The Impact of Jehovah’s Witnesses on Civil Rights

From Knocking collection, lesson plan 1 of 4

(90-120 minutes + assignments)

Grade Level: 9-12, College

Subject areas: Social Studies, Language Arts, Debate, Sociology, Ethics, Psychology, Religious Studies, Current Events

Purpose of the lesson: When we think of the civil rights movement in America, we think of Dr. Martin Luther King, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and sit-ins seeking rights for African Americans that are guaranteed to all citizens by the U.S. Constitution. In educational settings, teaching about civil rights has often been framed around issues of race. The film Knocking provides an opportunity to learn about a group that has often been overlooked for its role in the expansion of liberties for all Americans. By following their convictions, Jehovah’s Witnesses have used the legal system to uphold the promises of the Constitution and expand First Amendment freedoms for all of us. This lesson examines the role of Jehovah’s Witnesses in influencing civil rights and encourages students to learn about current issues and to develop ways to become actively involved in the civil rights issues of today.


Students will:

  • Learn about the role of Jehovah’s Witnesses in influencing civil rights
  • Examine the civil rights movement as a constitutional issue
  • Utilize critical viewing and note-taking skills
  • Utilize brainstorming skills to access prior knowledge and as part of class discussion and project activities
  • Participate in class discussion, research and presentations related to current civil rights issues
  • Create and share projects designed to increase awareness about the civil rights issues of today


Discussion, viewing and interpreting media, mind mapping and group brainstorming, pair-and-share activities, researching, planning a take-action activity, and oral presentation


  • Knocking Film Module 1 “Understanding the Religion and Politics of Jehovah’s Witnesses” (can be streamed or ordered on DVD)
  • Board/overhead
  • Student and teacher handouts (provided with guide)
  • Access to Internet and library resources
  • Assorted art supplies and/or desktop publishing software

National teaching standards addressed:

Grades 9-12

National standards from the following organizations were used in developing this lesson plan. See recommended national standards available in the educator guide for full descriptions of standards employed.

  • National Council for the Social Studies
  • National Council of Teachers of English/International Reading Association

Writer: Lisa Prososki

Lisa Prososki is an independent educational consultant who taught middle school and high school English, social studies, reading, and technology courses for 12 years. Prososki has worked extensively with PBS, authoring and editing many lesson plans for various PBS programs and TeacherSource.

Part One: Exploring the History of Civil Rights in America

  1. On the board/overhead, write the words “Civil Rights in America.” As a class, have students brainstorm ideas related to this topic and record this list on the board/overhead.

  2. Facilitate a short discussion using questions such as:

    • What are civil rights?
    • Give some examples of ways that citizens’ civil rights have been violated in the past.
    • Name the people or groups that come to mind when you think of civil rights in America.
    • What are some of the historically significant events or court cases you associate with civil rights?
    • Give some examples of the ways your civil rights are protected in the school setting.
    • In what ways are you allowed to exercise your civil rights in school?
  3. Introduce Knocking Film Module 1 “Understanding the Religion and Politics of Jehovah’s Witnesses” to students by explaining that you want them to understand that many of the civil rights we now take for granted were won at great cost by many individuals and organizations through-out our history. Explain that in this film we will learn about one group who played a pivotal role in the expansion of liberties.

    NOTE: A large amount of background information can be found in the Knocking Study Guide. Additional information can also be found in the Lecture Series “Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Courts” available on the Knocking DVD.

  4. Distribute Student Handout A: Viewing Guide and read over the directions with students. Direct students to complete the guide as they view Knocking Film Module 1.

  5. Facilitate a short discussion of the Viewing Guide, encouraging students to reference specific information from Film Module 1. Use Teacher Handout A: Supplemental Materials for Activity One to provide additional talking points for the discussion.

    NOTE: The Knocking film quotes are referenced in this step and could be distributed to students for use during discussion.

  6. Take the classroom discussion to a broader level by directing students to take a moment and think about the following question:

    • What if all of the Americans who have fought for civil liberties over the past 70 years had chosen to remain a part of the status quo and had NOT take action as a way of gaining their rights; how would your life be different as a result of their inaction?
  7. Using a graphic organizer such as a mind map (sample below), record student responses to the question above.

    NOTE: You provide content in center box. Have students brainstorm the content for boxes connected with arrow and provide specific examples on diagonal lines extending from each box.

    Part 2: Today’s Civil Rights Issues

  8. Distribute a copy of Student Handout B: Take Action: Today’s Civil Rights Issues to each student. Direct students to pair up, and assign each pair one of the topics from the issues list. Provide 2-3 minutes for each pair to list all of the issues they can think of for their assigned topic. Call on a representative from each group to share the ideas they recorded for their assigned topic. Encourage students to write these ideas in the corresponding section of the handout.

  9. Discuss how people today can become involved in civil rights issues using traditional means, as well as advances in communications and technology.

  10. Read and discuss the Project Description from the Student Handout B: Take Action: Today’s Civil Rights Issues. Provide students with classroom time to research their topics. Encourage students to be creative in their plan for raising awareness about the issue they have researched.

  11. Provide students with an appropriate opportunity to share their Take Action projects with schoolmates and the community.

    Extension Option

  12. Using Student Handout B: Take Action: Today’s Civil Rights Issues, help students to select an organization(s) to research that was instrumental in extending civil rights. Help students pick a one or two-decade time frame to study. In their research, have students identify strategies and tactics used by the group(s) in their advocacy effort. Students should produce a timeline of advances and setbacks. As students present their research to the group, encourage the class to compare and contrast the advocacy strategies for different issues and time periods

There is no extension activity with this lesson plan.

  • Film module:
    Knocking: Understanding the Religion and Politics of Jehovah’s Witnesses
Download lesson materials