Updated: May 6, 2022
"Congress shall pass 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 redress of grievances."
The United States Bill of Rights was passed on September 25th, 1789. Originally consisting of 12 Amendments. Articles 3-12 would be ratified by the States on December 15th, 1791. Many of the founding fathers, including Sam Adams, made it very clear that they would not ratify the U.S Constitution without also ratifying The Bill of Rights. Also known as the Anti-Federalist debates, many of our founding fathers believed that the Federal Government should be restricted. Allowing the States to have more rights with the sole position of power residing within the people respectively. As noted in the 10th Amendment to the U.S Constitution.
"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
10th Amendment U.S Constitution
Bill of Rights
Had it not been for the Anti-Federalist debates. The Bill of Rights would more than likely not exist. Why was the 1st Amendment so important to the founding fathers?
First and foremost, as discussed above. The ratification of the United States Constitution was a bitter one. Which included the Anti-Federalist debates. Where objections were made to the Constitution out of concerns that the Federal government would obtain too much power. Sam Adams would later abandon his position as an Anti-Federalist when the federalists promised to ratify the Bill of Rights. The Anti-Federalist were led by Patrick Henry (Virginia) but also had men like John Adams, George Mason, James Winthrop and George Clinton. It is important to note that many Anti-Federalists were staunch supporters of the Articles of Confederation, due to the fact that it gave the States more rights.
The first portion of the 1st Amendment is known as the Establishment Claus. Which simply states that Congress can make no law respecting the establishment of religion nor preventing the free exercise thereof. This is often misquoted as separation of church and State. Granted the federal government cannot make laws that respect the establishment of religion in the government, this does not prevent elected officials from holding specific religious morals. The United States government simply cannot operate as a religious foundation nor allow the indoctrination of religion within laws. For example, The United States cannot declare itself a Christian Nation legally through legislation. While also not making laws that prevent the free exercise of religion. Which is often highly contested. More recently with the appointment of Supreme Court Justices and asking these nominees their religious beliefs in regard to topics like Roe v Wade. Freedom of Religion is cut and dry.
Pick up your copy of the 1st Amendment today!
Understanding the rest of the 1st Amendment is as simple as being able to read.
"or abridging the freedom of speech."
Freedom of speech is exactly that. Freedom of speech. That does not require the speech to be agreeable or even comfortable.
This idea that "hate speech" is not protected, comes from a point of censorship and Constitutional violation. Hate speech does not exist. Neither in jurisprudence nor the United States Constitution. Inciting violence simply by stating you do not like specific things? Hardly has any legal backing. The problem is people want to feel comfortable about their opinions and only theirs. When you advocate for the government to censor speech that hurts your feelings, you no longer support the rights of others. It is not your right to feel comfortable with the things that others say.
A lot of people like to make the counter argument that shouting "fire" in a movie theater is against the law and includes speech that is not protected. This is wrong. Which is why U.S vs Schenck was overturned in 1969. The act of shouting "fire" in a crowded movie theater in itself is not unconstitutional. However, if doing so results in serious bodily harm or death, that is covered under specific and separate statues.
I discuss this topic in depth on my podcast published on Spotify. Which you can check out below.
The Kolin Kaepernick fiasco is also another rebuttal offered when discussing freedom of speech. The fact remains that a private business is not bound by the 1st Amendment. The 1st Amendment simply states that Congress cannot make laws abridging your freedom of expression. Policies and procedures in private business's being enforced hardly equates to criminal and judicial proceedings being utilized by the government. Which often leads to the misconception of private vs government. Whatever company you work for, has no obligation to employ you. And your right to freedom of expression does not also prevent absence of reprisal. Kolin Kaepernick has yet to spend a day in jail for kneeling during the national anthem. And rightfully should not. However, when you represent an organization voluntarily, your actions dictate your employment status. Based on that company's policies and procedures.
One argument can be made that the federal government often restricts military servicemembers beyond the protection of the Constitution and 1st Amendment. Being that the military is a federal agency. Operating under its own uniform code of military justice. That conversation, however, is more complex and meant for another day.
Pick up a copy of The Anti-Federalist Papers today!
Our founders had much to say about freedom of speech.
“Without Freedom of Thought, there can be no such thing as Wisdom; and no such thing as public liberty, without Freedom of Speech.”
Silent Dogood Letters
“For if Men are to be precluded from offering their Sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences, that can invite the consideration of Mankind, reason is of no use to us; the freedom of Speech may be taken away, and, dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the Slaughter.”
“When people talk of the freedom of writing, speaking or thinking I cannot choose but laugh. No such thing ever existed. No such thing now exists: but I hope it will exist. But it must be hundreds of years after you and I shall write and speak no more.”
Which brings up the topic of free press. Freedom of the press was intended to be held to the same standard as freedom of speech. However, the Supreme Court has ruled that certain restrictions be placed on publications. Including false and defamatory statements also known as libel. We saw this more recently with 2 examples. The Johnny Depp/Amber heard case currently taking place. Mr. Depp is suing Amber Heard for defamation based on an op-ed published in The Washington Post.
We also saw this with the Kyle Rittenhouse case. The case was highly controversial all the way through the final verdict, and still remains a controversial case to this day. However, statements were made by the media and multiple celebrities that lead to the speculation Kyle Rittenhouse could sue based on defamation and libel. Neither has yet to take place.
It goes without saying that the last portion of the 1st Amendment seems to only apply to a specific political class and their followers in the United States. The right to peaceably assemble and petition the Government for redress of grievances. We all know that is exactly what happened during the summer of love. Yet, the events of January 6th are more controversial than the burning of entire cities across the United States under the guise of false narratives. You should never be prevented from petitioning your government. But at what point do those petitions fall of deaf ears? If you want a good example of civil disobedience, read about The Boston Tea Party. How our founding fathers and The Sons of Liberty handled the event and how they targeted the government specifically.
When petitions no longer heard and grievances no longer heard, the right to alter or abolish is another discussion.
The fact of that matter is, many Americans take little to no time to understand the rights that our founders signed into law to protect. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights is not an affirmation of natural rights, nor is it an establishment of rights. It is simply established jurisprudence to keep the federal government and State government in check when addressing otherwise natural human rights. And it was never intended to be a weapon of political gain, tyrannical control or censorship.
Your emotions and feelings are not protected by the First Amendment. Your right to express those emotions and feelings are, so long as they do not intrude on the right of others to do the same.
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-The Patriot Edda-
Matthew S Simmons