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With Liberty and Justice for All
by Lena Morreale Scott for Street Law, Inc.

Intro   Learning Activities   Culminating   Cross-curricular   Community

  1. Show the following prompt on the board:

    ...with liberty and justice for all.

    As class begins, ask students to spend five minutes writing a short response essay about what this phrase means to them. Write the ending time on the board.

  2. At the end of five minutes, ask students to switch papers with a neighbor and to discuss the short essays.

    You can help guide students by suggesting the following items for discussion:

    • As you read your neighbor's paper, ask your neighbor any questions you have about it, and tell your neighbor what new ideas his or her paper gave you.


Identifying Liberties (10 minutes):

  1. In a large class discussion, ask students the following questions and record their answers on the board.
    • Where do you think these liberties and freedoms come from?

    Some people believe that we are born with certain undeniable political, social, and economic freedoms. These are often known as our human rights.

    Some people believe that our rights and freedoms are derived from our democratic form of government -- a government that sets out our rights in the Constitution and limits the power of government to trample our rights.

    NOTE: If you wish to extend this lesson to teach about human rights or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this would be a good time to do so. Most government or practical law textbooks contain a copy of the declaration.

    • How do you define liberty or civil liberty?

    Answers will vary, but will likely center on the ideas of freedoms or rights. If students do not mention the ideas below, raise them:

    Liberty is the right and power to act, believe, or express oneself in a manner of one's own choosing. Having liberty means being free from restrictions or control, particularly from excessive or unfair government control.

    Civil liberties are the rights that are guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, or the laws made by elected officials and decisions made by courts.

    • Can you list specific civil liberties people have in the United States?

    Answers will vary, but may include:
    • Freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly, etc.

    • Freedom from cruel and unusual punishment, unreasonable searches and seizures, self-incrimination, discrimination, etc.

    • Rights to speedy trial, attorney, due process, privacy, marry, vote, etc.

  2. Tell students that many people use the terms "civil liberties" and "civil rights" interchangeably. Distribute and project Handout and Transparency #1: Civil Liberties and Civil Rights.

    After reviewing the rest of the handout, check to be sure students understand the concept of the "constitutional floor" for rights and liberties.

  3. Explain to students that one of the biggest and enduring challenges of the Supreme Court is to decide how to handle it when one individual's exercise of liberty conflicts with the goals or rights of others in society.

  4. Explain that the period between the 1930s and the 1970s was a time of great change for how the Court and American public viewed the correct balance between protecting individual liberties and "letting democracy run its course" by letting elected officials pass and enforce laws that reflect majority will.

World War II and the Spread of Democracy (15 minutes):

  1. Explain that students will be seeing a short video segment about the impact of World War II.

    Distribute Handout #2: Viewer's Guide for "A Nation of Liberties" -- Democracy and World War II. Ask students to answer questions A and B before they view the clip.

    NOTE: You may want to allow students to work with a partner on these questions if you are not confident students can answer them independently.

  2. After a few minutes, discuss the answers to questions A and B.

    A) What had the Nazis, Japanese, and other Axis nations done that justified fighting a world war?

    Answers will vary. If students do not mention it, be sure to explain that the Axis powers had invaded other countries to take over their land in an attempt to rule the globe, and they had persecuted and committed genocide against groups of people they deemed unfit or less human. They had become fascist and totalitarian.

    B) What ideas or principles were Americans and the other Allies fighting for?

    Answers will vary. Some students will likely say that the Allies were fighting to stop the actions of Nazi Germany and Japan. If students do not mention it, be sure to add that the Allies fought to expand democracy throughout the world -- that they believed nations and societies should not be subject to domination by totalitarian dictators, that people had the right to self-determination, and that minorities should not be persecuted.

    NOTE: If necessary, define the terms students do not know.

  3. Remind the students to preview questions C through E before you start the first film segment. Play segment #1, "Why We Fight," starting at the very beginning of THE SUPREME COURT, Episode 3: "A Nation of Liberties" when you see the text "Why We Fight." Stop the segment when Joan Biskupic says, "They have to backtrack, but eventually we really have a remade Court and a remade idea of individual rights and civil liberties in America," and you see the image of chairs in a courtroom.

    After the students watch the clip, give them two minutes to answer the questions on their own or with a partner.

  4. Discuss their answers.

    C) How did World War II change America?

    Answers will vary. Students do not have to quote the narrator or historians shown in the film, but they should paraphrase their ideas:

    "It cast Americans as defenders of liberty worldwide." It showed that America was the most powerful country in the world because of its freedoms and rights. "It changed American ideas on individual liberty and government power."

