The First Amendment to the United States Constitution


Category:  Op/Ed

Via:  robert-in-ohio  •  one month ago  •  13 comments

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution
"The character of every act depends upon the circumstances in which it is done. . . . The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic." -- Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Schenck v. United States (1919)

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T

Amendment I

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.

The wording and content of the First Amendment were derived from the experiences of founding fathers’ under the British rule.  There was a desire to protect the citizens’ rights from the government,  in order to do this the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the constitution) was enacted.

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression from government interference. It prohibits any laws that establish a national religion, impede the free exercise of religion, abridge the freedom of speech, infringe upon the freedom of the press, interfere with the right to peaceably assemble, or prohibit citizens from petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances. It was adopted into the Bill of Rights in 1791. The Supreme Court interprets the extent of the protection afforded to these rights. The First Amendment has been interpreted by the Court as applying to the entire federal government even though it is only expressly applicable to Congress. Furthermore, the Court has interpreted the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as protecting the rights in the First Amendment from interference by state governments.

First Amendment | Wex | US Law | LII / Legal Information Institute (cornell.edu)

Freedom of Religion

Two clauses in the First Amendment guarantee freedom of religion. The Establishment Clause prohibits the government from passing legislation to establish an official religion or preferring one religion over another. It enforces the "separation of church and state." However, some governmental activity related to religion has been declared constitutional by the Supreme Court. For example, providing bus transportation for parochial school students and the enforcement of "blue laws" is not prohibited. The Free Exercise Clause prohibits the government, in most instances, from interfering with a person's practice of their religion.

Freedom of Speech / Freedom of the Press

The most basic component of freedom of expression is the right to freedom of speech. Freedom of speech may be exercised in a direct (words) or a symbolic (actions) way. Freedom of speech is recognized as a human right under article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The right to freedom of speech allows individuals to express themselves without government interference or regulation. The Supreme Court requires the government to provide substantial justification for interference with the right of free speech when it attempts to regulate the content of the speech. Generally, a person cannot be held liable, either criminally or civilly for anything written or spoken about a person or topic, so long as it is truthful or based on an honest opinion and such statements.

A less stringent test is applied for content-neutral legislation. The Supreme Court has also recognized that the government may prohibit some speech that may cause a breach of the peace or cause violence. For more unprotected and less protected categories of speech see advocacy of illegal action, fighting words, commercial speech, and obscenity. The right to free speech includes other mediums of expression that communicate a message. The level of protection speech receives also depends on the forum in which it takes place.  

Despite the popular misunderstanding, the right to freedom of the press guaranteed by the First Amendment is not very different from the right to freedom of speech. It allows an individual to express themselves through publication and dissemination. It is part of the constitutional protection of freedom of expression. It does not afford members of the media any special rights or privileges not afforded to citizens in general.

Right to Assemble / Right to Petition

The right to assemble allows people to gather for peaceful and lawful purposes. Implicit within this right is the right to association and belief. The Supreme Court has expressly recognized that a right to freedom of association and belief is implicit in the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Freedom of assembly is recognized as a human right under article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This implicit right is limited to the right to associate for First Amendment purposes. It does not include a right of social association. The government may prohibit people from knowingly associating with groups that engage in and promote illegal activities. The right to associate also prohibits the government from requiring a group to register or disclose its members or from denying government benefits on the basis of an individual's current or past membership in a particular group. There are exceptions to this rule where the Court finds that governmental interests in disclosure/registration outweigh interference with First Amendment rights. The government may also, generally, not compel individuals to express themselves, hold certain beliefs, or belong to particular associations or groups.

The right to petition the government for a redress of grievances guarantees people the right to ask the government to provide relief for a wrong through litigation or other governmental action. It works with the right of assembly by allowing people to join together and seek change from the government.

Red Box Rules

This article is not about Trump or Biden

This article is not about the 2016 or 2020 or the 2024 election

This article is not about MAGA, or the ultra-left

This article is about the Bill of Rights extraneous and off topic comments will be deleted



jrDiscussion - desc
Robert in Ohio
Professor Guide
1  seeder  Robert in Ohio    one month ago

It just seems to be a human trait to want to protect the speech of people with whom we agree. For the First Amendment, that is not good enough. So it is really important that we protect First Amendment rights of people no matter what side of the line they are on.

  Floyd Abrams

All ideas having even the slightest redeeming social importance - unorthodox ideas, controversial ideas, even ideas hateful to the prevailing climate of opinion, have the full protection of the guarantees [of the First Amendment].

  William J. Brennan The first and in the view of many the most important of the Bill of Rights has dramatic effect and consequence on the lives of all Americans. We should never believe that our 1st Amendment Rights allow us to infringe on the 1st Amendment Rights of another citizen.I am looking forward to hearing what people think - so let's go
Sparty On
Professor Principal
2  Sparty On    one month ago

Free speech is easy when you agree with it.  
It only gets difficult when you don’t.

Robert in Ohio
Professor Guide
2.1  seeder  Robert in Ohio  replied to  Sparty On @2    one month ago

Wise and insightful  - something that so many forget or ignore when demanding "their" right to free speech.

I think the metaphor "Your freedom to swing your fist, ends at my nose" applies

Sean Treacy
Professor Expert
3  Sean Treacy    one month ago

The First Amendment is the most important Paragraph in the constitution and probably the most important paragraph in a governing document ever written. 

