Activities

2017 

 

Banned Book Essay Contest – going on until April 14,

See Events for more details.

 

We the People State Competition

On February 6, 2017, the Kansas State We the People competition gave high school students around Kansas an opportunity to showcase what they’ve learned about the U.S. Constitution and civics by participating in mock congressional hearings.  A team from Blue Valley Northwest High School won the competition and will be competing at the national competition in Washington D.C. in April.  JCFAF representative Sara Christensen attended the competition and presented the winning team with a $5,000 to help the team represent Kansas at the national competition.  The team from Emporia High School, which won second place at the state competition, will also be attending the national competition as a wild card team with some support from JCFAF. 

JCFAF congratulates all teams who participated in this year’s state competition and wishes Blue Valley Northwest and Emporia the best of luck in D.C.!

JCFAF representative Sara Christensen presenting a prize to first place team from Blue Valley Northwest High School.  Photo courtesy of Dr. Thomas Vontz.

Second place team from Emporia High School.  Photo courtesy of Dr. Thomas Vontz.

First Place team being honored by Rep. Patty Markley at the Kansas State Legislature.  Photo courtesy of Ken Thomas.

2015 

 

Blue Valley High Schools Shine in National Survey; JCFAF Board Member Ken Thomas is One Reason Why, Say Local Media

 Only four Kansas City-area high schools made Newsweek’s list of the top 500 high schools nationwide in 2015.  When the dust settled, Blue Valley North, Park Hill South, Blue Valley West, and Blue Valley Northwest were hailed by the national news magazine for excellence in preparing students to take the next step up the educational ladder, to college and beyond. 

“Our students walk away with a lot of similarities to [the education of] a second year law student,” Blue Valley Northwest government teacher and JCFAF advisory committee member Ken Thomas told KSHB-TV Channel 41 in Kansas City.  The Channel 41 report attributed that success in no small part to the We the People program established and led by Mr. Thomas.  “We have gone to nationals” in the We the People competition, and “we have won the state title on seven occasions,” Mr. Thomas noted.

The Channel 41 news report also attributed the success of the Blue Valley School District—with three of the four Kansas City-area high schools on the Newsweek list of “blue chip” high schools—to Blue Valley’s Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS) (which provides students with real-world experience in a wide range of disciplines such as medicine and business) and to the teaching philosophy of Ken Thomas and his colleagues.  “We don’t put limits on kids,” Mr. Thomas said.  “We try to open the kids’ eyes to the possibilities.”

The KSHB-TV report can be viewed in its entirety at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TkkJlqRmsX4.  A companion article and photographs can be found on KSHB-TV’s website, at http://www.kshb.com/news/local-news/blue-valley-shatters-national-act-average-3-schools-ranked-among-top-nationwide.

 

 

First Amendment Foundation Lauded for its “Generous Gift” to Kansas Civics Education


For nearly 30 years, the “We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution” Program sponsored by the Center for Civic Education has promoted civic understanding and engagement by high school and middle school students by staging state and national civics competitions for students.  For many years, Kansas students have participated in the state competition, which selects one team to represent Kansas at the national competition.  But this year’s Kansas state competition also offered an additional inducement to cash-strapped Kansas schools participating in the contest, thanks to the Johnson County First Amendment Foundation and Shook, Hardy & Bacon.  On February 2, 2015, the Johnson County First Amendment Foundation presented students and teachers on the winning “We the People” team with a grant of $5,000 to help underwrite the team’s trip to Washington, D.C. this Spring to represent the State of Kansas at the national competition.

 
First Amendment Foundation co-founder Gene Balloun and Foundation Chair Scott DuPree were on hand at the Kansas State Historical Society Museum in Topeka, Kansas, to present the check to the winning team from Blue Valley Northwest High School, and to offer brief remarks about the history of the Foundation and the importance of civics education.  Drawing on the Foundation’s successful October 2014 high school forum on the Constitution and the Supreme Court, featuring renowned constitutional scholar Laurence H. Tribe of Harvard Law School, Gene and Scott also presented each of the students, teachers and judges participating in the Kansas state competition with complimentary copies of Professor Tribe’s recently published and critically acclaimed book, Uncertain Justice: The Roberts Court and the Constitution.  (The Foundation had previously provided complimentary copies of Professor Tribe’s book to the 700 to 800 participants in its October 2014 forum, as well as to nearly 90 schools throughout Kansas, as well as in Western Missouri and even Texas.)
 
