Reflections on the First Amendment

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Reflections on the First Amendment
On December 15th, 1971, the first X amendments to the Constitution went into affect. The first X amendments to the constitution were known as the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment was written by James Madison because the American people were demanding a guarantee of their freedom. The First Amendment was put into place to protect American’s freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly and freedom of petition. The First Amendment was written as follows; “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.” (First Amendment Center, 2008) The First Amendment Center conducts a national annual survey on the First Amendment. “Americans clearly have mixed views of what First Amendment freedoms are and to whom they should fully apply. To me the results of this year’s survey endorse the idea of more and better education for young people - our nation’s future leaders - about our basic freedoms.” (Gene Policinski, VP and executive director of the First Amendment Center 2007)

The Supreme Court of the United States has the highest authority in the Judicial Branch and is the third branch of government. The function of the Supreme Court is to interpret the Constitution. The Supreme Court looks at federal and state statues and executive actions to determine if they comply with the United States Constitution. On the Supreme Court, there are nine justices that hear cases that have been appealed through the justice system. When the Supreme Court rules in a case that is the last and final ruling for the defendant.

One case that was brought to the United States Supreme court was the Cohen vs. California case. In this case, freedom of speech was the issue to be addressed in conjunction with the first amendment. This case was argued February 22, 1971 and decided upon on June 7, 1971. On April 26, 1968 Paul Robert Cohen was in the corridor of the Los Angeles County Courthouse wearing a jacket that said “Fuck the Draft.” The words were clearly visible and there were numerous women and children all around him in the courthouse. Cohen was arrested for wearing this jacket purposely in front of everyone and being in the courthouse. Cohen admitted that he wore the jacket purposely to inform the public of the way he felt against the Draft and the Vietnam War. He was convicted and sentenced to XXX days in prison.

This case needed to be heard in the United States Supreme Court because Cohen’s lawyer appealed this case as Cohen and the lawyer believed that his right to freedom of speech as guaranteed in the first amendment had been dishonored. The state of California lacked the power to penalize Cohen without showing a reason to promote disobedience to or disruption to the draft with the underlying content of the message on the back of his jacket. Cohen was convicted for violating the California Penal Code section 415 which prohibits maliciously and willfully disturbing another person by using offensive words in a public place which are inherently likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction. Mr. Justice Harlan stated that the state of California can not make a public display of a four letter word a criminal offense according to the first and fourteenth amendment. In Mr. Justice Blackmun’s opinion, Cohen’s actions were mainly in the act of conduct and little of speech. With this in mind Cohen was convicted for disturbing the peace.

In the case of Brown vs. Louisiana, freedom of speech, assembly, and freedom to petition were the rights in conjunction with the first amendment to be addressed. On March 7, 1964, Mr. Henry Brown and four other young male Negros went into the Audubon Regional Library in Clinton, Louisiana to request the book “The Story of the Negro.” The book was...
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