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Classroom guide: Free speech, free elections, and the case of the topless voter

In this episode hosts Anna Brown and Mike Dunbar discuss New Hampshire’s ban on wearing political clothing at polling places and whether or not this violates the constitutional right to free speech.
Length:
Podcast includes 8 minutes about the law banning political clothing at polling places (and the bill to change it), 3 additional minutes about a proposed constitutional amendment to remove the “register of probate,” an office without any duties.

Key concepts/standards

  • The constitutional right to free speech and its limits
    • SS:CV:8:1.1: Explain why limiting the powers of government is essential for the protection of individual rights. (Themes: B: Civic Ideals, Practices, and Engagement, E: Cultural Development, Interaction, and Change, H: Individualism, Equality and Authority)
    • SS:CV:12:2.1: Describe how the fundamental ideals and principles of American government are incorporated in the United States Constitution and the New Hampshire Constitution, e.g., the rule of law or individual rights and responsibilities. (Themes: H: Individualism, Equality and Authority, I: Patterns of Social and Political Interaction, J: Human Expression and Communication)
  • The importance of free and fair elections
    • SS:CV:8:4.1: Describe and analyze ways Americans can effectively participate in civic and political life at the local, state, and federal levels, e.g., problem solving, public engagement, or voting. (Themes: A: Conflict and Cooperation, B: Civic Ideals, Practices, and Engagement, J: Human Expression and Communication)
    • SS:CV:12:4.1: Demonstrate responsible practices within the political process, e.g., registering to vote or taking civic action. (Themes: B: Civic Ideals, Practices, and Engagement)

Discussion questions

  • What limits does New Hampshire currently place on political clothing at polling places?
  • Why do these limits exist? How do these limits relate to free and fair elections?
  • Discuss how this issue relates to freedom of speech. Explore ways in which freedom of speech is not absolute in New Hampshire.
  • What are the pros and cons of eliminating the prohibition on political clothing?
  • Do you think NH voters should be allowed to wear political clothing at polling places? Why or why not? Be specific about what kinds of clothing—if any—you think should or should not be allowed.
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