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1st amendment paper

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Hanna Laikin
Essay on the 1st Amendment
Mr. Fumusa School of Government With its adoption on December 15, 1791, the First Amendment, along with the rest of the Bill of Rights, set out to ensure civil liberties for all citizens within the Constitution. Although, the First Amendment first applied solely to the federal government, today, the Supreme Court interprets the Establishment Clause, Free Exercise Clause, Free Speech Clause, Freedom of the Press Clause, Freedom of Assembly Clause, and Freedom of Petition Clause for all citizens of the United States. Throughout each of these clauses, the Supreme Court has distinct guidelines, upon which there is a socio-political certainty for the citizens of our country, however in the present nature of our society as a whole, the freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment are truly more of an ideal. In order to fully understand this concept of our freedoms acting as a model, there must be thorough knowledge of the various historical, political, and legal realties behind these promised freedoms. In order to silence the conflict against the ratification of the Constitution, based on the absence of necessary civil liberties, arose the creation of the First Amendment. Soon after, Amendment One of the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution read "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 Abruptly, this statement prohibits Congress from creating laws and interfering with the rights mentioned in the amendment. It does, in fact, leave that power to states and individuals. For 100 years the 1st Amendment applied solely to the federal government, nevertheless after the Civil War and the addition of the 14th Amendment courts enacted “due process of law.” This new statement, although interpreted many ways, can be seen as limiting laws and legal proceedings, so that judges may define and guarantee fundamental justice and liberty for all. It is sometimes expressed a command that the government must not be unfair to the people or interpret their rights in an unjust fashion. Within the Constitution, the Due Process Clause acts as a safeguard from arbitrary denial of life, liberty, and property by the Government outside the sanction of the law. One may ask why such a claim was added to the Constitution, after all the Bill of Rights explicitly explained the restrictions upon Congress. After the Civil War, Congress was very astute in the protection of the rights of African Americans. Abraham Lincoln sought to ensure that these recently free slaves would have the same rights and freedoms as the rest of the country. In contrast, the southern States began the creation of “Black Codes” practically demolishing the previously new ensured freedoms. In response, Congress passed the 14th Amendment, guaranteeing equal rights to all citizens. The states no longer had the right to grant unequal freedom to any of its citizens. This put a specific restriction on the states, a new concept, apart from the Bill of Rights. The Establishment Clause states that Congress shall make no law “respecting an establishment of religion,” a very crucial aspect of our Constitution. The government may not establish a state religion or denomination and from direction people in what they must believe. This clause evolves from the clash of groups during the colonial times, where one religion was favored over the other. Many early states supported religions, tax dollars were even used to alleviate the burden on the state church. On the radical end, some states even required mandatory church attendance. By the time of the Constitution, many citizens were fed up with the necessity of the states requirement for their religious support. Today this idea of freedom of religion can be seen through the Establishment Clause. Some citizens argue that when government is involved, absolutely all-religious expression must be forbidden. These individuals are part of the separationist camp. Others advise the government to make certain allowances for religious expression in public events when all persons do indeed agree. These individuals are known as accomadationists. In todays society however, the Establishment Clause, is interpreted much differently. In general, the courts interpretation is that citizens may express their own religious beliefs, even in state events, but that the state institution may not promote a distinct set of religious values over another. The courts do not believe that the complete exclusion of religious subjects is necessary, as long as one is not being promoted over another. For example, In Allegheny County v. ACLUC, the 45-foot Christmas tree next to the 18-foot Menorah was not unconstitutional, for they did not promote one over the other, but simply leveled the playing field. However, the fact that there was a nativity scene inside the courthouse was unconstitutional because it had the words, “Glory to God for the birth of Jesus Christ” did indeed have the interpretation of a Christian religion inside the courthouse. The court has also allowed the teaching of the Bible as literature in public schools, the distribution of religious material on public property and the use of public money for supporting religious school through voucher programs. For example in Walz v. Tax Commission of the city of New York, the issue of whether the New York City Tax Commission’s grant of an exemption to church property violated provisions prohibiting establishment of religion under the First Amendment was