Pages Navigation Menu

Free speech?
Protests and the national anthem: FSW lesson



Analyzing and creating meaningful discussion about free speech issues over protests during the national anthem


Discussion on whether refusing to stand during the national anthem is an acceptable and effective form of protest have grown in recent months. This lesson enables students an opportunity to research and clarify their views as they share them with others.


  • Students will analyze legal and ethical aspects of the issue.
  • Students will share their findings.
  • Students will discuss what they find.
  • Students will report their position on the issue using information gathered from research and discussions.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language of a court opinion differs from that of a newspaper).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.5 Analyze in detail how an author’s ideas or claims are developed and refined by particular sentences, paragraphs, or larger portions of a text (e.g., a section or chapter).


60 minutes for two days

Materials / resources

Access to internet resources on the issues of standing for the Pledge of Allegiance by citizens in and outside schools.Foundations_main

Access to the US Supreme Court decision in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette.

Background on this issue:
The teacher would share these quotes introduce the assignment and to background the issue.

From Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin:“I think it’s disgusting, frankly, I can appreciate the fact that people have freedom of speech, people can stand for, figuratively and literally, things that they choose to, but to use an opportunity to denigrate our nation’s flag — it’s not the flag and it’s not the national anthem itself, what it represents is the sacrifice of one and a half million Americans who died.”

From the court decision: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.”

“We think the action of the local authorities in compelling the flag salute and pledge transcends constitutional limitations on their power and invades the sphere of intellect and spirit which it is the purpose of the First Amendment to our Constitution to reserve from all official control.”

Lesson step-by-step

Step 1 — introduction to the assignment and homework at the end of the session the day before (10 minutes)

The teacher should ask how many students are aware of the varied protests, in and outside of schools, against standing for the Pledge of Allegiance. The teacher would point out the introductory quotes as representative of the sides on this issue.

The class would discuss pros and cons of the issue before the teacher introduces the assignment: researching current events on the issue, examining legal and ethical positions on the issue and preparing a personal position statement either as a letter to the editor to local or national media or in a personal blog.

Stress that students can begin information gathering at home using live sources as well as digital ones.

Day 1 –

Step 2 — Research (15 minutes)

The teacher will remind students of the assignment and give them 15 minutes to add to and organize information they gathered the night before. Students should also begin to formulate a statement of personal position on the issue. Tell them they will be expected to discuss possible positions and arguments during the second 35 minutes.

Step 3 — Discussion (35 minutes)

Ask students to share information they gathered with others in the class. They could have made pro-con lists based on information they gathered and shared.

Then, students could use of PowerPoint, whiteboard or Google Docs to list possible positions and/or questions they might have about the issue. Such lists should be available for student use after class by them copying the lists and positions or having access to the Google Doc.

Focus during the discussion should be to verify information for possible positions, to clarify issues involved, to develop personal positions and support for them. Students should prepare annotated bibliographies for sources they used as a way for all to examine credibility and reliability.

Step 4 — Clarify assignment (10 minutes)

Reiterate the details and purpose of the assignment and ask students to have a draft of the statement of position or blog post for the next day’s class.

Day 2 –

Step 5 — Group coaching and editing (40 minutes)

Students should break into groups of three for peer coaching and position revision. The teacher can move from group to ask questions and offer suggestions as asked. The teacher should not edit student work but encourage peer coaching and editing. Final coaching and editing should enable all student work to be sent to or posted on designated media.

Step 6 — Final discussion and statement emailing or posting (10 minutes)

Conclude the assignment with final discussion and coaching. Assist students as necessary in the mailing and posting of their statement of position.

Step 7 — Assessment (10 minutes)

Have students discuss what they did, how others might react to their statements as well as what they learned about the issue and about issues surrounding it. They should also discuss how they might handle any responses they receive.


Option 1 – Additional media possibilities include broadcast personal statements, video statements or podcasts. Additional lessons could involve pro-con panel discussions or community forums to involve larger groups.

Option 2 – The teacher could organize the class to have a debate whether this form of speech should be allow in society and as a part of school activities. Discussion of the issue and positions on it could take place before the debate. After the debate, students could write a reflection on their views of the issue before and after the debate.


You could also work with students to assist them in using social media to discuss their experience and what they learned. Another lesson could focus on student reaction to and comment on this comment from Bevin: “If you’re a superintendent, if you’re a principal, if you’re a high school coach, step up, set an example,” Bevin said. “For us to allow everybody to be free range chickens, to not encourage them to know what they are doing and what the impact is and what the denigration of respect is something that is the responsibility of the adults to communicate to these young people.”

  • Thanks to Jamie Miller, du Pont Manual High School, Louisville, Kentucky, for sharing information about the Kentucky governor’s quote.

Leave a Comment