Debating the “Mighty Constitutional Opposites”
Ever since the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were adopted, Americans have struggled to make certain “mighty opposites” contained within them work together for the common good. For example, the First Amendment guarantees freedom of the press, protecting “society’s right to know” about the activities of individuals and groups in our midst. At the same time, the Fourth, Ninth, and Tenth Amendments all protect the individual’s right to privacy. What happens when freedom of the press and the right to privacy collide?
Often, the legal system struggles to strike a balance. How do you think your generation is going to find the proper balance between community and private interests in issues involving hate speech, guns, and privacy in the electronic age?
Learn here about three enduring constitutional debates that your generation will argue to formulate public policies affecting the nation’s future. Then explore the issues more fully by reading the articles that follow. You can begin to learn how you can participate in and influence the debates by completing the “Take Action!” activities for each article.
Hate Speech Debate: The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, including insulting, offensive “hate speech”-but only to a point. For example, Americans are for the most part free to express their likes and dislikes, to openly and even to nastily criticize individuals, groups, institutions, and situations. But what about speech that attacks disability, race, or sexual preference—speech that undermines the guarantee to minority groups of equal rights and equal opportunities under the law? Does that type of speech violate the victim’s civil rights to the extent that it is unconstitutional? Do we need new laws to protect against hate speech? If so, how can hate speech laws be fashioned so as to protect the civil rights of minority communities without overly limiting an individual’s civil liberties? ( Activities related to the hate speech debate)
Gun Debate: In part because of the startling rise in gun-related violence among youth, few issues have so captured American public discussions in recent years as guns and gun control. The Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms, yet the interpretation of this right is hotly debated. Does it mean that any ordinary person may possess firearms without limitation? Or does the right to bear arms apply only to the “well-regulated militia” referenced in the Second Amendment? Do we need to enact more gun laws to ensure the public safety? Would existing laws be enough, if only enforced? Are existing laws already too much? On further examination by the courts, might they be unconstitutional? ( Activities related to the gun debate)
Privacy Debate: Today, specialized gadgets can pierce through the very walls of homes to gather information about the unsuspecting people living there. Is this type of “electronic investigation” unconstitutional? Or does it make a difference who the unsuspecting individual is -- an “ordinary person,” a convicted felon, or a celebrity, for example? The right to privacy, although protected by the Bill of Rights, cannot be absolute. This is true in situations involving both government investigators (such as police) and the press. Today, when the government and the press can electronically gather information about anyone from miles away, do we need new privacy laws to bolster existing constitutional and statutory protections? If so, what aspects of people's lives should be declared off limits? ( Activities related to the privacy debate)
Student Central | Students in Action | Debating the "Mighty Constitutional Opposites"
Hate Speech Debate | Gun Debate | Privacy Debate