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Free speech vs. hate speech: What’s protected?



Free speech vs. hate speech: What’s protected?

In the United States, the First Amendment protects freedom of speech. Social media has provided a platform for anyone with an internet connection to post their views on any topic imaginable. Protesters have the right to hold signs and convey their beliefs in public places. But what about hate speech? Should certain ideas and messages be silenced.


  • Students will gain an understanding of the historical protection of free speech in the United States. 
  • Students will recognize the importance of protecting free speech.
  • Students will explore ways to use free speech to combat hate speech. 

Common Core State Standards and evaluate the reasoning in seminal U.S. texts, including the application of constitutional principles and use of legal reasoning (e.g., in U.S. Supreme Court majority opinions and dissents) and the premises, purposes, and arguments in works of public advocacy (e.g., The Federalist, presidential addresses). strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text. and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning. strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.


One 45-50 minute class period. Can easily be extended to two or three classes, depending upon the length of presentations and/or group vs. individual work. 

Materials / resources

Links to use: 

Rubric to print:

Lesson step-by-step

Step 1: 

  1. OPTIONAL: Teacher shows the History Channel video (3:09 min) as an introduction to the topic.
  2. Teacher facilitates a class discussion about the students’ interpretation of hate speech. 
    1. What kind of speech do you consider hate speech?
    2. What do you think the school administration, teachers or students should do to deter hate speech on campus?
    3. Should the school news show, yearbook, newspaper include controversial ideas in their publications? 
  3. Teacher provides background on the American Civil Liberties Union. “For nearly 100 years, the ACLU has been our nation’s guardian of liberty, working in courts, legislatures, and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and the laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country.”

Step 2: 

Students will:

A. Read this article about the ACLU’s position on Hate Speech:

B. Summarize the article in one paragraph.

C. One or two students will read their paragraph aloud to the class. 

Step 3: 

A. Students will choose one of these stories from recent years to research. Teacher decides if students should work individually or in groups. 

B. Students will summarize the 5W and the H of the story they chose. 

C. Students will create a brief presentation of 2-3 slides (pptx, Google Presentation, Keynote) to share their findings with the class.

Step 4: 

  1. Students share their presentations with the class. 
  2. Teacher leads a class discussion about each case, focusing on ways to combat hate speech with free speech.
  3. Teacher assesses the presentations with this rubric:


The entire lesson could be facilitated as a whole group, small group, or individual assignment depending upon the level of the class. If student access to technology is limited, the teacher can print out the articles in advance and distribute them to groups of students for analysis and discussion. Students could work in pairs to create posters with paper/pencil/markers rather than electronic presentations.

Students could display posters around the room and visit each poster “station” to hear from the groups. One member of each pair would stand with their poster to present. The other member would circulate to hear from each of the other presenters at their station.

Students would switch from presenter to observer halfway through the period so that each student had the opportunity to present, and each would have the opportunity to observe and learn.

For past Constitution Day materials, go here

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