First Amendment Facts
It protects the freedom of speech, religion, and the press. It also gives citizens the right to peaceful protest and to petition the government.
Many U.S. states would not approve the Constitution until these basic rights were included.
What does the First Amendment say?
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Freedom of Speech
Freedom of speech gives U.S. citizens the right to express themselves freely. People can share their opinions without worrying about the government interfering.
Over the years, the U.S. Supreme Court has had a hard time deciding what speech is protected and what speech isn’t protected.
For example, obscene material is typically not protected. Speech that will provoke harm to others is also not protected.
But it’s difficult to decide what counts as “obscene” and what words may truly lead to dangerous actions.
Freedom of the Press
Freedom of the press gives people the right to express themselves in publications like newspapers, magazines, online, on television broadcasts, etc.
The Founding Fathers believed that a free press could protect against tyranny and dictatorships. They also thought it could advance human understanding of the arts, sciences, and humanities.
There are limits to the freedom of the press. For instance, libel is not allowed. Libel means false statements that may damage someone’s reputation.
Freedom of Religion
Freedom of religion means that the government can’t endorse one religion as the national religion. All citizens of the United States can practice any religion they choose, or they can choose not to practice religion at all.
This amendment also establishes the separation of church and state.
This freedom was extremely important to the Founding Fathers because many of the people who first came to America did so in order to have religious freedom.
Right to Assemble and Petition
American citizens have the right to protest the government. They can peacefully assemble or gather in groups to discuss political, social, and economic issues. They may also gather for religious purposes.
In addition, people have the right to sign petitions or even to sue the government.
One of the first major First Amendment court cases was Schenk v. United States in 1919. Charles Schenck was an activist who was convicted for passing out flyers that encouraged young men to dodge the draft during World War I.
He argued that his freedom of speech was protected. However, the Supreme Court ruled against Schenck.
They said that in this case, his free speech presented a “clear and present danger.” Encouraging soldiers to dodge the draft was a threat to national security.
Another famous case is Texas v. Johnson, which took place in 1990. A man named Gregory Lee Johnson protested President Ronald Reagan by burning an American flag in Dallas, Texas.
A Texas court ruled that Johnson had broken the law by destroying the flag. In a controversial decision, the Supreme Court overturned the ruling. They said that Johnson was protected by his First Amendment rights.
At the time, Texas and 47 other states had laws saying that flag burning was illegal. The Supreme Court ruling invalidated these laws.
Other Interesting Facts About the First Amendment
People who supported the Constitution were called Federalists. People who did not support it were called Antifederalists.
The Antifederalists felt that the Constitution didn’t give enough rights to the states or to individuals. To compromise, the Bill of Rights and the First Amendment were written.
The First Amendment was written by James Madison (along with the rest of the Bill of Rights).
The First Amendment does not protect people from getting fired from a job for saying something offensive or inappropriate. It does not protect plagiarism or encouraging someone to commit a crime.
There is often confusion over whether students have First Amendment rights at school. The Supreme Court has said students “do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and expression at the schoolhouse gates.”
So yes, you do have your First Amendment rights at school!
However, the courts allow school officials to regulate student expression that disrupts the school environment or invades the rights of other students.
Many state constitutions also protect freedom of speech. Some states have adopted laws that provide even greater protection for freedom of speech.