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Summer Institute Letter from Bruce Murphy

The First Amendment and 21st Century America:
Summer Institute for K-12 Teachers

Dr. Bruce Allen Murphy headshotA personal letter to teachers from Dr. Bruce Allen Murphy, Program Director

Dear Fellow Teachers:

I invite you to submit an application to be a member of our summer institute studying “The First Amendment and Twenty-First Century America.” This institute will be an examination of how the Constitutional Framers’ vision of the First Amendment’s protections of Freedom of Speech, Thought, Press, the Establishment and Free Exercise of Religion, and Assembly have been developed by generations of Supreme Court justices are now being changed in the 21st Century  by the Rehnquist and Roberts Courts. Our goal is to provide participants with knowledge and experiences that they can take back to their classroom and use to enrich their students’ knowledge about and engagement with American civic life.

There is no better time to be studying the First Amendment, and the Supreme Court, with all that has happened since Bush v. Gore in 2000, to the Court’s membership and the Rehnquist and Roberts Courts’ interpretations of the Bill of Rights. In the four decades that I have been teaching and studying about Constitutional law, the Supreme Court, and American political history, I have never seen anything like we are experiencing now. The dramatic changes in the meaning of the First Amendment in the last three decades, together with the battles over the appointments of Judges Merrick Garland and Brett Kavanaugh to the Court, have politicized the institution of the Supreme Court.

During this one week intensive seminar for teachers, we will study the United States Constitution, and the First Amendment, focusing on the delicate balance between the rights of individuals and the need to govern society and keep it safe. Through the First Amendment our most basic rights to freedom of speech, religion, press, association and even thought are protected, and this protection in turn shapes how we, as citizens, can express ourselves.  As has become clear in the battles over protests on college campuses and public areas, and press accounts of political events, as well as the rights of religious groups to follow their beliefs even if it means discriminating against others, many conflicts can emerge over this expression, and it is the responsibility of the United States Supreme Court to ultimately define the scope and extent of our First Amendment rights.

We seek to make this Summer Institute a place of active, participant-led learning, so while renowned national experts on the First Amendment will join us to speak on their area of expertise, participants will also be given the opportunity to engage in their own analysis of and debates about important Supreme Court cases. The seminar will be held at the National Constitution Center and make use of its resources including the interactive constitution and its historic location on Independence Mall. The participants will also tour and experience Historic Philadelphia, spending time in the location where the Constitution was written, and in Independence Hall and the City Tavern, where the Framers’ debated the future of the new nation.  The program will conclude with a mock Supreme Court Argument at the Federal Courthouse in Philadelphia and an interesting discussion session between Constitutional Scholars and Federal Judges on the Independence of the Judiciary. Overall, our goal is to provide participants with knowledge and experiences that they can take back to their classroom and use to enrich their students’ knowledge about and engagement with American civic life.

We will have an exciting week in the birthplace of our American democracy determining how the reconstituted Supreme Court will affect the future of the First Amendment. This knowledge will help us show our students that learning about all of the Freedoms in that Amendment and their importance for democracy, together with the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process clause, will help us all become more active and better citizens in our democracy. We need to show our students that these are “interesting times,” for our constitutional rights and institutions, and that “interesting times” are exciting times to teach and study! I am really looking forward to this summer’s session.

All the best,

Bruce Murphy


For additional information, contact Beth Specker, Executive Director:

P: 215-746-6336

E: bspecker@rendellcenter.org









Additional information coming in the months ahead!

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