The First Amendment the Foundation for True Liberty in America
“”The very reason for the First Amendment is to make the people of this country free to think, speak, write and worship as they wish, not as the Government commands.”” (Hugo Black) The First Amendment is indescribably important to the foundation of true liberty in this country. Being the first amendment in the Bill of Rights, it protects freedom of speech, religion, press, and to assemble and petition. In the summer of 1787, politicians from around our newly created country, including James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, gathered in Philadelphia to replace the Articles of Confederation with what would become the U.S. Constitution. Anti-federalist states, led by Patrick Henry, opposed the Constitution unless a bill of rights was adopted within it. Federalists, fearing defeat, proposed a concession to the anti-federalists–a Bill of Rights that would protect the citizens. Drafted by James Madison during the 1st United States Congress, the Bill of Rights was introduced in 1789 and was adopted on December 15, 1791. The Bill of Rights includes the first ten amendments and therefore the First Amendment. (History.com)
As was previously iterated, the First Amendment is the basis of our idealistics of liberty in this country. It has been the topic of many landmark court cases, being the deciding factor for many controversies involving citizens’ protests, U.S. involvement in wars, flag burnings, publication of classified documents, and many others. The First Amendment guarantees citizens freedom of speech. We have the right to express ourselves without having to worry about government interference. This aspect of the first amendment is the most basic component. Although we are free to express ourselves as we please, some expression is not permitted under the First Amendment. Surprisingly, shouting “”fire”” in a theatre is actually illegal. Making and distributing obscene materials is also illegal. (Meiklejohn) If ALL expression was completely legal it would lead to anarchy. One current example of how the first amendment has been involved in a court case is Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (2017). Jack Phillips, a devout Christian baker and owner of “”Masterpiece Cakeshop””, was sued by a same-sex couple after he refused to bake a cake for their wedding.
At the time Colorado did not recognize same-sex marriage as legal. The couple filed charges with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in a “”place of business engaged in any sales to the public and any place offering services… to the public””. The Commission claimed that the baker refusing to bake the cake violated the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, while the Jack Phillips claimed that this was violating his First Amendment rights. ( Supreme Court) This case was extremely controversial because it involved someone’s freedom of speech being violated, with the prosecutors’ freedom of expression being violated. The court ended up ruling in favor of the baker, valuing the violation of freedom of speech over that of the Civil Rights Commission. This shows how important the First Amendment is in maintaining justice in our country.
The First Amendment also protects our expression through publication. Like freedom of speech though, some forms of publication are illegal, such as false or defamatory statements. (Meiklejohn) One example of a court case involving expression through publication is Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier (1988). Student articles at a public school were being censored by the principal. Three students decided to sue the school, saying their first amendment rights were being violated. The court ended up ruling in favor of the school district, due to the fact that the principal had jurisdiction to censor his own school’s newspaper. This is yet another example of how the First Amendment plays a part in many court cases. Another crucial freedom expressed in the First Amendment is the freedom of religion. This was one of the main reasons colonists from Britain came to the Americas, so it was only fitting that the founding fathers include it in the First Amendment. As is expressed, this freedom prohibits government established or state religion. It prohibits the government from favoring one religion over another. In other words, freedom of religion officially separates church and state. In 1963, one court case challenged this freedom–Abington School District v. Schempp. It was required, as a state law in Pennsylvania, that “”at least ten verses from the Holy Bible shall be read, without comment, at the opening of each public school on each school day.”” Two families decided to sue, claiming it “”violated the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment””.
As a result, the court found that this did indeed violate the First Amendment and that that practice was unconstitutional. (firstamendmentschools.org) This court case ruling had an influential effect on our society, deeming religion in public schools as unconstitutional. Because of the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment, true freedom of religion is achievable as it separates state and church no matter what.
Lastly, the First Amendment reserves the right of citizens to peacefully assemble and/or petition. Whether it’s with a social, economic, political, or religious group, all have this right–to protest their government if they feel the need. In other words, citizens reserve the right to file a lawsuit against their government by signing a petition. In 1969 one such court case revolving around this right was decided upon: Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. To protest the Vietnam war, three public school students, John Tinker, Christopher Eckhardt, and Mary Beth Tinker, wore black armbands to school. After refusing to remove them, they were suspended from school. They reluctantly sued the school district in violation of their First Amendment rights to protest. As a result, the case was eventually brought to the supreme court.
The court made their decision: the school district was indeed violating First Amendment rights by requiring the students to remove their armbands or be suspended. This ruling established the “”Tinker Test””, “”the standard that public schools must meet before legally restricting free speech or expression of students.”” This court ruling was another example of how the First Amendment is often the basis of which many court cases are decided. Without the First Amendment, we would have no basis for civil rights in America. From this amendment stems all the others. Government oppression would be a huge possibility. The loss of the first amendment would lead to the downfall of our nation and what it stands for. Freedom of expression is most important. Our founding fathers knew it. The Bill of Rights needed it. We must respect it.