I just came across a blog topic that is a perfect backdrop to the recently passed 4th of July holiday. Support of the 1st amendment- The post is about the first amendment to the US Constitution which begins the process of enumerating the freedoms the founding fathers wanted to preserve for citizens of this country. The article referenced a campaign to build awareness of the first amendment and its applications called 1forall I don’t profess to be a constitutional scholar, by any means, but I think we all have a certain familiarity with the 1st Amendment beyond what we hear on Law & Order.
Have you ever read the Amendments (outside of the forced reading that happened in the high school government class you slept through)? It’s dry, but interesting reading when you look at it in the context of legislative intent. By that I mean what exactly were the framers getting at? What were they trying to protect us from? What had happened in their lives that made these issues so important that they wrote it down as an amendment to the US Constitution? Remember that people died for the right to draft this document, you have to ask why was this so important to their lives.
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.
Obviously you need to know a little about the set up of the government before its apparent what they are talking about here. Congress, having been the 1st branch of government set up by the founders has been thought of as the most powerful of the branches of government. This was a large part of the government run by the people- Congress was to be elected from ordinary people, not born to the post like royalty.
The framers of the Constitution wanted to ensure that Congress wasn’t going to go on a bender and
- Declare a mandatory national religion;
- Prohibit United States citizens from speaking in a free society
- Abolish the freedom of the press
- Keep the citizens from peaceful assembly with one another
- Petition the government as a redress of grievances
That’s a lot to accomplish in one little paragraph. Many hours of thoughtful debate have been born of defining exactly what the first amendment does and does not protect. What most of us think of when we speak of the 1st amendment is the freedom of speech, but what does that mean exactly?
The 1st amendment guarantees that we have freedom of speech, but not all speech is free- some things are regulated. Obscene speech, commercial speech, speech designed to incite violence… all these things are regulated. Do you think our founding fathers intended there to be limitations on the enumerated freedoms? or did they mean for us to have unlimited rights within the freedoms they took the time to put quill to paper?
I’m very interested to hear what other people think about this topic, please join in on the conversation and exercise your freedom of speech!