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

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

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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.

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.

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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.

A family member brought the dogs to a temporary animal shelter, Camp Lucky. Later, the Humane Society picked up the dogs and, in October, allowed Pam Bondi to adopt Master Tank and Rhonda Rineker to adopt Nila.

Both women thought they were adopting the pets permanently.

When the Coutures traced their dogs to the homes of Ms. Bondi and Ms. Rineker in January 2006, the women refused to give the dogs to the Louisiana family. The Coutures sued the women.

The Coutures's lawyer argued that the dogs were the family's property and needed to be given back.

The attorney of one of the defendants said that a dog was not property, but a "living and breathing creature, capable of feeling pain, pleasure, and emotion." Therefore, the dogs should be given to whoever would be the best owners.

What do you think: Should the dogs be considered property or not?

House and home

4. Does a homeless person have the right to privacy inside a cardboard box under a bridge?

Under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, Americans have a right to privacy. Before police search a home and take evidence, they need to get permission from a judge.

David Mooney was a homeless man who lived under a highway bridge. After talking to a witness, police arrested Mr. Mooney for killing a man in order to steal from him.

After Mr. Mooney's arrest, police went to the place under the bridge where Mr. Mooney lived. They did not get a search warrant because they believed it was not a home but a public space.

There, the police saw Mooney's belongings, including a closed cardboard box and a zipped duffel bag.

They opened the bag and box and found $700 worth of coins (possibly stolen from the victim) and other evidence.

The evidence was used in a trial, and Mr. Mooney was found guilty.

He appealed to the Connecticut Supreme Court, saying that the area under the bridge was his home and the police needed a warrant to search it and his belongings.

Did Mr. Mooney have the same right to privacy under the bridge as people have in their houses? Also, did he have a right to privacy in his closed bag and box?

Student reporters

5. How much freedom of speech should a student have at school?

Like all Americans, students have freedom of speech. But there are limits. Teachers can stop kids when they say things that disrupt class or cause disorder. For instance, a teacher can quiet a student who interrupts a math lesson to deliver a political speech.

Journalism students at Hazelwood East High School in St. Louis County, Mo., put out a newspaper. The principal had to approve the paper before it was printed.

For the May 13, 1983, issue, he objected to articles about teenage pregnancy and children whose parents were divorced.

Thinking it was too late for the students to change the stories, the principal told the supervising teacher to cut the two pages with the controversial articles. He did.

Three students on the newspaper staff sued the school district, the principal, and the teacher for violating their First Amendment right to freedom of speech. The case went all the way to the US Supreme Court, where the justices were divided in their opinions.

Here are two arguments judges gave in favor of the students:

The articles would not have disrupted order in the school or invaded the legal rights of others. They should have been allowed.

If students can't say things that the school disagrees with, then they could also be stopped from offering opinions during class discussions. This limits their freedom of speech too much.

And two arguments for the school:

The newspaper allowed free speech, but students had to be responsible reporters. These articles were irresponsible. For instance, in the divorce story, a girl said bad things about her father, and he was not given a chance to respond.

When students write things in the school paper, which the school funds, people might think that the school agrees with what is written.

Which arguments do you agree with?

 

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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