Teaching Civil Liberties

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Looking Back to Move Forward:
Approaches to Teaching Civil Liberties in 21st Century Classrooms using 20th Century Case Studies Antonio Thompson
thompsonas@apsu.eduthompsonas@apsu.edu
Austin Peay State University
Clarksville, Tennessee

Abstract
The history of civil liberties has been fraught with constant violations and infringements. These violations often result from an ignorance of what constitutes civil liberties. It is the duty of teachers in the twenty-first century to prepare students for a globally aware community and for a clear understanding of civil liberties. In four sections this paper will prepare educators by defining civil liberties, illustrating some of the more famous civil liberty violations in the past century, illuminating contemporary civil liberty issues. Introduction

A battle began in November 2005 over the issue of properly labeling the holiday season to ensure that no one had civil liberties trampled on. Issues that many previously took for granted, such as the naming of a tree or labeling greeting cards, as either Christmas or simply holiday, became the central focus of this debate. The battles escalated until seemingly at stake were the Christian traditions that arguably established this nation. The battle lines seemed foggy and often overlapped as the nightly news and local and national politicians hastened to answer the clarion call of duty. The turmoil dragged Americans of all stripes in; most seemed offended, others defensive, all vocal. A card stating “Happy Holidays” that at one time seemed to convey a Christmas message became an ambiguous if not outright anti-Christian statement. Consumers blacklisted retailers who refused to leave the “Christ” in Christmas. Some business owners, adhering more to the almighty dollar than to any religious belief, flip-flopped to avoid damaging the brisk holiday sales. Even the American Civil Liberties Union held the stance of ensuring that all people should celebrate as they see fit. While this debate generated many heated arguments, it also presented educators with a unique opportunity to teach American civil liberties by using this recent case study in the classroom as a jumping off point for examining the more egregious civil liberties issues in the last one-hundred years of United States history.

The history of civil liberties has been fraught with constant violations and infringements that often resulted from an ignorance of what constitutes civil liberties. It is the duty of teachers in the twenty-first century to prepare students for a globally aware community and for a clear understanding of civil liberties. This paper provides a basis for teaching civil liberties by defining civil liberties, illustrating some of the more famous civil liberty violations in the past century, illuminating contemporary civil liberty issues, and clarifying these issues so that they can be applied to the modern classroom. Giving it a name

Civil liberties, by any other name, are still liberties guaranteed by law. A simple definition will not suffice to clarify a term that many in society, including educators and students alike, find confusing, but without a concise definition one does not know what constitutes a civil liberties violation. A textbook definition refers to civil liberties as “freedoms guaranteed to the individual” that “declare what the government cannot do” (Janda, Berry, & Goldman, 2002, p. 472 ). Freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and the right to privacy are arguably the three liberties violated most often. Violations, confusion, and misinterpretations concerning civil liberties date back to 1791, the year the Bill of Rights became law and guaranteed these liberties. The Bill of Rights also defines Civil Rights which are “things the government must do or provide” (Janda, et al., 2002, p.472). While separate, their overlapping nature often leads to more confusion,...
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