The first and the most significant of the amendments to our Constitution is the First Amendment. "The amendment that established our freedoms as citizens of our new confederation." The First Amendment insures freedom of speech and of the press.
The First Amendment ratification was completed on December 15, 1791. This happened when the eleventh State, which is Virginia, approved this amendment. At that time there were fourteen States in the Union. There are many examples that show use of The First Amendment and there are also many examples that show breaking of it. One of the major organizations that exercise free speech is the press. The press has come up with the phrase, "It is the people's First Amendment right to know." One example is 9/11. The press had the right to release information to the public, but they had to use judgment in what they released. Certain news that they might release could put people in danger, therefore taking away the right of all people to be safe. Freedom is what our country is based on and we must make an effort to censor certain critical information. We must also edit the freedom of speech when it takes away from other rights that each citizen is guaranteed, like the right to privacy, or to a fair judicial process. There must also be laws that prevent false information from being released, intentionally or unintentionally. It is easy to take advantage of a person, by offering a new product that promises to do what no other product could do. It is the responsibility of the government to make sure that the people aren't being lied to, and that this new product is not just a way to cheat people.
The First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion. This is a part that is often taken away from individuals. A frightening but clear example of this was the Holocaust. Million of Jews were forced to hide their religion and to be ashamed because of one man that though it wasn't the right way to live. The U.S. Constitutions makes it so that this will never occur in The United States. Another example that shows breaching and use of two different sections of the constitution is the KKK. This organization commits crimes and puts down certain people just because of their religion. These people are making it so that some would not want to show their heritage and what they believe because they are scared of ridicule. The KKK although violent and seemingly evil actually uses The First Amendment every time they meet. Some hate the KKK but it is their right to organize and say what they feel. No one can stop them from saying what they think of a certain religion. Some feel that there should be limitation on freedom of speech but then would our country truly be free? Often, children need to have the material they watch censored, because they themselves cannot distinguish how raw the material they are watching is. Youth should be protected, as well as people of all other ages from that kind of raw material. An interesting quote on censorship reads, "Censorship reflects a society's lack of confidence in itself. It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime . . . ." Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, dissenting Ginzberg v. United States, 383 U.S. 463 (1966) There are other types of speech that also must be controlled, such as speech that borders on harassment. Whether it is on the streets, where a person is approaching others and following them, speaking their ideas but clearly not letting that person choose whether or not they want to hear that speech, or it is a person calling someone's home and speaking their mind, even though the person on the other end has said not to call anymore. Harassment must be prevented, even though it means that we abridge the freedom of speech.
Another questioned type of speech is anti-government speech. People feel that this type of speech should not be allowed, but some on the other hand believe that it is one of our most sacred rights. Though the government in question is an extraordinary one at this point, it may not always be so. That right was established to protect the people just in the case that their government is no longer safe. "The government has also protected the right to establish and practice all religions."
If someone of great power were to decide they wanted to misuse The First Amendment, it would have a big impact on our country. If you read The First Amendment it doesn't say anything about setting up a machine what will take over all radio and television so that it will only say what you want it to. Imagine that someone who had this capability broadcasted something they felt for years, it would eventually soak into people minds from its constant repetition and turn the world to believe it was true. Say someone decided to let lose over the airwaves that aliens were real and they were going to kill us all. It's possible that after waking up everyday hearing this and every time you turn on your television seeing this that it would be burned into your head and you would start believe that aliens were really going to come to earth and suck your brains out. The earth could go into a complete panic causing riots and fires that would eventually burn all of us alive. Once people find out that the only reason someone did this was to exercise their freedom of speech that is guaranteed to citizens in The First Amendment I think the creators of the constitution are going to be hated for the rest of time, which wouldn't be too long if this situation were to happen.
There is a lot to learn about government from researching an amendment. One of the most interesting is the process by which an amendment is turned from an idea to something that everyone in the country must abide by. Another thing that is learned when looking through the facts of an amendment is how tedious it must be. If there is anything that is left out, this could create a loop hole and cause problems, so the ratification process must be precise.
ASNE First Amendment Resources
Copley First Amendment Center
First Amendment Center
First Amendment Foundation (Florida)
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION (FOI)
The Brechner Center for Freedom of Information
Coalition of Journalists for Open Government
Electronic Frontier Foundation
FBI's FOIA Website
Florida Government-in-the-Sunshine Law
(Attorney General's Office)
Barron, Jerome A. First Amendment Law in a Nutshell.
St. Paul, MN: Thomson/West, 2004.