Kansas State Rep. Sue Boldra, a Kansas We the People State Coordinator, wrote “An Open Letter of Appreciation” that stated, in part:  “On behalf of the We the People students and teachers, we write to thank the Johnson County First Amendment Foundation for your generous contributions to our program. . . .  Of course, our program continues in Kansas and throughout the United States because of generous financial donations such as yours.  To be clear, we could not exist otherwise. . . .  Your generosity to the students of Kansas is an amazing investment in the future of our state and nation.” 
Rep. Boldra expressed “sincere gratitude” on behalf of “all Teachers and Students across the state involved in the We the People curriculum and the recipients of your generosity who are here today.”  She also noted that “we imagine [Professor Tribe] would approve – as we do – of his book being widely distributed to all of the We the People students” as a result of the First Amendment Foundation’s donation.
 
Don Gifford of the Kansas State Department of Education concurred, writing to Gene, Scott and Foundation board members Lori Weiss and Ken Thomas:  “Thank you for your more than generous contribution to the Kansas We the People program. . . .  [T]his program is all about preparing students to be informed, thoughtful and engaged citizens. . . [and] your generous gift will help create the learning of a lifetime. . . .  This investment in civic education helps everyone in this state and nation.” 
 
The Johnson County First Amendment Foundation was established some 15 years ago by Gene Balloun and then-SHB partner (now Magistrate Judge) David Waxse with substantial help and support from Shook, Hardy & Bacon, using attorneys’ fees (supplemented with additional SHB funds) awarded in connection with, a successful First Amendment challenge mounted by Gene and Judge Waxse to a decision by the Olathe School District to remove a book, Annie on My Mind, from high school libraries based on its content.

Photos courtesy of Holly Van Cleve

 

We the People State Competition, Hartford High School, Hartford Kansas

Photo curtosy of Melanie Beyer

 

2014

JCFAF Speaker Series

Peering Behind the Red Curtains:  A Critical Look at the Supreme Court and the Constitution with Professor Laurence H. Tribe, Yardley Hall, Johnson County Community College, October 7, 2014.

The day after the beginning of the 2014-2015 Supreme Court Term, the Johnson County First Amendment Foundation sponsored a program on the Constitution and the Supreme Court for more than 800 Kansas and Missouri high school students. Students from 10 counties in Kansas and Missouri came to hear nationally renowned constitutional scholar Laurence H. Tribe of Harvard Law School discuss the Court’s past and present with Teresa Wynn Roseborough, General Counsel of The Home Depot.

The day began with the JCFAF’s founders, U.S. Magistrate Judge David Waxse and Gene Balloun, setting the stage for the program and describing the history of the Foundation.  They were followed by constitutional lawyer Tristan Duncan, who introduced the speakers.

Prof. Tribe then took to the dais, offering a mini-tutorial on the ways a case gets to the Supreme Court and a commemoration of this year’s 60th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka [347 U.S. 483 (1954)], which he described as the most important Supreme Court decision of the 20th Century. 

When Ms. Roseborough joined the professor on stage, she engaged him in a discussion of issues impacting the current Court, at the end of which they opened up the floor to questions from a line of students so long (and growing) that the speakers ran out of time to address a dozen enthusiastic would-be interrogators. 

Students and teachers were advised how they could access an elaborate study guide that the Foundation prepared especially for this program (which you can find under the “Speaker Series” tab on this website, or click here).  When the program ended, every member of the audience walked away with a copy of Professor Tribe’s recently published book, Uncertain Justice: The Roberts Court and the Constitution, courtesy of the Foundation.

Kansas Public Radio recorded the program for delayed broadcast throughout the State of Kansas.  You can hear an archived version of that broadcast on KPR’s website, at http://www.kansaspublicradio.org/news/kpr-presents/9572-uncertain-justice-a-look-at-the-roberts-court.

 

JCFAF in the Community

JCFAF Co-Sponsors Kansas Team in National We the People Competition.  Blue Valley Northwest High School represented the State of Kansas at the national We the People competition after winning the state title early in 2014.  The Johnson County First Amendment Foundation donated $5,000 toward sending 24 Blue Valley Northwest students to represent the State of Kansas in Washington, D.C., on April 25 to 28, 2014.   

We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution is a program sponsored by the Department of Education and the Center for Civic Education.  This extensive civics education program focuses on the three major documents in the history of the United States:  the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.  The We the People program teaches high school students not only about our government and our founding documents, but also life skills that will allow students to succeed in the future. 

“Thank you for your support and for believing in us,” one member of the Kansas team later wrote to the Foundation.  “My experience was unforgettable thanks to you,” another teammate added.  Yet another member of the Kansas team asserted:  “we could not have done it without you!” 