Robert in Ohio
Professor Guide
3.1  seeder  Robert in Ohio  replied to  Sean Treacy @3    one month ago


Thanks, it is indeed important, but ....

When I think of the most important lines written in our country's history, the first one that comes to mind is - 

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Professor Quiet
4  Sunshine    one month ago


Robert in Ohio
Professor Guide
4.1  seeder  Robert in Ohio  replied to  Sunshine @4    one month ago

Always glad to intellectual and insightful input to a discussion

Robert in Ohio
Professor Guide
4.2  seeder  Robert in Ohio  replied to  Sunshine @4    one month ago


I am sure that you just wanted a witty example to introduce "The Fighting Words Doctrine", thanks for providing me a cue to share it with everyone.

The Fighting Words Doctrine is a legal principle in the United States that limits freedom of speech as protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. It was established by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1942 in the case of Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire. The doctrine defines “fighting words” as words that “by their very utterance, inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace”. The doctrine has been further clarified by subsequent cases, such as Terminiello v. Chicago, Feiner v. People of State of New York, Texas v. Johnson, and R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul.

The doctrine is a limitation to freedom of speech, and words that are considered fighting words are not protected free speech under the First Amendment. However, the First Amendment will still protect the speech if the speech restriction is based on viewpoint discrimination.

I grabbed this brief summary from the Bing AI Window

Professor Participates
5  1stwarrior    one month ago

But, it's meaning has been/is being stretched beyond its intent.

You can say whatever you wish - AS LONG AS someone else decides that it is not offensive.  However, upon them realizing they don't "like" what you said or the manner in which you expressed it, your speech becomes offensive and, in some cases, violates the intent of the amendment.

Robert in Ohio
Professor Guide
5.1  seeder  Robert in Ohio  replied to  1stwarrior @5    one month ago


See above "fighting words" doctrine which supports in part what you are saying.

The first amendment is an oft discussed, seldom agreed upon aspect of our freedom

Trout Giggles
Professor Principal
5.1.1  Trout Giggles  replied to  Robert in Ohio @5.1    one month ago

I'm a full on Freedom of Speech(er). I will defend your right to say what you want, but that doesn't mean I won't offer a counter opinion (or a few choice insults).

Speech comes with consequences. Say what you want but be prepared for the backlash. And I think what so many forget, is the FOS is about government infringing on your right. It has nothing to do with private enterprise. So if Elon Musk wants to ban people from his platform, he has that right. He owns it

Robert in Ohio
Professor Guide
5.1.2  seeder  Robert in Ohio  replied to  Trout Giggles @5.1.1    one month ago

Thanks for the perspective

The First Amendment only protects your speech from government censorship. It applies to federal, state, and local government actors. This is a broad category that includes not only lawmakers and elected officials, but also public schools and universities, courts, and police officers.  It does not include private citizens, businesses, and organizations. This means that: 

      • A private school can suspend students for criticizing a school policy;
      • A private business can fire an employee for expressing political views on the job; and
      • A private media company can refuse to publish or broadcast opinions it disagrees with. 

(Source:   Freedom Forum Institute )

The First Amendment, Censorship, and Private Companies: What Does “Free Speech” Really Mean? - Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

The U.S. Supreme Court has often been called upon to determine what types of speech are protected under the First Amendment. Since the adoption of the Bill of Rights,   hundreds of cases   have been seen by the Supreme Court, setting precedence for future cases and refining the definition of speech protected by the First Amendment.

Cox v. New Hampshire
Protests and freedom to assemble

Elonis v. U.S.
Facebook and free speech

Engel v. Vitale
Prayer in schools and freedom of religion

Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier
Student newspapers and free speech

Morse v. Frederick
School-sponsored events and free speech

Snyder v. Phelps
Public concerns, private matters, and free speech

Texas v. Johnson
Flag burning and free speech

Tinker v. Des Moines
Free speech in schools

U.S. v. Alvarez
Lies and free speech

Censorship Defined

Censorship is the suppression or prohibition of words, images, or ideas that are considered offensive, obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security (Sources:   Lexico   and   ACLU ). The First Amendment Encyclopedia notes that “censors seek to limit freedom of thought and expression by restricting spoken words, printed matter, symbolic messages, freedom of association, books, art, music, movies, television programs, and internet sites” (Source:   The First Amendment Encyclopedia ).

Censorship by the government is unconstitutional. When the government engages in censorship, it goes against the First Amendment rights discussed above. However, there are still examples of government censorship in our history (see the   1873 Comstock Law   and the   1996 Communications Decency Act ), and the Supreme Court is often called upon to ensure that First Amendment rights are being protected.

Private individuals and groups still often engage in censorship. As long as government entities are not involved, this type of censorship technically presents no First Amendment implications. Many of us are familiar with the censoring of popular music, movies, and art to exclude words or images that are considered “vulgar” or “obscene.” While many of these forms of censorship are technically legal, private groups like the   National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC)   and the   American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)   work to make sure that the right to free speech is honored

Trout Giggles
Professor Principal
5.1.3  Trout Giggles  replied to  Robert in Ohio @5.1.2    one month ago

Thank you for your informative information.


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