I’m excited to start on a series that I’ve been wanting to do for a while now. I want to make sure that I fulfill my civic duty by making sure that everyone who is a reader of this blog knows the Bill of Rights. If you do not know, the Bill of Rights is the first ten amendments of the U.S. Constitution, and contains text that ensures Americans their God given rights. We must know these rights. We must exercise these rights.
We cannot defend our rights if we do not know our rights. And very many people do not know their rights. In 2015, a Newseum Institute poll showed that 33% of Americans over the age of 18 could not name any part of the 1st Amendment! It is critically important that we know our rights and fight to keep them.
So, without any further ado, I present to you The First Amendment of U.S. Constitution.
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.
There are five parts to the first amendment – every one important, every one under attack.
1. Freedom of Religion
Freedom of religion is often misinterpreted as the separation of church and state. In fact, the term “separation of church and state,” never appears in the constitution, or in any other government document from the 18th century. That term was taken out of context from a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptist Church. What the first amendment means – what it guarantees – is that the government would not be involved in running the church or enforcing or regulating religion; and that you would have the freedom of exercising your beliefs without fear of retaliation.
2. Freedom of Speech
Freedom of speech is the most straight forward of these five rights. While you cannot make terroristic threats, you do have the right to say what is on your mind without government regulation or censorship.
3. Freedom of the Press
Freedom of the press is another layer of freedom of speech. It allows reporters, columnists, newspapers – today, even bloggers! – to say their piece and express their opinion without being censored or restricted by government forces.
4. The Right of Assembly
The right of assembly allows people to peaceably assemble with the intent of enacting change or promoting an idea.
5. The Right to Petition
The right to petition is often downplayed or overlooked in the grand scheme of the first amendment. However, the right to petition is actually very significant. It means that we the people have the right to petition the government; petition, not necessarily meaning a piece of paper with a bunch of signatures. A petition is any formal request to someone in a place of authority. Every time that we write a congressman, call the White House, email the governor, we are petitioning. The right to petition is a crucial part in keeping the power of government in the hands of “we the people.”
I’m not a student of the law. I do not have a degree in American History or Civics. Perhaps you want to get interpretations from someone who is – that won’t hurt my feelings at all. I just want you to know what the Constitution says and what rights you have.
Homework: Memorize the rights guaranteed to us in the first amendment. Then, do research and be on the look out for stories that show a violation of these rights. Prepare yourself so that you do not become a victim.