In 2004, the Congress decided that "Constitution Day" should be observed in schools each year on September 17 with educational programs about the history and signing of the Constitution. To help celebrate Constitution Day, eight newspapers and the New Hampshire Supreme Court have sponsored an annual "Constitution Day Essay Contest" for grades 5-12 on a topic related to our constitutional rights as citizens.

Teachers and students take note! Here's a fun way to discuss and debate some difficult questions and learn a few things about the remarkable document that has governed our nation for 225 years.

Winning essays will be published in the participating newspapers and winners will be invited, along with parents and teachers, to a special reception at the state Supreme Court and to the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications First Amendment Awards.

The 9-11 terrorist attacks, and recently the shootings at the Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school and the bombing at the Boston Marathon, have renewed debate about whether we should be willing to restrict some of our freedoms to improve security and prevent more acts of violence and terrorism.

What are the arguments for and against restricting Constitutional rights to protect our security? In your opinion, should we have to give up some liberty, particularly personal privacy, in order to make our schools, airports and streets safer? Or are these restrictions intolerable in our free society?

For example:

• Should the school principal be allowed to view the contents of your cell phone, without any advance warning, if there has been a threat to your school? How about random searches of backpacks and lockers?

• Are you willing to walk through a full body scanner, such as the ones used in airports, before you are allowed to enter your school?

• Would it be acceptable to you if, for security reasons, the police searched everyone who attends a movie, a ball game or a concert?

• Should you be required to be photographed and fingerprinted for an ID Badge that you would be required to show at a school, on demand?


Should we be willing to give up some liberty for increased safety? It is a debate that has gone on since before the Revolutionary days. A famous quote from Benjamin Franklin in 1755 – inscribed inside the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty -- often is cited during these discussions:

"Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

Do you think that Franklin's words still are true in today's world? In a speech in New York City in September 2001, shortly after the 9-11 attacks, then-U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said that in response to terrorism "We're likely to experience more restrictions on our personal freedom than has ever been the case in our country." But, as the New York Times reported, Justice O'Connor also cautioned that we must move carefully because such a crisis "will cause us to reexamine some of our laws pertaining to criminal surveillance, wiretapping, immigration and so on. "

Parents worry about the world their sons and daughters are growing up in. Writer Howard Blum recently said that you are the children of "Generation Lockdown." In a Wall Street Journal column, Blum worried that the events in Boston and at Sandy Hook elementary school may mean that "the liberties that infused this country's laws and character since its creation might need to be reconsidered."

Do you agree with those who say if we want to protect ourselves, we will have to give up some liberties?

Research materials:

US Constitution

U.S. Department of Homeland Security: Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

Deep Dive Intelligence: Liberty versus security in Boston

Annenberg Classroom: National Security vs. Civil Liberty: How do you feel about the Patriot Act?

Time Magazine: Homeland Insecurity: After Boston, The Struggle Between Liberty and Security

National Park Service: Statue of Liberty Inscriptions

New York Times: O'Connor Foresees Limits on Freedom


Essay Contest Rules

1. Open to students in grades 5-12 in New Hampshire or served by participating papers in Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont.

2. Essay not to exceed 300 words. Submissions will be judged on understanding of the issue, clear writing and thinking, presentation, grammar and spelling.

3. Guidance from teachers and parents is encouraged, but the contest is designed as a student exercise, and, as such, essays are expected to be the student's original work.

4. Essay entry form must include the following information: Student's name, school, grade, home address, email address and phone number. Teacher's name, email address and phone number.

5. Submit essay to one of the participating newspapers. The student must live in that newspaper's circulation area.

6. Students may submit one essay only. Duplicate entries will be disallowed.

7. Essays must be emailed or postmarked by Oct. 7, 2013.

8. Each newspaper will select one local winner from grades 5-8 and one local winner from grades 9-12.

9. From these local winners, the state Supreme Court will select one statewide winner in each category.

10. Participating newspapers will publish their local winners' essays.

11. All local winners, along with their families and teachers, will be invited to a reception at the state Supreme Court. Statewide winners will be invited to the annual First Amendment Awards presented by the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications.

Friday, August 10, 2018
Thursday, August 17, 2017