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Constitutional law comes alive
A program asks students, "Which five rights are worth keeping?"
By JOHN FRANK, Times Staff Writer
Published February 5, 2008
BROOKSVILLE - It's 8:30 a.m. Monday. For the 50 Hernando High School students gathered in the school's library, it's way too early to think about constitutional law.
At the front of the room, Circuit Judge Stephen Rushing and Brooksville attorney Frank Miller are giving the students a rundown on the Bill of Rights.
Not all are paying attention. Then a fog machine on the side begins to spew fake smoke and a strobe light starts flashing. Rushing tells the students invaders conquered the country and revoked all of their rights according to the bill - except five. So which ones do you keep?
The question brought the students to life.
It's part of a statewide teaching program called "Justice Teaching," devised by Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice R. Fred Lewis. It puts local judges and attorneys in the classroom to help students learn the bedrock principles at the heart of the U.S. Constitution.
The students, mostly juniors and seniors from teacher Rusty Drummond's government classes, didn't miss the chance to ask the legal minds questions.
"Does it violate our rights to search our lockers and cars in the parking lot?" asked one student.
"We're not here to give legal advice," Miller said, smiling, likely cognisant that last week two Hernando High students were arrested for possession of marijuana on campus. "The school obviously has to have rules."
Most of the spirted conversation came in response to Rushing's question about which of the Bill of Rights are worth keeping.
The top five rights, as voted by the groups of students: freedom of speech; right to bear arms; protection from cruel and unusual punishment; protection from unreasonable search and seizure; and freedom of religion.
They left off freedom of the press, right to legal counsel, right to a jury trial, right to assemble and protection from self-incrimination.
Rushing asked, "Who are you going to talk to if you can't assemble?"
The students didn't have a good answer until a student in the back of the room said, "Put it on MySpace." The whole room laughed.
"The point of this is they are all interdependent upon each other," Rushing said.
In between classes, Rushing said he was impressed with the students' questions and answers. "It's a microcosm," he said, of the same questions the courts are grappling with.