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First Amendment


Something of Interest

There have been recurring disputes in the United States concerning the posting of the ten commandments on public property. Certain conservative religious groups have taken the banning of officially sanctioned prayer from public schools by the U.S. Supreme Court as a threat to the expression of religion in public life. In response, they have successfully lobbied many state and local governments to display the ten commandments in public buildings. Displaying the commandments can reflect a sectarian position if they are numbered. Protestants and Orthodox, Roman Catholics, and Jews number the commandments differently. However, this problem can be circumvented by omitting the numbers, as was done at the Texas capitol.

Others oppose the posting of the ten commandments on public property, arguing that it violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

In contrast, groups supporting the public display of the ten commandments claim that the commandments are not necessarily religious but represent the moral and legal foundation of society, and are appropriate to be displayed as a historical source of present day legal codes. Also, some argue that prohibiting the public practice of religion is a violation of the first amendment's guarantee of freedom of religion.

The First Amendment

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.

The First Amendment (Amendment I) to the United States Constitution was adopted on December 15, 1791, as one of the ten amendments that comprise the Bill of Rights - the collective name for the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution.

The Bill of Rights was originally proposed as a measure to assuage Anti-Federalist (a movement that opposed the creation of a stronger U.S. federal government) opposition to Constitutional ratification. Initially, the First Amendment applied only to laws enacted by the Congress, and many of its provisions were interpreted more narrowly than they are today. Beginning with Gitlow v. New York (1925), the Supreme Court applied the First Amendment to states—a process known as incorporation—through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Background

James Madison, drafter of the Bill of Rights

In 1776, the second year of the American Revolutionary War, the Virginia colonial legislature passed a Declaration of Rights that included the sentence "The freedom of the press is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotic Governments." Eight of the other thirteen states made similar pledges. However, these declarations were generally considered "mere admonitions to state legislatures", rather than enforceable provisions.

After several years of comparatively weak government under the Articles of Confederation, a Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia proposed a new constitution on September 17, 1787, featuring among other changes a stronger chief executive. George Mason, a Constitutional Convention delegate and the drafter of Virginia's Declaration of Rights, proposed that the Constitution include a bill of rights listing and guaranteeing civil liberties. Other delegates—including future Bill of Rights drafter James Madison—disagreed, arguing that existing state guarantees of civil liberties were sufficient and that any attempt to enumerate individual rights risked the implication that other, unnamed rights were unprotected. After a brief debate, Mason's proposal was defeated by a unanimous vote of the state delegations.

For the constitution to be ratified, however, nine of the thirteen states were required to approve it in state conventions. Opposition to ratification ("Anti-Federalism") was partly based on the Constitution's lack of adequate guarantees for civil liberties. Supporters of the Constitution in states where popular sentiment was against ratification (including Virginia, Massachusetts, and New York) successfully proposed that their state conventions both ratify the Constitution and call for the addition of a bill of rights. The U.S. Constitution was eventually ratified by all thirteen states. In the 1st United States Congress, following the state legislatures' request, James Madison proposed twenty constitutional amendments, which were then condensed to twelve and forwarded to the states. Ten of these were ratified and became the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment (along with the rest of the Bill of Rights) was submitted to the states for ratification on September 25, 1789, and adopted on December 15, 1791.

Establishment Clause

The Establishment Clause is the first of several pronouncements in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, stating,

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. . . .

The Establishment Clause is immediately followed by the Free Exercise Clause (follows), which states, "or prohibiting the free exercise thereof". These two clauses make up what are called the "Religion Clauses" of the First Amendment.

The Establishment Clause has generally been interpreted to prohibit 1) the establishment of a national religion by Congress, or 2) the preference by the U.S. government of one religion over another. The first approach is called the "separation" or "no aid" interpretation, while the second approach is called the "non-preferential" or "accommodation" interpretation. The accommodation interpretation prohibits Congress from preferring one religion over another, but does not prohibit the government's entry into religious domain to make accommodations in order to achieve the purposes of the Free Exercise Clause.

Free Exercise Clause

The Free Exercise Clause is the accompanying clause with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause together read:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...

In 1878, the Supreme Court was first called to interpret the extent of the Free Exercise Clause in Reynolds v. United States, as related to the prosecution of polygamy under federal law. The Supreme Court upheld Reynolds' conviction for bigamy, deciding that to do otherwise would provide constitutional protection for a gamut of religious beliefs, including those as extreme as human sacrifice.

Freedom of Speech

Congress shall...no...abridging the freedom of speech...

Freedom of speech in the United States is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and by many state constitutions and state and federal laws. The freedom of speech is not absolute; the Supreme Court of the United States has recognized several categories of speech that are excluded from the freedom, and it has recognized that governments may enact reasonable time, place, or manner restrictions on speech.

Criticism of the government and advocacy of unpopular ideas that people may find distasteful or against public policy are almost always permitted. There are exceptions to these general protections, including the Miller test for obscenity, child pornography laws, speech that incites imminent lawless action, and regulation of commercial speech such as advertising. Within these limited areas, other limitations on free speech balance rights to free speech and other rights, such as rights for authors over their works (copyright), protection from imminent or potential violence against particular persons (restrictions on fighting words), or the use of untruths to harm others (slander).

Despite the exceptions, the legal protections of the First Amendment are some of the broadest of any industrialized nation, and remain a critical, and occasionally controversial, component of American jurisprudence.

Freedom of The Press

Congress shall...no...abridging the freedom of...the press...

Freedom of the press in the United States is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. This clause is generally understood as prohibiting the government from interfering with the printing and distribution of information or opinions, although freedom of the press, like freedom of speech, is subject to some restrictions, such as defamation law and copyright law.

As of 2013, the United States is ranked 32nd in the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index. This is a measure of freedom available to the press, encompassing areas such as government censorship, and not indicative of the quality of journalism.

Right to Petition and Assembly

Congress shall make...no...abridging the freedom of...the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Although often overlooked in favor of other more famous freedoms, and sometimes taken for granted, many other civil liberties are enforceable against the government only by exercising this basic right. The right to petition is fundamental in a Republic, such as the United States, as a means of protecting public participation in government.

The Petition Clause first came to prominence in the 1830s, when Congress established the gag rule barring anti-slavery petitions from being heard; the rule was overturned by Congress several years later.

Freedom of assembly, sometimes used interchangeably with the freedom of association, is the individual right to come together and collectively express, promote, pursue and defend common interests. The right to freedom of association is recognized as a human right, political right and civil liberty.

Freedom of assembly and freedom of association may be used to distinguish between the freedom to assemble in public places and the freedom of joining an association. Freedom of assembly is often used in the context of the right to protest, while freedom of association is used in the context of labor rights and the Constitution of the United States, is interpreted to mean both the freedom to assemble and the freedom to join an association.

Freedom of Association

Although the First Amendment does not explicitly mention freedom of association, the Supreme Court ruled, in National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Alabama (1958), that this freedom was protected by the Amendment and that privacy of membership was an essential part of this freedom. The U.S. Supreme Could decided in Roberts v. United States Jaycees (1984) that "implicit in the right to engage in activities protected by the First Amendment" is "a corresponding right to associate with others in pursuit of a wide variety of political, social, economic, educational, religious, and cultural ends." In Roberts the Court held that associations may not exclude people for reasons unrelated to the group's expression, such as gender.

Source and more information:
Wikipedia article First Amendment to the United States Constitution

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