Does The First Amendment Really Protect Speech & Religion?

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The First Amendment to the United States Constitution
might be the most frequently debated amendment in US history. Although it is regularly used
as shorthand to talk about freedom of speech, it also includes a number of other important
clauses, without which the US would be unrecognizable. So, what exactly is in the First Amendment? Well, most importantly, and perhaps the source
of so much misunderstanding, is that the Amendment begins with “Congress shall make no law.”
Many people gloss over this part. They believe that the First Amendment personally guarantees
THEM an inalienable right to speech, press, religion, and so on. But all it really covers
is what Congress is not allowed to restrict through specific laws. Now, surprisingly, the First Amendment is
only 45 words long. It opens with, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment
of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This is called the Establishment
Clause. It means that Congress cannot favor a particular religion through legislature,
nor can it legislate against the practice of a particular religion. This clause has
been used to stop state-sanctioned prayer in public schools, as well as to remove several
displays of the Ten Commandments in front of courthouses. It is also the basis of what
is referred to as the separation between church and state. Next is the freedom of speech. Often it is
used to justify a person’s supposed right to publicly state anything they want, however,
this is very far from the truth. There are a lot of situations where speech is extremely
limited, and it is completely legal. For example, being blocked for spamming on the internet
is not a violation of free speech, because private individuals can dictate whatever rules
they’d like in regards to speech limitations. Additionally, the Supreme Court has ruled
that there are a number of exceptions to free speech. When it comes to provocation, lying,
obscenity, child pornography, threats, and copyrighted material, there are strict rules. Freedom of press is similar, but better understood.
It prohibits Congress from interfering with the publication of information. It applies
not only to professional journalists, but regular citizens too. This is especially relevant
now that anybody can blog or tweet to a wide audience. However, if the press is defamatory
and damaging, there are still certain limitations. The scope of what is “defamatory” has
long been debated. Then there is the right of the people to peaceably
assemble. But again, this prevents Congress from passing a specific law prohibiting peaceful
demonstrations. If a demonstration is in violation of another law, for example if it endangers
public safety, then there is nothing illegal about it being dispersed, or people being
arrested. Finally, the First Amendment allows for people
to petition the government for a redress of grievances. This clause is almost totally
unknown, but it allows citizens to do things like file lawsuits against the government,
or lobby public officials. It protects citizens from prosecution if they complain or try to
address their problems through government channels. And, that’s it. The First Amendment isn’t
very long, but it covers a huge number of rights. If you’ve ever had questions about legal
rights in the U.S. — like “can you legally film the police?” You might want to watch this next video. Thanks for watching
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