denied. It was said that the tax exemption does not unduly entangle the state with religion. The Establishment Clause as a whole is one of the most important aspects of the Constitution. Without it, the government would have the ability to tell you what you must believe and how you should express that belief. Since the United States withholds a diverse bowl of religions, it must be seen that each citizen may practice this religion and act in accord with their own conscience. The Free Exercise Clause reads, "Congress shall make no law regarding the establishment of religion or the free exercise thereof." The Free Exercise Clause prohibits Congress from making laws that interfere with the expression of Americans’ religious beliefs. It was added to the Bill of Rights because of the abuses of this right by the historical colonial governments where fines were imposed for non-participation. Reynolds v. United States was a case in which a Mormon polygamist claimed that the Free Exercise Clause guaranteed his right to polygamy, even though there was a federal law against this act. The Supreme Court ruled that governments could regulate religious practices, but not religious belief, as long as the laws passed were not targeting a specific group. For example a law prohibiting polygamy for all is not simply targeting Mormons but everyone who wants to participate in polygamy. His religious duty was not a suitable defense to a criminal indictment. Many Supreme Court cases involve Jehovah’s Witnesses as well. Various groups have tried to regulate this intense religious assembly by requiring them to be licensed by the municipality in order to distribute pamphlets, passing anti-littering laws, and expelling children who would not say the Pledge of Allegiance. In Thomas v. Review Board of the Indiana Employment Security Division, Thomas, a Jehovah’s Witness and an employee of Blaw-Knox Foundry & Machinery Co asked his company to law him off when it transferred all of its operations to weapons manufacturing. He argued that his religious faith prohibited him from producing arms. The company refused and so he quit without unemployment benefits. It was concluded by the Supreme Court that, “The State’s denial of unemployment compensation benefits to petitioner violated his First Amendment right to free exercise of religion.” It seems as if, the rights guarded by this part of the 1st Amendment are among the rights held most dear by all Americans for the simple fact, that all Americans want the right to practice each of their own unique religions. The Freedom of Speech Clause of the First Amendment is also one of the most dear and precious rights guaranteed to American in the United States Constitution. Since speech is used everyday and is so widely interpreted and bellowed it is also one of the most abused rights of Americans. The Amendment reads: "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech." Americans believe that speech is a god given right and so the government must guarantee it. After the Revolutionary War, citizens decided that they did not want the government suppressing their rights of speech. In contrast, the concern while writing the Constitution was about protecting speech was in the sense of political discourse. If the government were allowed to censor viewpoint it didn’t like, then the people would once again end up oppressed and governed by a corrupt leader. Some people argue that the Freedom of Speech Clause protects absolutely any speech, anytime. Others believe that there can be reasonable restrictions on this clause. There are certain words not protecting under Freedom of Speech such as, defamation, threatening words, treason, obscenity, etc. In today’s society, Freedom of Speech cases have centered around publishing things some find objectionable and burning the flag. In Texas v. Johnson, the Supreme Court ruled that flag burning was protected speech and that the “government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society find the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.” Congress however responded with the Flag Protection Act of 1989 making it a federal crime to desecrate a flag. In Tinker v. Des Moines School District, students who had been expelled for wearing black armbands protesting the Vietnam War were judged to have had their right of Freedom of Speech unjustly violated. This was because they had the right to express this symbolic representation as well as the armbands did not “materially and substantially disrupt” the classroom. This concept of Freedom of Speech is so intense in the United States because of the historical background of oppression against those whom oppose the government. Although the clause may be interpreted many ways, it is set out to lead Americans towards civility. The Freedom of the Press Clause guarantees that people can publish any lawful material without fear of punishment by the government, “Congress shall mane no law…abridging the freedom…of the press.” This clause was established because of the historical oppression in England and American colonies. Publications during these times were subject to strict licensing by the government, one had to get a license to print anything. It was also against the law to print anything against the government or its officials, regardless of if it was true or not. Beginning with John Peter Zenger, who was the publisher of the New York Weekly Journal, those who criticize the government have generally been allowed to without fear of prosecution. Zenger’s attorney argued that he was publishing the truth and since it was the truth he should be acquitted of