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Interview with Zachary Parker, Author of Snyder v. Phelps Influenced Respect for Fallen Heroes and Citizens Act of 2010

January 9, 2011
Inspired by a history class project and the events leading Snyder v. Phelps to the Supreme Court, high school senior Zach Parker is using the legislative process to ban protests from military funerals. Zak proposed the  “Respect for Fallen Heroes and Citizens Act of 2010” to prevent groups like the Westboro Baptists from protesting at military funerals. Josh Blackman, President of the Harlan Institute, chatted with Zak about protests at funeral, Snyder v. Phelps, and the First Amendment. Popout Download the podcast here.
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Original audio source (Parker.mp3)

Snyder v. Phelps Inspires HS Senior to Take Action

January 7, 2011
Inspired by a history class project and the events leading Snyder v. Phelps to the Supreme Court, high school senior Zach Parker is using the legislative process to ban protests from military funerals.
BELFAST, Maine – It started out as a class history project for 17-year-old Searsport Regional High School student Zach Parker, but the more he learned, the more infuriated he became. How could a church picket funerals of dead soldiers? Parker said he has an uncle in the National Guard who might be deployed next year. “I can’t even think about if I had to lay him to rest for the last time and I’d have to deal with these people,” he said. The people are the members of the Westboro Baptist Church, a Kansas congregation that has made a name for itself by protesting at soldiers’ funerals across the country. Parker wants to stop them. The student is working on a plan to propose federal legislation to ban all protests at military funerals. Three federal laws and laws in at least 40 states, including Maine, limit protests near military funerals, but they do not prevent them. The U.S. Supreme Court has heard arguments against the church’s actions and is expected to rule on it next year.
Parker’s legislation, entitled “Respect for Fallen Heroes and Citizens Act of 2010,” reads: “No person shall protest including taunting, or showing any public display of disapproval one clock hour from the beginning and end of a funeral, burial or memorial service, and may not enter within three-hundred feet of the grounds.” On Wednesday, Parker presented his history project to the public:
The Searsport event began a little like a patriotic pep rally and included a prayer to honor all veterans, a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and a video featuring footage of dusty Middle East war zones. Many of the people in attendance said that Parker’s goal of keeping funerals free of people who would taunt, insult or annoy mourning family and friends sounded just about right to them. “The First Amendment is not an absolute,” said Charliy Michaud of Searsport. “There’s a certain level of common sense. I think it’s a wonderful idea, and I hope it works.” Danny Bowden of Bangor came down with several other members of The Exiles, a Maine-based motorcycle group. “I wanted to support this kid and this bill, because it’s not right to protest at any funeral, really, and especially our military funerals,” he said.
Although only 17, Parker’s legislation is receiving national attention, from U.S. Senators and Representatives toFox News. When asked by Fox & Friends co-host Dave Briggs on the message sent by his actions, Parkerresponded:
“I can tell you not to underestimate any project you’re given,” he said. “I certainly never expected to be on national news for this. This was just a small-town project and has turned out to be a national phenomenon.”
On that note, Parker’s history teacher is beaming with pride:
“I asked them to find something they’re interested in and become active. What would you do? Some take it to the extreme, which Zach did — it’s his personality,” said Parker’s history teacher, Gail Anthonis. “I think it’s a great way for kids to learn to be politically involved. They may be 17 or 18 years old, but they can do something. They can be heard.”
Harlan’s FantasySCOTUS asks students to examine Snyder v. Phelps, and think about these same issues. The Supreme Court is faced with a very real, relevant, and personal question – does the First Amendment protect the right of protesters to display signs containing offensive messages near funerals of fallen military service members? Please visit our site to sign up your classroom and download the lesson plan for your class on this issue. Parker’s interview on the Fox News morning show, Fox & Friends: Watch the latest video at video.foxnews.com

Harlan Institute’s Snyder v. Phelps Game Launches on Justice O’Connor’s iCivics.org

December 30, 2010
In partnership with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s iCivics.org, the Harlan Institute is proud to announce the launch of “Argument Wars: Snyder v. Phelps.” This interactive game exposes students to the competing sides in Snyder v. Phelps, and helps them build compelling, persuasive constitutional arguments. This game will be an innovative way to teach students about one of the top Supreme Court cases of the term.

