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High School students, inspired by Harlan Institute Lesson on Snyder v. Phelps, Protest Against Westboro Baptists

May 7th, 2011

In Manilla, Iowa, the Westboro Baptists–the victors of Snyder v. Phelpsprotested the funeral of slain soldier Staff Sergeant James Justice. In response, students in Erin Olson’s AP Language and Composition class at Sioux Central Community School in Sioux Rapids, IA  started a protest of their own.
The students had studied Snyder v. Phelps in class using Harlan Institute lessons in order to make predictions on FantasySCOTUS.org. Inspired by this case, the students took matters into their own hands.
Ms. Olson tells us that her students entered her second period class disgusted and were quite disturbed that the Westboro Baptist Church would be protesting at the funeral of Staff Sergeant James Justice. She was amazed by their passion.
Ms. Olson found that “their understanding of the Westboro Baptist Church’s platform was fostered during their reading for the Supreme Court Fantasy League created by the Harlan Institute.” On Veteran’s Day, her students Skyped with a Harlan volunteer lawyer throughHarlan Connect. The volunteer led a discussion of the legal issues surrounding Snyder v. Phelps. Students wrote about the case, but as the year progressed, Olson noticed that the case kept coming into her class discussions.
Her students “understood the need to protect the freedom of speech, but they were still troubled with the moral ethical issues surrounding the case.” On May 4, 2011, she saw her students were enthusiastic about sharing their support for the family of Staff Sergeant Justice. They organized themselves. She “watched in awe of their passion driven learning.” They planned a lunch announcement, lead the Pledge of Allegiance, organized the playing of Taps, built a platform, and created sign. Due the high winds, “they were concerned about their paper signs blowing away, so they asked for permission to put posts into the ground, so they built a platform!” Students organized cameras to get footage of the process and work. Students contacted media. Ms. Olson tells us that “there are no words to express my pride in each and every one of my students. This is what learning is about. They are amazing, and I am so fortunate. Those kids wanted the family of James Justice to know their hearts hurt for the loss, and they support our troops.”

Thank you for your story Ms. Olson. At the Harlan Institute we strive to make the Supreme Court and Constitution come alive. Stories like this remind us how important Supreme Court decisions are, and how they affect each and every one of us.