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.”