Teens don’t know Marx from Madison

December 20, 2010
A recent poll from the Bill of Rights Institute and Harris Interactive provides some alarming statistics about the state of civic education in America. Here are some of the findings.
  • 42 percent of American adults incorrectly chose one of America’s Founding documents as the source of Karl Marx’s exposition of Communism, ʺfrom each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.ʺ Of these incorrect answers, the most commonly chosen was the Bill of Rights.
  • 60 percent of American adults did not correctly identify the principle that our government’s powers are derived from the people as an attribute that makes America unique.
  • 55 percent of American adults did not recognize that “education” is not a First Amendment right.
  • Nearly 1 in 10 American adults do not realize that the right to petition our government is a freedom guaranteed in the First Amendment.
  • Only 20 percent of American adults correctly selected the Tenth Amendment as the Amendment that reserves powers to the states and the people.
This is tragic, and disappointing. At the Harlan Institute, we want to help fix this situation. As I wrote recently in the Roanoke Times, “The more our society knows about the Supreme Court and our Constitution, the stronger our republic will be. Through programs like FantasySCOTUS and HARLANconnect, the Harlan Institute aims to help America reach that goal.”

The Harlan Institute is Now Exempt Under Section 501(c)(3). Make Your Tax-Exempt Donation Today!

December 20, 2010
The Internal Revenue Service has designated the Harlan Institute as a public charity, and all donations will be exempt from Federal Income Tax. You can view our exemption letter here. There’s still time to give to our $10 for 2010 Campaign. Now all donations will be tax exempt. Give today!

Josh Blackman Authors Op-Ed in Roanoke Times about The Harlan Institute, FantasySCOTUS, and HARLANconnect

December 19, 2010
Josh Blackman, the Co-Founder and President of the Harlan Institute, authored an opinion piece in the Sunday Roanoke Times on The Harlan Institute. The piece, titled Gaming the Supreme Court, introduces readers to FantasySCOTUS.org, the fastest growing constitutional literacy program on the Internet. Here is a snippet:
Building on the immense popularity of fantasy football and baseball, the Harlan Institute launched FantasySCOTUS.net, the Internet’s first Supreme Court Fantasy League. The rules are simple: Try to predict how each of the nine justices will vote on all cases that come before the Supreme Court. The league went viral and exploded in popularity, with more than a thousand members joining in the first 24 hours after the site launched. Today, nearly 6,000 members read the cases, learn about the justices’ voting histories and try to predict how the court will resolve cases. At the end of the term, the winner will be crowned the Chief Justice of FantasySCOTUS. While FantasySCOTUS.net is a great success, this is only the start for the Harlan Institute. With a focus on teaching tomorrow’s leaders about our Constitution, the Harlan Institute recently launched FantasySCOTUS.org, a Supreme Court Fantasy League for high school students. More than 200 teachers and nearly 1,000 students nationwide are already playing FantasySCOTUS. FantasySCOTUS is currently the fastest growing constitutional literacy program on the Internet. Our goal is to educate students about our Constitution through discussing current cases. Rather than reading about old cases in history books, students are intrigued to learn about the most pressing constitutional issues that are currently in the news. … Beyond FantasySCOTUS, the Harlan Institute has developed HARLANconnect, an innovative platform to help connect attorneys, law professors and law students with high school classes. Through the use of Skype video calls, classrooms can connect with attorneys anywhere in the world and learn more about the Constitution and the Supreme Court. This unique, one-of-a-kind mentoring program will revolutionize the way students learn about the Supreme Court. Further, HARLANconnect will provide an easy and meaningful way for attorneys to give back to their communities. Classes across the country have already been paired and have chatted with their virtual attorney mentors through HARLANconnect. The more our society knows about the Supreme Court and our Constitution, the stronger our republic will be. Through programs like FantasySCOTUS and HARLANconnect, the Harlan Institute aims to help America reach that goal.

The Harlan Institute $10 for 2010 Campaign – Support FantasySCOTUS, the Fastest Growing Constitutional Literacy Program

December 16, 2010

Help us raise $10,000 by December 31, 2010.