    D) According to Joan Biskupic, what major tensions existed in this time and in the time period that followed the war?

    There were "tensions between national security, national identity, free speech, and individual rights."

    E) What do you think Ms. Biskupic meant when she said referred to the Supreme Court and said, "They don't move in a straight line. They move in fits and starts. They have to backtrack"?

    The Supreme Court did not move consistently in the direction of favoring individual liberties on every case. The Court's road to favoring individual liberty was often bumpy.

Summary Activity for Day One (5 minutes):

Ask students to take out a sheet of paper and pencil. Tell them they have three minutes to complete a sketch or written ideas about symbols of liberty. Their sketches or ideas should reflect the main points of today's lesson.

After about three minutes, ask two or three student volunteers to show their sketches or explain their ideas.

Students' sketches or ideas will vary, but will likely include: the Liberty Bell, the flag, the Statue of Liberty, various monuments and memorials, etc.


Before class begins, prepare video segment #2, "Minersville School District v. Gobitis," or cue the film to where you see an image of Justice Hugo Black standing by a window and you hear the narrator say, "President Roosevelt ignored the calls for Justice Black's resignation, and Black stood his ground."

  1. Ask students to stand, face the flag, and say the Pledge of Allegiance.

    NOTE: If students do not regularly pledge during your class, they may be surprised. Try to minimize discussion about it at this point in the lesson.

    Tell students they are going to say the pledge again, but a little differently. Distribute a pledge card to each student. These can be found on the student organizer called "The Pledge of Allegiance -- Teacher Version."

    Give these very specific instructions to students and watch to see that they are following each step of the directions before you give the next step:

    • Stand up and face the flag.

    • With one hand, hold the pledge card where you can read it.

    • Extend the other arm straight and raise it to head height.

    • Turn the palm of that straight arm so it is facing up and pointed at the flag.

    • Now read the pledge that appears on the card. Read it slowly, line by line.

    If students object, make a mental note of it and explain that you will discuss their objections in a moment.
  2. Explain to students that they have just said the pledge as it was said in schools and communities across the country in the 1930s.

    NOTE: If students protested saying the pledge, this is the time to have a brief discussion of the reasons for their protest.

    Ask students:

    • Did any of you notice that the pledge you just said is different than the pledge that is used now?

    • If you did notice, do you know what is different?

    Now, we place our hand over our heart and leave it there. The words "under God" were added to the pledge in 1954.

    NOTE: If you plan to do the extension activity that analyzes the pledge in more depth, this would be the appropriate time to do so. See the end of this lesson plan for ideas and an optional handout.

  3. Ask a student to summarize the key ideas from the previous class. This will help refresh their memories and help those who may have missed class.

The First Amendment and the Pledge (10 minutes):

  1. Distribute Handout #3: Viewing Guide for "A Nation of Liberties" -- The Gobitas Children and the Pledge.

    Ask students to preview the questions on the handout before they watch the film segment.

    Play film segment #2, "Minersville School District v. Gobitis." Start the segment when you see the image of Justice Hugo Black standing by a window and you hear the narrator say, "President Roosevelt ignored the calls for Justice Black's resignation, and Black stood his ground." Stop the segment when you see the image of a man behind bars and Joan Biskupic says, "There was one incident of somebody being kidnapped and castrated. And newspapers across the country were outraged by what happened."

  2. Discuss the answers students gave to the questions on Handout #4.

    A. Why did the Gobitas children refuse to say the pledge and to salute the flag?

    They were Jehovah's Witnesses. In their religion, it is sacrilegious to pay homage to the flag because that would be a form of idolatry, which was forbidden.

    B. Which liberty and amendment do you think they claimed was being violated?

    Their First Amendment freedom of religion.

    C. In your opinion, what reasons might a government or elected school board have for requiring people to say the pledge?

    Answers will vary. One reason might be to protect and honor a nation and its national symbol.

    D. What was the outcome when the Gobitis case was decided by the lower court?

    The Gobitas family won.

    E. Justice Felix Frankfurter wrote the opinion for the Supreme Court, which decided the case with an 8-1 majority. What did the Supreme Court decide? What were the main reasons given for the decision?

    Frankfurter said that even thought he did not like the school's policy, the school had the right to make that policy and to enforce it.

    The Court should restrain itself from interfering with "reasonable" actions of the legislative and executive branches.

