. Such moves by the government have been both praised and criticized by various groups of Americans. This lesson seeks to identify the positions and rationales of these groups and challenges students to decide for themselves where lines should be drawn when balancing civil liberties and national security.

The 'NOW with Bill Moyers' Web site provides several resources that will assist in the teaching of these concepts. In preparing for this lesson, it is recommended that teachers review the events noted on the Civil Liberties Timeline, read through the positions of the roundtable panelists by reading their linked articles, and note some of the related stories that have been covered in-depth on the series.

In addition, it would be helpful for teachers to be familiar with the USA Patriot Act. The civil liberties organization Electronic Frontier Foundation provides the text of the Patriot Act on its Web site, but a Congressional Research Service sketch breaks down the law into simpler and more concise terms.

Assumed Student Prior Knowledge

While not completely necessary, it would be helpful if students already had some background on the Bill of Rights and some of the restrictions placed on civil liberties in the United States since the 9/11 attacks.

Teaching Strategy

Part I (meets first and second objectives)

  1. Using the provided PowerPoint presentation or other form of direct instruction, review with students the concept of Civil Liberties, stressing that they are legal and constitutional protections against actions a government may take. Explain to students that while a democracy depends on the free expression of ideas, such freedoms may also be a hindrance-sometimes even a danger-in a time of war. Troops movements, for instance, if discussed openly might endanger the soldiers. Thus, most people agree that some aspects of free speech must be limited during such a time. The central dilemma for any democracy during wartime-or during an external threat-is balancing liberty for its citizens and preservation of the society as a whole.
  2. Tell the students that they will now examine examples in American history in which rights were restricted.
  3. Students, in groups of four to five, will select (or be assigned) one of the events on the Civil Liberties After 9/11: Timeline, which documents the relationship between civil liberties and national security in American history.
  4. Each group do research to find the answers to a series of questions contained on the related Past Periods of Restrictions worksheet.
  5. Groups will then make presentations to the class that highlight aspects in common and contrast differences between the period they reviewed and today. Teachers may wish to have students include visual aids such as posters or PowerPoint presentations.

Part II (meets third objective)

1. Students will complete an ideology quiz. If teachers do not have one, try one of the following:

2. Next, put the students in groups of four to five of similar perspective and then match each group with a panelist of a different perspective from the NOW Roundtable discussion.

3. Students are then to use the Participant Biography information and panelist writings to learn about their assigned panelist and his or her views on the key question: Should civil liberties be curtailed during this war on terrorism? Alternatively, classes could complete this activity by showing the video of the actual roundtable discussion while students take notes. Doing so adds the benefit of seeing panelists react to each other's viewpoints. Teachers may tape the broadcast off-air and use it in the classroom for one year. Programs are also available for purchase from ShopPBS.

4. Each group will then prepare a three-minute presentation to be delivered in debate format with a one-minute rebuttal to a challenge question from the teacher. (Feel free to change the length of student presentations to meet your needs.)

5. Provide the following instructions to the students:

a. You are to present the viewpoint of your panelist on the key question.
b. You must clearly identify and describe the panelist's principal argument.
c. You must provide examples that support the argument.
d. You must be well prepared so that you may mount a rebuttal.
6. In preparing a proper challenge question, consider what fair question a person from the opposite point of view might genuinely ask. A useful resource on the taxonomy of Socratic questioning may be found at

7. Use the provided debate rubric to assess each presentation and select a winning team. Alternatively, distribute the rubric to students to be used as a scoring sheet for each presentation. (The rubric is designed so the students may use it.)

Part III (meets fourth objective)

1. Explain to the students that a central goal of education in a democratic society is to prepare citizens to exercise decision-making skills and be articulate in persuading others to follow their viewpoints.

2. As a model of this, ask the students to write a script for a sixty second television commercial that could be used in today's debate to win over other citizens to their particular viewpoint.

Assessment Recommendations

Students may be assessed in three ways:

  1. You may assign points for the clarity and completeness of student responses on the Past Periods of Restrictions worksheet.
  2. You may use the debate rubric to evaluate the presentations completed by the students.
  3. You may grade the script as authentic assessment.
Extension Ideas

As one can presume that the debate over civil liberties and national security will last for months, if not years, a teacher may want to devise a number of extensions from this lesson. Teachers might ask students to:

  • track court cases.
  • analyze new laws.
  • assess new bills.
  • observe the actions of interest groups.

Related Resources

Online resources on this issue are numerous. However, teachers should carefully evaluate sites before sending students to them. For instance, the Web site maintained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is rich in material, but students need to be appraised of the organization's bias, just as one would do in sending students to visit the Eagle Forum Web site.

The September 11 Digital Archive: Liberty

A particularly thought-provoking presentation on liberty. Animated graphics set to music show a wall being built around the Statue of Liberty, with each brick representing a restriction on civil liberties. Text is used to raise questions about what is going too far and how in our efforts to protect our country, we need to be careful not to destroy what America stands for. (The visitor is then invited to click through to a site encouraging online activism for "progressive issues.") The animation raises the essential issues of this lesson in a powerful and concise manner, and could potentially be used to introduce the topic in class.

American Civil Liberties Organization
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a historically significant interest group who sees its mission as defending civil liberties. Resources include legislative and judicial updates on a number of civil liberties issues, as well as a press release examining how American law and society have changed since 9/11.

The Eagle Forum
The Eagle Forum, an organization founded by Phyllis Schlafly. While the scope of the Eagle Forum's activities is broader than civil liberties, the organization is often on the other side of issues from the ACLU. The site provides legislative and judicial updates and daily radio commentaries from Phyllis Schlafly.

First Amendment Schools
An initiative co-sponsored by ASCD and the First Amendment Center (an independent affiliate of the Freedom Forum) to change how schools teach about the First Amendment. The site's resources include First Amendment publications, columnists, research packages, Supreme Court files, lesson plans, and more.

Teaching the First Amendment
A listing of resources (books, brochures, mock trials, periodicals, videos, Web sites, etc.) for teaching the First Amendment prepared by the American Bar Association.

About the Author
James McGrath Morris is a member of the social studies department of West Springfield High School, Springfield, Virginia. A frequent writer of lesson plans for PBS, Morris has served on the PBS TeacherSource Advisory Group. In 2002, he developed nationally distributed lesson plans on 9/11, conducted teacher training, and was a member of the "9/11 As History" project Advisory Board. As an author or editor, Morris has published four books. He is currently at work on a biography of a turn-of-the-century New York journalist to be published by Fordham University Press.

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