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Students Surprised that 1st Amendment Protects Eminem, 'Grand Theft Auto'

The traveling "Freedom Express" made a stop at Aux Sable Middle School to show how free speech rights affect all aspects of life.

When Jamie Loo asked a group of seventh-graders at what rights they had under the First Amendment, they were quick to name the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion.

The other three freedoms were a bit harder for the group to guess.

Loo asked them to think about when they watch the news on TV, read a newspaper or look at a blog. She asked them if they've ever seen a group of people protesting or gathering together.

She told them the First Amendment guarantees the freedom of press and the rights to assemble and to petition and explained that all five freedoms protected under the First Amendment are not just something to study in history class.

"These are things that are alive today," said Loo, an online resources producer for the McCormick Foundation Civics Program. '"These are things we debate today."

The McCormick Foundation brought its 45-foot-long trailer, the Freedom Express, to Aux Sable's parking lot this week.

A traveling museum that begun last May, the Freedom Express offers middle and high school students the chance to take a field trip in their own parking lot and learn about the First Amendment through interactive computers, touch-screen TVs and videos.

The museum presents both historical and current topics in a relevant way for today's youth allowing them to think about how they would rule in controversial cases.

The exhibits ask if violent video games, such as "Grand Theft Auto," should be banned.

It lists songs that were banned or attempted to be banned throughout history for their references to drugs, sex or racism. Recent music, such as Eminem’s “Real Slim Shady,” thought to have indecent lyrics, and Lenny Kravitz’s “Fly Away,” because of sensitivity to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, as well as older music, such as “Puff the Magic Dragon” for drug suggestions and “Wake up, Little Susie” for suggestive lyrics, were all considered controversial.

The group learned that Nazi Germany once banned the novel “Bambi” and Malaysia banned the movie “Schindler’s List,” but when a New Mexico church wanted "Harry Potter" outlawed, the books were not censored.

Exhibits present both sides of current arguments on gay marriage, abortion rights, gun rights and smokers' rights.

"What we want students to come away with is an idea of their rights," Loo said. "The idea is that they feel empowered and are ready to go out and exercise these rights."

Melissa Hahn, a seventh-grade social studies teacher, said she learned about the Freedom Express while researching free activities online.

The seventh-graders are studying the Constitution and will soon begin studying the Bill of Rights.

"We were born into these rights; we didn't have to fight for them," Hahn said. "It is easy to forget that people had to sacrifice for these rights."

Many students said they didn't know much about the First Amendment before being exposed to the Freedom Express.

Rachel Schults, 13, said she didn't know that burning the American flag was permitted as freedom of speech. 

Cecilia Quintanilla, 12, was surprised that students were once suspended from school for wearing armbands protesting the Vietnam War.

Kaylee Hemker, 13 said she didn't realize that some music could be banned for having inappropriate lyrics.

"The museum tells you the facts; it makes sense," said 13-year-old Zachary Kidd. "I see why they made the First Amendment. Without it, we'd be more like other countries with strict guidelines: You are told what to think. You are told what to do."

Karen Gomez, 13, and Eduardo Avila, 12, were both interested in looking at a copy of the Constitution.

"I like to know what other people did to change the world," Eduardo said. "Other countries are in battle because they can't express their feelings like we can."

“I thought (the Freedom Express) grabbed your attention,” Karen said. “It’s pretty amazing.”

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