seditious libel. At the time, the law states that critical comments of the government could not be made period, true or not. After this case everything was transformed. It has been seen however that the government may deny Freedom of the Press in cases of national security such as Near v. Minnesota. Jay Near published a scandal sheet in Minneapolis, in which he attacked local officials, charging that they were implicated with gangsters. He was charged with the publishing of a “malicious, scandalous, and defamatory” newspaper and guilty of a nuisance. The Supreme Court held that the statue authorizing the injunction was unconstitutional as applied. This content from the Minnesota law had indeed violated the First Amendment. The government started to safeguard the rights of those continually in the battlefield, journalists. The Privacy Protection Act was passed in 1980 to protect journalists from being required to turn over to law enforcement any work product and documentary materials before it is disseminated to the public. This act protects them from being exploited and allows them to fully uphold their own rights that their job requires. Today, with the addition of electronic articles, there is even less Freedom of the Press. Generally T.V. is not allowed as much freedom as print or Internet because there are a limited number of channels. The Freedom of Assembly Clause, protects the right to assemble in peace to all Americans, “Congress shall make no law…abridging…the right of the people peaceably to assemble…” If a group was assembling to start a riot or to overthrow our government, they could not follow in the path of the law because they were not assembling in peace. Our Founding Fathers alluded back into pre-colonial American history for the creation of this clause. The English monarchy often restricted the right of English citizens to assemble in public, fearing that they may try to overthrow the government. William Penn was convicted for public preaching in 1670, where a jury later found him innocent. This was an important moment in the changing times of history. As new states began to emerge, they continually added the protections for the right o assemble in their constitutions. Today, as well as historically, many groups have used this clause for social change: civil rights groups, women’s rights, and labor unions. Although they were generally impeding with the government, they usually found ways to peacefully follow the Freedom of Assembly Clause. It can be seen that the right to assemble is not an absolute right. It is not as strongly upheld as the other clauses by the government because of the violence that usually gathers with protesting. In DeJonge v. Oregon, a meeting help by the Communist Party addressed the audience regarding jail conditions in the county and a maritime strike in progress in Portland. Police soon raided the event and DeJonge was arrested for violation the state’s criminal syndicalism statute. The Court held that the Oregon statute, as applied, violated due process clause of the 14th Amendment. DeJonge’s sole offense was assisting in a public meeting under the auspices of the Communist Party. Today, the Court often uses “strict scrutiny.” Within this policy, the law that is being challenged is examined to see if its restriction upon someone’s right to freely assemble is somehow justified by a larger government concern. If the government cannot justice the restriction then the law would be unconstitutional. The Court may restrict a group’s right to freely assemble only if there is a larger compelling interest by the government, such as prohibiting discrimination against African Americans. Along with this Clause, goes the Freedom of Petition, "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom... of the people... to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. The freedom to petition the government was important to early Americans against King George III and Parliament. Today this right has come to include, conducting peaceful signs or boycotts against the government officials through media. This is the least significant Clause because of its lesser value in today’s society against a non-oppressive government. Although America is continually proclaimed as the land of the free, and that countries around the globe should emulate us, we are not as free as we truly think. We must realize what the First Amendment actually stands for today and what circumstances have changed. American citizens are no longer fighting an oppressive motherland country such as Great Britain or King George III and Parliament. We are no longer a group of small colonies that assemble violently against a domineering government. Although it may seem as if we are losing our freedoms, in reality we are regaining the strength and power as a nation that works together. The freedoms guaranteed in the first amendment are an ideal today on which we must rise above. We must never let our government rise above the people and take away these freedoms but simply uphold them so that we can rise together as a people and a government willing to benefit as a whole. Today we have the ability to conquer the American Dream; we have the freedom necessary and the ability to express ourselves equally among a nation of differing peoples. Lastly, we can see that these freedoms are guaranteed through the First Amendment and the interpretation of Establishment Clause, Free Exercise Clause, Free Speech Clause, Freedom of the Press Clause, Freedom of Assembly Clause, and Freedom of Petition Clause as a basis of ideals.

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