Adapted by Peg Hill, from a lesson by
Charles Haynes, Senior Scholar
First Amendment Center
Religion in American History: What to Teach and How

History-Social Science Content Standards:

List the reasons for the wave of immigration from Northern Europe to the United States and describe the growth in the number, size, and spatial arrangements of cities (e.g., Irish immigrants and the Great Irish Famine)
Trace the development of the American education system from its earliest roots, including the roles of religious and private schools and Horace Mann's campaign for free public education and its assimilating role in American culture.
Identify the new sources of large-scale immigration and the contributions of immigrants to the building of cities and the economy; explain the ways in which new social and economic patterns encouraged assimilation of newcomers into the mainstream amidst growing cultural diversity; and discuss the new wave of nativism.
Cite incidences of religious intolerance in the United States (e.g., persecution of Mormons, anti-Catholic sentiment, anti-Semitism).

2-3 class periods

Printout of Historical Background
Document Handout – Anti-Catholic Petition

Political cartoons:
The American River Ganges
Attack on the Outer Ramparts
Cartoon Analysis Sheet


Step 1 - Opening

Put the following quotations on the overhead.
Since the colonial era, the United States has been a sanctuary for the world's victims of oppression and poverty, and provides hope and opportunity to start a new life.

Though it thinks of itself as a sanctuary, anti-immigrant sentiment—known as nativism—has pervaded most of the nation's history.

While teacher takes roll, each student writes a paragraph supporting one of the two perspectives giving at least three reasons.

After 3-5 minutes, the students turn to a partner and read and discuss their paragraphs.

Students share out and the teacher records key ideas on the board.

Step 2 - Reciprocal Reading of the Historical Background

Put students in groups of four and have them number the paragraphs in the Historical Background.

Distribute one note card to each member of the group identifying each person's unique role.
1. summarizer
2. questioner
3. clarifier
4. predictor

Have one of the group read 2-3 paragraphs of the Historical Background. Encourage them to use note-taking strategies such as selective underlining or sticky-notes to help them better prepare for their role in the discussion.

After the 3rd paragraph, the Summarizer will highlight the key ideas up to this point in the reading.

The Questioner will then pose questions about the selection:
> unclear parts
> puzzling information
> connections to other concepts already learned
> motivations of the nativists

The Clarifier will address confusing parts and attempt to answer the questions that were just posed.

The Predictor can offer guesses about what occurred next historically.

The roles in the group then switch one person to the right, and the next 3 paragraphs is read. Students repeat the process using their new roles. This continues until the entire selection is read.

Step 3 - Comparing Background to Initial Paragraphs

In what ways did initial paragraphs agree with the Background?
What surprised you?

Step 4 – First Amendment Discussion One

Post a copy of the First Amendment on the wall or overhead. Discuss its meaning briefly.

Step 5 - Anti-Catholic Petition Reading and Notetaking

Read the document aloud as a class. Stop to discuss and clarify. Students take notes paragraph-by-paragraph.

After the read, students work in partner groups with their notes and a copy of the document to classify the arguments made by the petitioners into general points.

Step 6 First Amendment Discussion Two

Looking over the notes and the document, discuss the following:

  • In what ways do the petitioners support First Amendment rights for Catholics?
  • In what ways do the petitioners want to deny First Amendment rights for Catholics?

Step 7 - Response

Students take the role of a Senator or Congressman from New York in the 1830s. They write a one-page response to the Memorialists using their notes about the petitioners key points. Students remind the petitioners of their role as a government leader to protect and defend the Constitution and how their position on the issue does that.

Step 8 – Political Cartoon Analysis

Divide the class into groups. Distribute the two political cartoons to each group and have them complete the Cartoon Analysis Worksheet. Remind students of the role of the political cartoonist to reflect and report on issues and events through drawings.

Step 9 – Political Cartoon Discussion

Notice the dates.

  • What do the cartoons show about the issue of Anti-Catholic feelings in America?
  • What institution is the target of Anti-Catholic efforts?
  • Using the textbooks and the Historical Background sheet as needed, what events or issues were occurring at the time that would have fed anti-immigrant ideas?

What do these immigration responses tell us about the nature of people in a time of change?
What do these responses tell us about the importance of the Constitution?
Are there any similarities to issues today?

SCORE 2006