The "Right" Ideas

6, 7, 8

This lesson clarifies that true rights are guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. Participants discuss the importance of protecting these rights, and if and when it is ever appropriate to limit rights. We learn that one role of nonprofits is to preserve and promote guaranteed rights.

PrintTwo 55-Minute Sessions

The learner will:

  • describe the Social Contract between citizens and their government and give an example of how nonprofit organizations and the government carry out this contract.
  • identify and describe five of the rights guaranteed to citizens in the Bill of Rights.
  • evaluate whether desired actions are constitutionally guaranteed rights.
  • explain reasons for reasonable limits for guaranteed rights.
  • describe the role of nonprofit organizations in preserving and promoting guaranteed rights.
  • describe how the founding documents and fundamental democratic principles encourage citizens to act philanthropically.
  • printed copies of the Five Basic Rights document (see handouts below)
  • printed copies of Basic Rights Role Play document (see handouts below)

  • banner with the statement, "Each person's rights reach only to the boundaries of someone else's rights."
  • markers, crayons, colored pencils

We the People. Calabasas, CA: Center for Civic Education, 1988.


  1. Anticipatory Set: Ask learners to imagine and share whether they would collaborate or fight if the entire group was shipwrecked on a remote island, with no adults.

  2. Share and discuss this theory about the Social Contract: Many years ago a French philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, said that people, who lived on their own and were free to do as they wished, decided to join together. These people agreed to give their rights to do whatever they wished in exchange for living in a society where everyone's natural rights are protected. This was called a "social contract" between the citizens and their government. This was how societies/communities started. People/citizens agree to be governed and, as a part of the government's responsibility, it must guarantee certain rights to its people/citizens.

  3. Distribute printed copies of the Five Basic Rights document and group the learners into five groups. Assign each group to one of the five basic rights: freedom of expression, freedom of religion, right to be treated equally, right to be treated fairly, and right to vote. Allow time for groups to answer the questions for their assigned basic right.

  4. Have a member of each group share their responses and encourage others to add to and/or ask questions of the information presented.

  5. Focus on the responses to the question, "Is it ever appropriate to limit these rights?”

    Pose hypothetical prompts for discussion such as limiting the right to vote based on passing a competency test, requiring vaccinations even if people object due to religious beliefs, etc. 

    Emphasize the role of the Bill of Rights in protecting individual rights and limiting the government. (This discussion is intended to spark critical thinking. Learners discover through conversation that the government cannot limit guaranteed rights, which leads to the following statement.)

  6. Unroll a banner with the statement, "Each person's rights reach only to the boundaries of someone else's rights." Ask learners to express their individual and personal interpretation of this statement. Stress the importance of respecting others' thoughts and ideas and their right to express them. Emphasize the role of these rights in the group setting (freedom of expression, right to be treated equally, and the right to be treated fairly). Have students color and decorate the banner with supporting illustrations and display it in a prominent location.

  7. Explain that the government is not the only group in our society that protects the rights of citizens or provides services for them. Nonprofit organizations are not part of the government and work alongside government and businesses to help and protect the rights of the people. In our society, the government does not provide for all the needs of its people. (If it did, this would make our taxes too high and would put the government in our lives too much.) 

  8. Nonprofit organizations are also called the "independent sector." This means that they are not part of the government or private business. Nonprofit organizations can be religious or non-religious. The First Amendment says that "Congress shall make no laws respecting an establishment of religion" (separation of church and state). TSince religious groups cannot be part of the government, they are in the independent sector.

  9. In the same groups, learners search the internet to identify at least one nonprofit organization that works to honor or violate the group’s assigned basic right. With the help of the Role-Play handout below, each group makes a plan to role-play an example of the nonprofit organization honoring or violating their assigned basic right. Allow approximately 25 minutes for planning.

  10. Have the groups perform their role plays while the other groups take notes on the handout.

  11. Discuss the role plays:

    • Why is it important to protect the basic rights? 
    • When might it be appropriate to limit the right demonstrated in the role plays?
    • What other nonprofit groups might work to combat the violation of the rights shown in the role plays? 
    • What other nonprofit group might work to preserve and promote the rights shown in the role plays?

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 02. Roles of Government, Business, and Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.3 Describe the "social contract" and the changing roles of civil society and government in meeting this "contract."
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark MS.6 Explain how "separation of church and state" places religious institutions in the civil society sector.
    2. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark MS.2 Describe the importance of hearing all voices in a community and respecting their right to be heard.
    3. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark MS.5 Describe how individual freedoms are protected by the constitution and how civil society organizations implement these rights.
    4. Standard PCS 07. Skills of Civic Engagement
      1. Benchmark MS.2 Discuss a public policy issue affecting the common good and demonstrate respect and courtesy for differing opinions.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 02. Careers In The Nonprofit Sector
      1. Benchmark MS.2 Compare the requirements for similar jobs in the civil society and the for-profit sectors.