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Modern Debates on Rights

60 min

Guiding Questions

  • What are rights?
  • Where do rights originate?
  • Are rights limited?
  • What should happen when rights of some persons contradict the rights of others?
  • Should governments exercise powers to secure or equalize rights?
  • Does the Bill of Rights complement or contradict the Declaration of Independence?


  • Students will describe what natural rights are and provide examples.
  • Students will analyze different viewpoints of the origins of rights.
  • Students will examine current events that reflect a conflict of the role of government in comparison to one’s understanding of the origins of rights.

  • natural rights
  • equality
  • Declaration of Independence
  • liberty
  • Founders
  • democracy
  • Fourteenth Amendment
  • Fourteenth Amendment
  • Ninth Amendment
  • Fifth Amendment
  • due process

Have students read Handout A: What Is the Scope of the Bill of Rights essay. Then display the following quote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness…” Discuss how the Declaration of Independence explained the Founders’ view that everyone has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.


Then display the first clause of the Fourteenth Amendment: “…nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

Have students locate the Due Process clause of the Fifth Amendment.

Point out that the Fourteenth Amendment echoes the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause.


Brainstorm with students some examples of unlisted rights and write the students’ answers on the board. Have a contest to determine who can list the most. Allow other students to come to the board or use Padlet and collaborate on another similar digital platform or Google Doc and cancel rights listed in any part of the US Constitution. Collaborate as a class to make a class list of non-specified rights.

Have students read the Modern Debates on Rights Essay

Students should create a graphic organizer upon completion of essay. (could be made as a handout or on a digital platform)

Type of right Natural (God given) Political (Government)
Persons/groups who hold this view    
Modern current event(s) that they would support based on their viewpoint of the origins of rights.    

Divide students into pairs and have them complete Handout B: Supreme Court Personal Liberty Decisions. Students should complete the column “Your Summary of the Opinion” in their own words using Handout A to assist them with the case background.

Explain to students that the majority opinion represents how the justices ruled, while the justices who did not vote with the majority write the dissenting opinions. Go over Handout B as a group. After clarifying any of the Supreme Court opinions or dissents, have students complete the column that asks: “What is the constitutional issue in this case? Do you agree with the Court’s decision?” individually, filling in their own opinion regarding the case.

Students should look for current events in controversy within the past month that would reflect how two perceptions of their belief in the origins of rights would affect their perception on the role the government.

Students could take a modern current event and write an essay that describes how the government’s action would be viewed differently depending on one’s viewpoint of the origins of rights. Student be able to identify the proper level of government action, power, or involvement that viewpoint would support.

Student Handouts

Next Lesson

Rights and Responsibilities

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