By donating $10 before the end of 2010, you can enroll a high school student in the country’s fastest-growing program for constitutional literacy. The Harlan Institute offers FantasySCOTUS, the first ever educational Supreme Court fantasy league. We introduce high school students to Supreme Court cases with easy-to-understandlesson plans. We ask students to make predictions on the votes of the Justices on pending Supreme Court cases. We challenge students to analyze the constitutional issues on classroom blogs. We connect students with attorney mentors through Skype video chats usingHARLANconnect. The Harlan Institute is fun, interactive, and competitive. In just two months, more than 1,000 students have played FantasySCOTUS. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. One teacher commented that “the Harlan Institute fits exactly what we do in class.” A group of students preferred to express their appreciation for Harlan through a 4 minute video that can be seenhere. The media’s response has been similarly flattering. This article from the National Law Journal highlights Harlan’s impact on constitutional knowledge, while this CNN article speaks to the novelty of a free educational program like Harlan. As the Harlan Institute continues to grow, we have ambitious plans for the New Year. With your help, we will enroll 10,000 students by the end of 2011—that’s 10,000 students who will gain a deeper appreciation of our Constitution and the Supreme Court. We’re confident that Harlan is an important development in the future of education. We ask that you contribute $10.00 today as part of our goal to raise $10,000 before January 1, and be a part of our mission to help educate the leaders of tomorrow about our most fundamental laws. Click here to donate today. Thank you for your support.

Civic Education and Popular Constitutional Interpretation

December 12, 2010
Michael Serota has posted an interesting piece titled Civic Education and Popular Constitutional Interpretation. Serota writes about his experiences in teaching civics and constitutionalism to high school students:
Last spring, I worked with Berkeley Law’s youth justice program, and had the opportunity to teach a one-hour seminar at a local public high school on the role of the judiciary. I delivered a short lecture to a diverse group of students ages 14-18 on the basic challenges and complexities of constitutional interpretation. Thirty minutes later, the students had taken over the discussion, and they began debating some of the foundational disagreements as to how judges should interpret our founding document. Similar experiences I have had recently working with young people through Georgetown Law School’s Street Law Clinic have reaffirmed that one need not attend law school, or even college, to appreciate the challenges of constitutional interpretation in a diverse society filled with competing viewpoints and belief systems. But to do so, the public must be willing to set aside personal preferences and join the debate on its own terms; that is, we must be willing to engage in a discussion about the process of interpretation rather than solely focusing on the results themselves.
Serota recognizes that the way we teach constitutional law to students needs to change in order to enable the next generation to fully participate in our Republic.
In order for this initiative to succeed, the focus must be on teaching the public how to think about these problems, rather than what to think about them. A seismic shift in our culture of constitutional debate will not happen overnight, but we must start somewhere, and with time, our public discussion will hopefully evolve into a thoughtful, informative, and useful dialogue that moves America forward.
These are some of the goals we hope to achieve through the Harlan Institute.

The Harlan Institute’s Inaugural SCOTUS-Skype-Teach-A-Thon

October 31, 2010
On Thursday November 11, 2010, the Harlan Institute will be virtually visiting classrooms across the country in the inaugural SCOTUS-Skype-Teach-A-Thon. As a complement to FantasySCOTUS.org, the Harlan Institute has trained a group of Mentors to deliver virtual lectures to classrooms using Skype video chats. Our mentors consist of attorneys, law professors, and law students who are all committed to raising awareness of the Constitution and the Supreme Court. During the inaugural SCOTUS-Skype-Teach-A-Thon, mentors will engage your class and discuss the most fascinating cases before the Supreme Court this term, includingSnyder v. PhelpsSchwarzenegger v. EMANASA v. NelsonConnick v. Thompson, and Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting. These lectures are 100% free. We are certain your students will enjoy them, and learn a lot. All your class needs is a web camera and a Skype account in the classroom. Please take a look at some of our testimonials, or watch the video below. If you are interested is interested in participating, please sign up your class at FantasySCOTUS.org and request a mentor for your class. Please specify what time of day your class will meet on November 11, 2010, which case you would like to cover, and what grade your students are in. If you are not available on 11/11, please let us know other times that may work for you. We have a limited number of mentors available, so please sign up soon. Additionally, before the class, please share the Harlan Institute Lesson Plans with your students.  

Oyez, Oyez, Oyez! FantasySCOTUS October 2011 Term Launches Today

October 3, 2010
By law, the Supreme Court’s term commences “on the first Monday in October.” At the Harlan Institute, we celebrate this holiday by launching FantasySCOTUS! This season, we have two versions of FantasySCOTUS. FantasySCOTUS.org is our educational Supreme Court Fantasy League geared to high school students. We have created lesson plans for some of the most interesting cases before the Court this term. Based on these plans, your students can make predictions, and write analytical blog posts about the cases. Want to learn more? Sign up for a HarlanConnect virtual mentoring program through Skype. Teachers, sign up here. FantasySCOTUS.net is our professional Supreme Court Fantasy League for lawyers and law students. Compete against some of the most savvy court watchers in the Internet’s premier Supreme Court Fantasy League. Law nerds everywhere, sign up today! Happy First Monday everyone!