When Is It OK to Break the Law?

This unit dives into the study of the principles that influenced and motivated the creation of a constitutional, federal republic. As a backdrop to the study, students analyze Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail and use it to direct them in the evolution of these principles over the course of history. In the end the students will understand the principles that influenced the creation of our federal republic, be able to explain what makes our government different from other governments, demonstrate an understanding of the ideas that shaped the formation of the American republic and identify their source and how the application of these principles have expanded to various segments of society. The students will read and analyze documents and principles which influenced the writing of the US Constitution with emphasis on the reasons and subsequent development for each specific document or principle. Students should also consider how the driving question relates to the formation of these documents and principles.

Driving Question

  • When is it OK to Break the Law?


Breaking the law
  1. Play Judas Priest Song as the Students Arrive
  2. Load the lyrics so students can see them (here)
  3. Question for students to answer “What is the song telling us?”


  1. Have students read Letters from Birmingham Jail
  2. In small groups (2 or 3 students) produce a bulleted list of reasons and process for braking a law
  3. Create a consolidated list of the bullets produced by the smaller groups


The Great debaters – final debate


Dr. King’s Geographic Analysis Map

Related Resources