Roger Williams and the Separation of Church and State
- Grade Level:
- High School: Ninth Grade through Twelfth Grade
- Social Studies
- Lesson Duration:
- 90 Minutes
- Common Core Standards:
- 11-12.RH.1, 11-12.RH.2, 11-12.RH.6, 11-12.RH.7, 11-12.RH.9
- State Standards:
- Rhode Island State Social Studies Standards 3 for 9th-12th Grade: #1a on Bill of Rights and #2a Defending a Policy Position
- Thinking Skills:
- Understanding: Understand the main idea of material heard, viewed, or read. Interpret or summarize the ideas in own words. Applying: Apply an abstract idea in a concrete situation to solve a problem or relate it to a prior experience. Analyzing: Break down a concept or idea into parts and show the relationships among the parts. Evaluating: Make informed judgements about the value of ideas or materials. Use standards and criteria to support opinions and views.
Roger Williams believed in the idea that religion was a matter of individual conscience, not to be regulated or supported by a government. In this lesson students examine both sides of the issue of a proposed RI bill that would provide tax supported school vouchers for private schools. The students will research the issue using primary and secondary sources and then participate in a debate to answer the question:
Do school vouchers violate the principle of the separation of church and state?
Roger Williams, through both word and action, advocated for free exercise of religion at a moment where Church and State were often indistinguishable from one another. William believed in the idea that religion was a matter of individual conscience, not to be regulated or supported by a government. His ideas on the separation of church and state were reflected in the foundational documents of the United States like the Declaration of Independence and The Bill of Rights and are referenced in numerous Supreme Court rulings.
In this upper high school level lesson which takes five days, students examine both sides of the issue of a proposed Rhode Island bill that would provide tax supported school vouchers for private schools. The students will research the issue using primary and secondary sources and then participate in a debate as to whether or not this bill is a violation of the separation of church and state. A visit to the Speaker’s Corner at Roger Williams National Memorial to conduct the debate is an optional culminating activity
*Make one copy per student of each handout:
- Handout #1 - Bill #6131 Parental Choice Scholarship Program Act
- Handout #2 - Quotes from primary and secondary sources
- Handout #3 - Opposing Articles
- Handout #4 - Article Graphic Organizer
- Handout #5 - First Amendment
- Handout #6 - Vouchers from National Council on State Legislatures
- Handout #7 - Graphic Organizer to Organize Argument
- Handout #8 - Rubric on Evaluating the Debate Performance
Make one copy per student for day one homework.
Make one copy per student for research.
Make one copy for day one.
Make one copy per student for day one.
Make one copy per student for day three and four.
Make one copy per student.
Make one copy per student.
Make one copy per student for homework on day one.
*Write the phrase "Separation of church and state exists in the United States" on the board. Ask students to vote on whether this is true or false, as well as justify their responses. Bring up the phrase "under God" in the pledge of allegiance and swearing in on a Bible in court to complicate the issue.
*Explain to students that today they will begin investigating the First Amendment freedom of religion and how that relates to separation of church and state. Over the next five classes, they will develop and defend a position on the question: do school vouchers violate the principle of the separation of church and state?
Prepare for the Launch:
1. The teacher prepares 2 handouts. Handout #1 is a copy of the beginning of House bill #6131 – Parental Choice Scholarship Program Act. Handout #2 contains two primary and two secondary source quotes on Roger William’s beliefs on the Separation of Church and State.
2. Students are placed in pair groupings. Each pair receives each of the handouts.
3. After reading the handout and depending on which handout it has received, each group prepares to answer one of the following questions: What is Roger Williams’ philosophy on the separation of church and state? What is the Parental Choice Scholarship Act?
4. After 10-15 minutes, the groups report their findings to the class, leading to a class discussion defining Roger’s views and the voucher act.
Homework: Distribute Handout #3 which contains two articles on opposing sides of the issue. Have the students fill out Handout #4 which is a graphic organizer identifying three points for each side. Then students, on the back of the handout, answer the question concerning bias.
1. Distribute a copy of Handout #5 which is the First Amendment of the Constitution.
2. Discuss ideas from the homework assignment, which was to read 2 opposing articles on Vouchers and fill out the graphic organizer on Handout #4.) Be sure to include in the discussion the necessity to evaluate all sources for possible bias.
3. Distribute and review Handout #6 on Vouchers from the National Council on State Legislatures. Read and discuss with the class.
4. Create 6 debate teams – 3 arguing that school vouchers violate separation of church and state; 3 arguing that school vouchers do not violate separation of church and state. Use a lottery system to assign students to a side.
Homework: Find 3 articles supporting your team’s view. (Included in this packet are some sample articles)
Days Three and Four
1. The students will research and develop arguments on the essential question, Do school VOUCHERS violate the principle of the SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE?
2. Distribute and have each student complete Handout #7 which is a graphic organizer illustrating the points of his/her argument.
3. Distribute and review the Rubric on Evaluating the Debate Performance, Handout #8.
1. Each debate team selects a spokesperson.
2. Pair each group of the pro side with a group of the con side.
3. Have each pairing debate and then have the rest of the class choose the winners, using the rubric, Handout #8.
4. After hearing all the debates, each half of the class should choose the points they want to use in their argument and also choose their spokesperson who will go to the Roger Williams National Memorial for the final debate.
5. Call Roger Williams National Memorial to book a time and date for the debate at the Speaker’s Corner.
Note: If visiting the Roger Williams National Memorial isn't possible, then a mock Speaker's Corner can be set up in the classroom.
- School Voucher - a government-funded voucher redeemable for tuition fees at a school other than the public school that a student could attend free.
- Civil State - the government under a system of laws and charged with the administration of the laws.
- "Religious Excercise Clause" in First Amendment - right of American citizens to accept any religious belief and engage in religious rituals.
- "Religious Establishment Clause" in First Amendment - Neither a state nor the federal government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another.
Use to evaluate the speaking skills and content demonstrated by students in the debate.
Rubric for Debate
Supports for Struggling Learners
*Assign heterogenous groups to prepare for the debate.
*Highlight or annotate the articles for struggling readers.
*Investigate the legality of school vouchers across the nation's public schools, as well as the role of federalism in that decision.
Roger Williams National Memorial https://www.nps.gov/rowi/index.htm