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What is The first Amendment?

The correct answer to , what is the first amendment, is something that I have yet to hear. The response I do get from most everyone that I have spoken to about this amendment is typically, "freedom of religion". And there lies the starting point for most disagreements. I want to carefully examine this amendment, from a lay persons perspective, to deal with it fairly and accurately.

First, let's take a direct quote from the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution itself, shall we?

"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 first Amendment - got Religion?

Just about every lawsuit (usually frivolous) that I have read about dealing with this aspect of what is the first amendment, and I think you'll agree, had to do with either prayer in a public place or a "religious" symbol on display in a public place such as a government facility.

Let's start out by just hitting this "establishment of religion" thing between the eyes. As I see it a group of children praying before a football game or a display of the Ten Commandments in no way violates this amendment. Without getting wrapped up in any legalese it's safe to say that as long as the school administration (the government) did not require (make a law respecting an establishment of religion) that a prayer be recited and the prayer was initiated by the students then they would be operating within acceptable parameters.

Unfortunately, what typically transpires is a zealous response to prohibit this activity under the pretense that allowing this act to continue would be a violation of the separation of "church and state".

There is no need for attorneys to enter the picture and lawsuits to be filed in a court of law. I think that most Americans unfortunately get their understanding of the meaning of this amendment through controlled sound bites in the media as well as what is taught in our schools.

Examining the second part of the religion aspect of what is the first amendment, if the students, or team members, as a majority of the student body, took it upon themselves to gather in prayer, even silently, then they are within their constitutional right. The intervention by school authorities would, however, be "prohibiting the free exercise thereof".

What typically is presented as a defense by those deeply afraid of religion creeping into the public sector is their concern for those that are of a different persuasion. After all, there may be atheists, Jews, or Muslims on the team that might be offended. My response to them is that as long as they are not required to participate then, one, there is no reason to be offended, two, those that choose to pray are simply exercising their constitutional right, and three, if the school officials are not coercing the students in any way then the ball is in fair play. End of discussion.

I wonder, would this passion for limiting the freedom of religious expression to behind closed doors be vigorously enforced whenever a Muslim were to begin praying in a public school, or would it be toned down.? Better yet, would it be completely absent? 

According to a summary written by justice Robert Jackson in the 1943 case, West Virginia v. Barnette, "if there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein."

Debate on any public issue, no matter how heated it may become, should always be uninhibited and open to all.

what is the first Amendment - Watch your Mouth?

obama and the first amendment

Since the re-election of President Obama it is now obvious, even to his supporters, that there is not as much free speech flowing about the capital as there used to be. Anytime a criticism is voiced regarding this president and his administration it is put down as a racially motivated attack in an attempt to silence the prejudiced critics.

Where have the media watchdogs been sent to because it is now very apparent that this administration is shamelessly..."abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press".

There appears to be a complicit relationship between the government that we are supposed to be holding accountable and the media that is expected by the citizens to report to us the daily affairs of our elected officials. Not untl recently have I seen any degree of criticism regarding the actions, or lack thereof, of this administration.

Case in point, the roll-out of Obamacare. Now that we are well into this new and better healthcare system we are finding out that the White House has been blatantly silencing the media from reporting the truth regarding the shortcomings of Obamacare, White House Order Health Insurance Companies to not criticize Obamacare. Several years ago one would never find such a report in print. Is the press beginning to reassert its constitutional muscle and ask themselves what is the first amendment?

How is it that the press is willing to muzzle itself with regard to this president? Why are things so lopsided with regard to what is the first amendment? The relationship between the two is like that of a parent and a beloved yet unruly child who in their eyes can do know wrong, no matter how obvious and detrimental that behavior may be.

If any person or group known to be conservative in its ideology utters a phrase it is analyzed and dissected for the purpose of allegedly revealing how dangerous and evil it really is and therefore must be silenced or eliminated whether through ridicule or legal recourse.

No matter what the issue is the press goes about with blinders on seemingly unaware or unwilling to hold this administration accountable. Here are some recent incidents that illustrate how what is the first amendment rights of the press have been trampled upon without any objection by most:

  • a sudden tsunami of immigrant children crashing against our southern border; Obama expresses outrage and says that this is unaccpetable and people will be held accountable, time goes by and the press makes no demand of who has been held accountable and what is the actual progress that has been made.
  • Bowe Bergdahl. Five Guantanamo Bay terrorists were released in exchange for this guy without approval from Congress as required by the Constitution. The Defense Secretary and the White House are seen pointing the finger at each other. No outrage from the press.
  • Benghazi. Where was Obama on the night this horrible incident unfolded? No one knows to this day or seemingly cares. Whenever questions arise we hear cries that the questioning is racially motivated and this matter is settled and we must move on.

Yes. Discussions regarding what is the first amendment is not what it used to be. It appears that our precious Constitution is being held captive by a an elite few determined to stay in power.

The questions I leave for my readers to contemplate is simply this;

  • Are we really better off as a nation if we allow discussions of what is the firsst amendment to be manipulated at will without any objections regardless who is in power? 
  • Which of our rights will be targeted next? 
  • How far will we allow this to go before we rise up and take back what is ours.?
  • Will it be too late when we attempt to take action?

If you have been quietly standing by simply because you don't believe you can make a difference then take courage from this website. I once thought I didn't matter. But I then realized that it only takes one person to speak up and be heard and cause the masses to be awakened from its slumber. That is why I started this site. I believe that I make a difference.

Watch diligently over your nation and never cease to ask what is the first amendment for. Don't count on someone else to do it for you. You may not like who steps up to fill that void.

Return to Constitution of the United States

relevant first amendment articles

Is the Constitutional issue of Separation of Church and State corectly interpreted?

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Recommended Resources on The First Amendment

Freedom for the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment
First Amendment: Historic Supreme Court Decisions (LandMark Case Law)
Make No Law: The Sullivan Case and the First Amendment
The First Amendment: An Introduction
The Establishment Clause: Religion and the First Amendment