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Court for kids: it's your turn to be the judge

You decide whose arguments are best in these five real-life court cases.

By Bridget Heos / March 25, 2008



Every day, judges make decisions. To do this, they listen carefully to both sides. They think about what the law says, what other judges have said, and what is unique about this case.

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Now it's your turn to be the judge.

Form an opinion about these five real-life court cases. At the end of the story, read what the judges decided.

Quiet time

1. Can schools require students to take a moment of silence?

Many years ago, some public schools required students to pray. However, this was found to go against the First Amendment right to freedom of religion. The government (which includes public schools) cannot tell you to be a certain religion – or any religion at all.

Since then, some states have adopted laws requiring schools to have a moment of silence each morning.

In 2000, the state of Virginia adopted such a law.

The time was to be used for prayer, meditation, or reflection. Students needed to be seated and quiet. Teachers and students couldn't pray aloud. The teacher couldn't tell students to pray or not to pray.

A group of parents sued the governor, schools, and officials, saying the law went against freedom of religion.

The case went to a US Court of Appeals, where two judges ruled one way and one disagreed.

Here is an argument in favor of allowing the moment of silence:

In the past, the US Supreme Court said that it was OK to have a moment of silence as long as prayer was not the only reason for it. In this case, there were other purposes, such as quieting students before starting the school day.

Here is an opposing argument:

The bill's purpose was to have prayer in the school. Other reasons for the quiet time, such as giving children time to think, were a sham.

What is your decision?

Bread and beans

2. Is a burrito a sandwich?

In the White City Shopping Center of Shrewsbury, Mass., only one sandwich shop was allowed: Panera Bread Co. That was in the restaurant's agreement with the mall.

When Qdoba Mexican Grill wanted to move in, Panera said that the Mexican restaurant shouldn't because it sold sandwiches.

Not peanut butter and jelly. Not turkey and Swiss. But burritos, tacos, and quesadillas.

Panera, the plaintiff, argued: Tortillas are really a kind of bread. Beans and meat are fillings, which sandwiches also have. So a burrito is a sandwich. (A plaintiff is the person, group, or organization who brings an accusation before a court.)

The lawyer for Qdoba, the defendant, called as a witness chef Chris Schlesinger, from Cambridge, Mass., who said that calling a burrito a sandwich was absurd. He didn't know any chefs who would do that. (A defendant is the person, group, or organization who is being accused in court.)

What is your ruling on this?

Doggy in the middle

3. If a family left their dog behind during hurricane Katrina and somebody else adopted the pet, who should the owner be?

Steven and Dorreen Couture had two dogs – Master Tank, a St. Bernard, and Nila, a shepherd mix. They lived in St. Bernard Parish, La., with their granddaughter, Cassidy, and grandson, Steven.

In August 2005, hurricane Katrina destroyed their house and flooded their neighborhood. They fled, leaving their dogs behind but intending to come back for them.

 

HOW THE COURTS RULED

1. The majority said that the moment of silence should be allowed.

2. The judge, consulting a dictionary, said that sandwiches, which typically are made with two pieces of bread and various fillings, do not include burritos, which are made with a single tortilla and have fillings such as beans, rice, and meat.

3. The judge ruled that dogs are personal property. But before the case went to trial, Ms. Bondi and Ms. Rineker agreed to give the pets back to the Coutures.

4. The justices agreed that police didn't need a warrant to search the area under the bridge. However, they ruled 4 to 3 that police should not have opened the duffel bag or cardboard box, which were "the defendant's last shred of privacy from the prying eyes of outsiders, including the police."

5. The majority ruled that the students' freedom of speech was not violated.

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