By Tyler Bauer
This is the first of many blog posts that will be taking a deeper look at the various amendments to the United States Constitution, as well as proposed amendments to the United States Constitution which failed. The text of each amendment is taken from constitutionus.com and information on failed amendments is taken from www.lexisnexus.com.
The First Amendment
What it Says
“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.”
What it Means
The First Amendment is one of the more straightforward amendments. Congress, being the legislative branch, cannot make a law that establishes an official religion and cannot make a law that stops individuals from practicing any religion. Congress also cannot make a law which infringes on one’s right to speak freely. The right to free speech extends to the press as well, so Congress cannot make any law that prevents the press from doing its job. Congress cannot make a law that prohibits individuals from assembling peacefully, whether that be in a rally, protest, march, etc. Lastly, Congress cannot make a law that punishes individuals for trying to change or reform their government peacefully.
Why it Matters
All of the rights included in this amendment are inherent in our humanity, but the fact that they are explicitly stated within the United States Constitution is not insignificant. Whenever a right is codified, it becomes much more difficult for it to be taken away. The importance of the protection of our freedom of religion, speech, press, peaceful assembly, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances are somewhat self-explanatory. Without the protection of the first four, we would not be free. One’s religion and speech should be controlled only by the individual, not the government. Similarly, the press should not be censored or restricted from reporting the truth. Peaceful assembly is necessary to act politically, as parties, campaign rallies, etc. are all – at their roots – peaceful assemblies. Without the final protected right, we would not be able to remain free. The right to petition the government for a redress of grievances is necessary to maintain a democracy. If we were unable to attempt to change or reform the government without fear of punishment, we would have no control over the political process, and therefore we would no longer be free in our democratic republic.