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Technology-rich, standards-based lessons for upper elementary and middle school
Religion and the First Amendment



Many of the early European settlers of the United States fled to the North American continent to escape persecution for their religious beliefs and practices. However, once here, they often did not universally extend to others the religious freedom and tolerance they sought for themselves. Nevertheless, the idea of religious freedom was so ingrained and so profound that the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights of the Constitution was created to specifically protect freedom of religion.

As the United States has become increasingly diverse , more religious groups have been integrated into American society. At the same time, tensions associated with religious differences have grown. For Muslims, such tensions have been intensified and complicated by the association of Islamic extremists with terrorist attacks.

In this lesson, students will learn about the First Amendment and its protection of religious freedom. They learn about Muslim prayer practices, look at rituals associated with Ramadan and explore a controversy involving Muslim burial practices. As a culminating activity, students will prepare and present an arts-based project about freedom of religion.

Time Allotment: Three to four 45-minute class periods, with additional time for discussion and culminating activities as needed

Subject Matter: Social studies; English/Language Arts

Learning Objectives
Students will be able to:
  • Discuss various religious beliefs and traditions;
  • Describe the importance of the 3Rs -- respect, responsibility, and rights -- in relation to the study of religion;
  • Discuss how the First Amendment protects freedom of religion, and understand that it is part of the Bill of Rights;
  • Appreciate the diversity of religious traditions in the U.S.;
  • Recognize that religious differences often are a source of controversy and conflict;
  • Explore a controversy involving the First Amendment in relation to the rights of U.S. followers of Islam;
  • Map places of worship in their own town and/or in one large city in their state;
  • Prepare and present an arts-based project about freedom of religion.


Behavioral Studies
    Standard 1, Level III, Benchmark 1
      1. Understands that each culture has distinctive patterns of behavior that are usually practiced by most of the people who grow up in it.

    Standard 2, Level II, Benchmark 6
      6. Understands that different groups, societies, and cultures may have different ways of meeting similar wants and needs.

    Standard 2, Level III, Benchmarks 4, 5, 7, 8
      4. Understands that people sometimes react to all members of a group as though they were the same and perceive in their behavior only those qualities that fit preconceptions of the group (i.e., stereotyping) which leads to uncritical judgments (e.g., showing blind respect for members of some groups and equally blind disrespect for members of other groups).

      5. Understands that a variety of factors (e.g., belief systems, learned behavior patterns) contribute to the ways in which groups respond differently to their physical and social environments and to the wants and needs of their members.

      7. Understands that there are similarities and differences within groups as well as among groups.

      8. Understands that a large society may be made up of many groups, and these groups may contain many distinctly different subcultures (e.g., associated with region, ethnic origin, social class, interests, values).

Language Arts
    Reading, Standard 7, Level II, Benchmarks 1, 5, 6
      1. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand a variety of informational texts (e.g., textbooks, biographical sketches, letters, diaries, directions, procedures, magazines).

      5. Summarizes and paraphrases information in texts (e.g., includes the main idea and significant supporting details of a reading selection).

      6. Uses prior knowledge and experience to understand and respond to new information.

    Listening and Speaking Standard 8, Level II, Benchmarks 1-4, 7, 10-12
      1. Contributes to group discussions.

      2. Asks questions in class (e.g., when he or she is confused, to seek others' opinions and comments).

      3. Responds to questions and comments (e.g., gives reasons in support of opinions, responds to others' ideas).

      4. Listens to classmates and adults (e.g., does not interrupt, faces the speaker, asks questions, summarizes or paraphrases to confirm understanding, gives feedback, eliminates barriers to effective listening).

      7. Makes basic oral presentations to class (e.g., uses subject-related information and vocabulary; includes content appropriate to the audience; relates ideas and observations; incorporates visual aids or props; incorporates several sources of information).

      10. Organizes ideas for oral presentations (e.g., uses an introduction and conclusion; uses notes or other memory aids; organizes ideas around major points, in sequence, or chronologically; uses traditional structures, such as cause-and-effect, similarity and difference, posing and answering a question; uses details, examples, and anecdotes to clarify information).

      11. Listens for specific information in spoken texts (e.g., plot details or information about a character in a short story read aloud, information about a familiar topic from a radio broadcast).

      12. Understands the main ideas and supporting details in spoken texts (e.g., presentations by peers or quest speakers, a current affairs report on the radio).
Media Components

Muslim Prayer

Ramadan Observance

Exploring Religious America
Web Sites:

For Teachers: For Students: Materials

For the class:
  • Chalkboard or whiteboard and/or chart paper
  • Ideally, a screen on which to project Web-based video clips or a TV and VCR/DVD player
  • Printouts of Web resources if computers are not available in the classroom

For each student: Prep for Teachers

Prior to teaching the lesson, review all of the Web sites and video segments used in the lesson to make certain that they are appropriate for your students. Bookmark the Web sites used in the lesson on each computer in your classroom, or upload them to an online bookmarking utility such as Download the Acrobat Reader plug-in from to each computer in your classroom. Download the free RealPlayer plug-in from to play the video clips.

Download, print, and copy all of the student organizers listed above for each student in your classroom.

Prerequisite: Before beginning this lesson, be sure to do the Introductory Activity from the "Religion and the First Amendment" lesson with your class.