    Frankfurter thought "democracy should run its course" -- that if the majority of an elected school board wanted a flag salute and pledge, there should be a flag salute and pledge. If people do not like the laws passed by elected officials, they can try to change those policies democratically.

    He had faith that the democratic means through which laws are passed would provide enough protection for individuals.

CULMINATING ACTIVITY: Applying What We Have Learned About Liberty and the Court's Rulings (20 minutes):

  1. Ask students to recall what happened to many Jehovah's Witnesses after the Gobitis decision.

    There were many stories documenting the harassment and brutal treatment of Jehovah's Witnesses. The Gobitas children and other families were forced to relocate to another town or city. Others were publicly humiliated by being forced to kiss the flag. Some Jehovah's Witnesses were tarred and feathered, kidnapped and castrated.

  2. Distribute Handout #4: West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette (1943).

    Ask students to move to sit with two other students. (Be sure they sit with students they have not worked with recently.)

    Ask a student to volunteer to read the directions on the handout. Review the directions and confirm that everyone understands their tasks. Tell students they have 10 minutes to complete their work. Write the ending time on the board.

    As students work, circulate around the room to observe their work and to assist, when needed. Give a two-minute warning when time is nearly up.

  3. Call the students' attention for a discussion. Ask students:

    • By show of thumbs up or hands, who agrees most with Opinion A?

    • What makes this the most compelling argument for you?

    • By show of thumbs up or hands, who agrees most with Opinion B?

    • What makes this the most compelling argument for you?

    Confirm that students understand Justice Frankfurter was not saying liberties are unimportant. He was arguing that the Court should exercise judicial restraint instead of interfering with laws made by democratic institutions.

    • By show of hands or thumbs up, who thinks Opinion A represents the majority (winning) opinion? Why do you think so?

    • Why do the rest of you think it is not the majority opinion?

    Explain to students that Opinion A was, in fact, the majority opinion. The sentiments of Justice Jackson, who wrote it, have become known as the most eloquent arguments in favor of liberties that the Court has ever produced. Remind students that of course the road to extending liberties is a "bumpy one," as Ms. Biskupic said, but the Court lurched in that direction throughout the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s.

Summary Reflection Activity (5 minutes):

  1. Tell students:

    When people from other countries become naturalized citizens of this country, they are required to pledge their allegiance to the United States, to renounce their allegiance to all other countries, and to promise to fight on behalf of the United States, if asked.

  2. Ask students:

    • Write one or two paragraphs to update your thoughts about the phrase you reflected on yesterday, "with liberty and justice for all."

    • Write one or two paragraphs to answer the question: Should people be required to pledge their allegiance to the United States before they can become citizens?

    Collect student papers at the end of class or allow students to complete them for homework.

  3. Tell students:

    The Gobitis and West Virginia cases were among the first ever in which the U.S. Supreme Court addressed the balance of exercising civil liberties and weighing national or state goals. Over the next 50 years, the balance tended more and more to favor individual rights. Cases such as Gideon, Mapp, Miranda, and others helped to define this era as building a "nation of liberties."

Optional Extension Activities:

  • Using (Optional) Handout #5: Tracing the Evolution of the Pledge of Allegiance, ask students to trace the changes in the pledge and to connect those changes to contemporary historical and political forces.

  • Ask students to learn about the case Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow. In 2000, the parent of an elementary school student sued the school district because he claimed that the school district policy of leading students in the recitation of the pledge (containing the words "under God") violated the First Amendment protection from establishment of religion. In 2002, the federal Ninth Circuit Court agreed with Mr. Newdow and issued an opinion that ignited a dramatic national reaction and debate. The case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard the case and in 2004 issued an opinion based on reasons that surprised many. (The Court dismissed the suit because Mr. Newdow was not the custodial parent, so he had no standing to bring the suit.) To learn more about the case, students may want to read contemporary news articles and to research the case on one or two of the legal search engines, such as,, or


  • Several writing prompts throughout the lesson reinforce writing skills that are essential across curricula.

  • Several reading activities require careful reading and analysis, which are essential skills across many subjects.

  • In art classes, students could develop their sketches about symbols of liberty.

  • For the initial discussion about World War II, social studies teachers may wish to work with English, theater, or communications teachers to incorporate films or song lyrics that reflect American attitudes about the war.


Many students across the country say the Pledge of Allegiance. Looking at the pledge and the controversial constitutional issues surrounding it helps connect students to their history. With the second extension lesson, students will also make connections to the real world by analyzing current events topics.