When the Bill of Rights was ratified on the 15th of December, 1791, the First Amendment was also comprised in the Bill along with the other nine amendments.
Since then, there has been no restriction on who is eligible to benefit from the right and who is not. It is available to be exercised by every individual in the United States of America regardless of race, gender, color, and religion.
This Amendment has been imperative in formulating the Constitution; however, little is known regarding its history and the kinds of speech it protects. During this article, you will be well acquainted with this Constitutional right.
What is the First Amendment?
This Amendment is imperative for ensuring that the United States of America operates under a Democratic form of governance. Even before the forefathers agreed to the Constitution, they demanded that certain freedoms of people are to be protected at all costs.
The aforementioned may sprout a question in your mind: what kind of speech does the First Amendment protect?
To put it in layman terms, it preserves the right to
- “Freedom in one’s speech”
- “Freedom of the Press”
- “Freedom of Assembly”
- “Freedom of Religion” and
- “Freedom to send a petition to the Court”
These are fundamental rights necessary for a Democratic institution to work. Without these principles in existence, the United States will cease to be labeled as a country that stands for, upholds, and preserves human rights by implementing the First Amendment.
Why is the First Amendment important?
America has already had a rocky history; it is a mixture of people from diverse races, nationalities, creeds, and religions, and therefore the First Amendment protects everyone under its umbrella.
The right to freedom of speech allows individuals to communicate their ideas and thoughts without worrying about any form of “government intervention” whatsoever. The Supreme Court often had a difficult time dissecting what “obscene or problematic speech” was. The introduction of this Amendment made it vividly clear that any speech designed to incite or harm others was deemed to be “obscene or problematic.” However, this, of course, does vary on a case-by-case basis.
Secondly, journalism is of significance to any country – it aids in freely expressing one’s views through publication. For this reason, the First Amendment protects this crucial right. However, any defamatory comments made do not fall under its scope.
Moving forth, the right to peaceful assembly is also imperative – the First Amendment calls for anyone and everyone to assemble peacefully and protest the government again. If this Amendment were not in existence, then no citizen would have ever been able to openly raise their voices and point out the deficiencies in the imposition of law. Therefore, in this regard, the First Amendment is vital. However, it is to be borne in mind that if any protests or gatherings occur with the intent to harm or damage any person, action can be taken.
Similarly, freedom to practice one’s religion is another right covered under the First Amendment tree. This is particularly necessary to ensure that the State remains impartial and does not favor one religious sect over the other. It applies widely to every citizen regardless of their religious beliefs.
The right to petition calls for people to exercise their rights as citizens – they have the right to voice their complaints to the government by filing petitions or lawsuits. The people elect the government with the firm belief that the ones selected will stand up for them and defend them. If this is not the case, then every citizen pertains the right to voice it out as so.
Now that we have an idea regarding what the First Amendment entails and how essential it is, another question that may arise is:
Who wrote the First Amendment?
Before the drafting of the First Amendment, the forefathers believed in a “social-contracting” system. This system called for imagining a country with no moral, social, or political obligations, and therefore no government. From this, proper governance needed to help form an agreement with the country’s people.
From this concept, James Madison was seen as the upholder of religious freedom, freedom of speech, and the press. He was the one who drafted this Amendment; Madison did not want the government infringing upon the rights of people to practice their fundamental liberties, which is why he knew that the First Amendment was a much-needed step towards reformation. It was a tool to break free from the chains that existed in America before, where racial intolerance, slavery, suppression of speech, and religion were able to scot-free.
“The Soul of the First Amendment”:
“The exceptionalism of the United States in the protections it offers to freedom of expression does not mean that other democratic nations do not respect, honor, and generally seek to protect it; it does mean that American law does so more often, more intensely, and more controversially than is true elsewhere.”
This is a quote taken from the book, “The Soul of the First Amendment” that has been written by American Attorney Floyd Abrams, who is not only well-versed in “Constitutional law” but has also represented 13 cases in the Supreme Court of the U.S.
In this book, he has showcased that albeit the First Amendment has existed, it has not been appropriately done – if there is no public support for these rights, then the First Amendment as a whole is rendered ineffective. He also stated that the sole guaranteeing of rights and laws is not enough if there is no support for these rights to be exercised in the first place. Though Abrams acknowledges that certain authoritarian countries do not respect basic liberties and that the United States does, he has nevertheless pointed out the deficiencies inadequately applying the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment. He terms the First Amendment to be “integral” and “a facet of American nationality” that is to be protected at all costs and exercised correctly.