Constitutional Rights: Their Roots and Scope | Newberry

Constitutional Rights: Their Roots and Scope

The Newberry Library

The Newberry Library

A Three-Day Professional Development Seminar for Teachers
Wednesday, August 7, 2019Friday, August 9, 2019


The Newberry Library

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Despite the original Constitution’s near silence on rights, the Bill of Rights and later amendments explicitly placed rights at the core of American self-understanding and political life. In this three-day seminar, we will explore the foundations and status of political rights, in a joint inquiry with other teachers from the Chicago area and eminent professors as facilitators. The program’s full roster of distinguished faculty who will be conversation leaders will be confirmed shortly.

After a day of considering the philosophical foundations of rights, and a day devoted to the Founders’ understanding of constitutional rights, we will spend the third and final day examining carefully the freedom of speech dimension of the First Amendment.

We will explore such questions as:

  • What, in the first place, is the meaning of a “right”?”
  • What are the philosophical and historical foundations of rights?
  • Which right or rights is/are most fundamental?
  • What is a natural right? Is the nature referred to in “natural right” human nature or nature more broadly?
  • Is freedom of speech only a freedom to speak the truth, inasmuch as one knows it, or to engage in speech that has “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value”? Is the right to free expression absolute or conditional? If not absolute, what are its limits and dangers?
  • Do we hold freedom of speech sacred (only) because of the unpalatable character of its opposite, censorship, or is there a positive justification for it?
  • What are the differences, if any, among freedom of speech, freedom of discussion, and freedom of expression?

The seminar is free for high school teachers selected to participate, who will receive:

  • 15 hours of professional development credit
  • breakfast and lunch each day, plus a group dinner on the Thursday evening

Applications are now being accepted. Apply here. Application deadline is May 17, 2019.


Each Day

Coffee and Continental Breakfast: 8:45 to 9:15 am

Coffee Break: 10:45 to 11 am

Catered Lunch: 12:30 to 1:30 pm

Wednesday, August 7

9:15 to 9:30 am: Newberry Introduction and Paperwork

  • Karen Christianson, Newberry Director of Public Engagement

9:30 am to 3:30 pm: The Theoretical Foundations of Rights: Hobbes and Locke

Thursday, August 8

9:15 am to 3 pm: The Establishment and Delineation of Rights in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and The Federalist Papers

  • Nathan Tarcov, Karl J. Weintraub Professor, Political Science and Social Thought, University of Chicago

3 to 4 pm: Collection Presentation of Newberry Rare Books and Manuscripts

4 to 7 pm: Reception and Dinner at the Newberry

Friday, August 9

9:15 am to 3 pm: The First Amendment: Freedom of Speech

  • Ada Palmer, Associate Professor, Early Modern European History, University of Chicago

Cosponsored with the Jack Miller Center, in partnership with the Roosevelt University Montesquieu Forum, with generous support from the Harvey L. Miller Founding Civics Initiative.

Cost and Registration Information 

This program is free to attend for Chicago-area high school teachers, from any school district. Registration will open May 8, 2019.  Register here.