 

2013

JCFAF Speaker Series

A Conversation About the Constitution with Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Yardley Hall, Johnson County Community College, November 12, 2013. 

On November 12, 2013, the Foundation presented its first high school forum on the Constitution and the Supreme Court.  Inaugurating this series, retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor led a conversation with Professor Meryl Chertoff (director of The Aspen Institute’s Justice and Society Program (see http://www.aspeninstitute.org/policy-work/justice-society)) about the Constitution, American government, and Justice O’Connor’s reflections on her personal experiences as a trailblazer for women in the law.

Justice O’Connor and Prof. Chertoff spoke to an audience of more than 1,100 teachers and students from 24 high schools in Johnson, Wyandotte, Douglas and Leavenworth Counties in Kansas, as well as some 25 Kansas judges and judicial officers and more than 75 guests from the Kansas and Johnson County bar associations; deans or their representatives from Washburn, UMKC, and KU Law Schools; Nancy Garden, the author of the book (Annie on My Mind) at the heart of the First Amendment litigation that preceded the Foundation’s formation, her partner, lawyer Sandra Scott, and parents of several of the student plaintiffs in the case; and representatives of the Lawyers Association of Kansas City, the Kauffman Foundation, and many more.

The program closed with the presentation of a $5,000 donation by the Foundation and a matching $5,000 donation by the law firm of Shook, Hardy & Bacon L.L.P. to Justice O’Connor’s iCivics program.  (For more on iCivics, see “JCFAF in the Community,” below.)

One high school principal later said that the 2013 forum presented “a once in a lifetime experience for the kids.”  Justice O’Connor congratulated the Foundation on the program:  “You are doing excellent work in civic education,” she wrote, “and I commend you.”

 

JCFAF in the Community 

iCivics.  At the conclusion of the 2013 JCFAF Speakers Series program featuring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the Foundation presented a $5,000 donation to Justice O’Connor and Ms. Erin Braun (Director of Outreach for iCivics Inc.) to support the iCivics program.  iCivics is a web-based education project that Justice O’Connor established in 2009 to teach students civics and inspire them to be active participants in American democracy.  (To learn more about iCivics, and to try out its interactive games and resources on civics, visit https://www.icivics.org/.)

We the People State Final Competition, Blue Valley Northwest High School Team.  In honor of the contributions of JCFAF board member Ken Thomas to the success of the JCFAF Speaker Series and in recognition of the important educational role played by the We the People program, the Johnson County First Amendment Foundation donated $1,000 toward sending 26 Blue Valley Northwest High School students to participate in the We the People Kansas State Finals competition. 

We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution is a program sponsored by the Department of Education and the Center for Civic Education.  In the words of the Center for Civic Education, the We the People program “promotes civic competence and responsibility among the nation’s upper elementary and secondary students” and “enjoys active support from state bar associations and foundations, and other educational, professional, business, and community organizations across the nation.”  The Center adds:  “Since its inception in 1987, more than 28 million students and 75,000 educators have participated in the We the People Program.”  (To learn more about the We the People program, visit http://www.civiced.org/wtp-the-program.) 

 

2009

Johnson County First Amendment Foundation
10th Anniversary Program

On Tuesday, September 29th, to commemorate the anniversary, the Foundation hosted a program with two nationally known speakers followed by a reception at the Regnier Center on the campus of Johnson County Community College. This date was chosen to coincide with the American Library Association’s National Banned Book Week. The target audience of invited guests included local public and school librarians, journalism and English teachers and students, as well as local attorneys and judges. Approximately 140 persons attended.  Audience participation was excellent and many in attendance made positive comments about the program and speakers. 

The featured speakers were Professor Nadine Strossen and Mr. Anthony Lewis, two of the nation’s foremost scholar/authors on First Amendment, privacy and civil liberties issues. The format for the program was a conversation between Professor Strossen and Mr. Lewis, covering a range of topics that included book banning in school and public libraries, hate speech, issues of gender and sexual orientation, freedom of speech vs. personal privacy in cyberspace, and a discussion of what distinguishes protected from unprotected speech.  

  

2004-2005

Banned Books Essay Contest
(2004 – 2005 School Year for Grade Levels 10, 11 & 12)

Six student authors of winning essays received $1,000 in cash awards.

Books included:  

 

2002-2003

Banned Books Essay Contest
(2002 – 2003 School Year for Grade Levels 10, 11 & 12)

Six student authors of winning essays received $1,000 in cash awards.

Books included: