Rights in American Democracy

Contributor: Brian Anthony. Lesson ID: 11488

You've heard speeches and protests about rights from those who want new ones, want to protect old ones, or think they have them and don't. Where do rights come from? Make a Bill of Rights trivia game!


Civics, United States

learning style
personality style
Otter, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


Imagine you are in charge of a school. Wouldn't that be fun?

You could make it any way you want — the classes you want, the rules you prefer, the cafeteria food you like best! Even so, you would have a lot of serious decisions to make.

  • What would you do if a student wore an offensive shirt to school?
  • What if a group of students protested loudly together in the midst of the school day?
  • What if a teacher wore a religious symbol that some students found offensive?

Now, being a school principal doesn't sound nearly as fun.

Watch Michigan student refuses to stand for Pledge of Allegiance, from Fox News, and you be the judge:

Then, reflect on the following questions and write down your answers:

  • How would you handle this case?
  • How does the concept of "rights" connect with this situation?
  • Who has rights in this situation?
  • Where do our rights come from under American democracy?

Nowadays, we talk a lot about our rights: "I have a right to say what I want!" or "Her civil rights were violated."

  • But, what do we mean exactly by "rights"?
  • Where do these rights come from?
  • What are they based upon?

As it turns out, our rights are written down in a very important document, The Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights was not the first attempt at writing down people's rights to set a standard of governance. It was, however, the most complete effort anyone had made to that point in history.

We will examine some of that fascinating history in the next lesson in this series, found under Related Lessons in the right-hand sidebar. In this lesson, let's examine the actual Bill of Rights and see what makes that document so special.

The founding fathers of the American republic debated the idea of limiting government power. After lengthy discussions, they decided it was important to protect civil liberties in their young country.

Let's learn a bit more about civil liberties and the role they played in the early formation of the U.S. government. See if you can find answers to these questions in the article, Civil Liberties and Civil Rights, courtesy of the Independence Hall Association:

  • How would you define civil liberties?
  • In what ways do civil liberties limit government power?
  • What is the difference between civil liberties and civil rights?

Then, reflect on the following questions:

  • What role do civil liberties play in our society?
  • What is the proper balance between civil liberties and government power?
  • What would society be like in the absence of civil liberties?

Now that you know a little bit about the concept of rights and liberties, you can take a closer look in the Got It? section at the document that defines liberties under the American form of government.

Elephango's Philosophy

We help prepare learners for a future that cannot yet be defined. They must be ready for change, willing to learn and able to think critically. Elephango is designed to create lifelong learners who are ready for that rapidly changing future.