First Amendment applies to all Americans. Our nation affirms the truth
of inalienable rights for all, working for more than 200 years to
make the ideals expressed in the First Amendment a reality in the
lives of all Americans. These rights were so important to early citizens
and their leaders, many states refused to ratify the Constitution
of the United States without the promise
of amendments that would protect individual rights.
Here are some
First Principles to help you and your students to interpret
these eloquent 45 words and understand how they influence our daily
The First Amendment affirms the freedom of the individual.
government is based upon the concept that all human beings are
born with certain rights or freedoms. The First Amendment guards
these rights by prohibiting the government from denying citizens
their rights. The government does not give us our rights. Its
role is to guard the rights that we already have.
We, as individuals,
have freedom of conscience. Religious liberty, or freedom of conscience,
protects the beliefs of everyone, not just those of recognized
faith communities. We are free to worship or not to worship
as we choose. The government may not tell us what church,
synagogue, mosque or temple to attend or whether, where and how
we should pray.
our ideas and beliefs are our own. We are free to develop and
express our thoughts. Through our free press, we have access to
a vast range of information. We may criticize our government if
we see fit to do so. Judgments about ideas are for individuals
to make, not for government to decree.
Amendment guarantees we may associate with people and join groups
of our own choosing. We may ask or lobby the government to correct
certain wrongs or support our beliefs.
Free expression is the foundation the cornerstone
Amendment is based on the premise that people who can freely share
information (especially about their government) will be informed
and able to make sound choices about what leaders to elect, what
forms of government they want, what laws to enact. The freedom
to exchange information about the government enables people to
seek alternatives to bad government.
The First Amendment tells the government to keep its hands
off our religion, our ideas, our ability to express ourselves.
shall make no law
means that as far as possible the
government may not interfere with our fundamental rights. The
government may not pass laws that take away our First Amendment
freedoms or that force us to express ideas including religious
beliefs that we do not embrace. But the First Amendment
is not absolute.
law does not mean absolutely no law. For instance,
human sacrifice cannot be permitted in the name of freedom of
conscience. The Supreme Court has affirmed that some limits must
be placed on our freedoms. The government, for example, may regulate
the time, place and manner, but not regulate solely on the basis
of the content of our beliefs, ideas, and expressions.
We may need to hold a permit before we march in support of a particular
cause, but we should not have to worry about the government telling
us we have no right to believe in that cause or express that idea.
Other people have rights, too.
Amendment is based upon the conviction that all human beings have
inalienable rights. Our commitment to rights is inseparably linked
to our civic responsibility to guard those rights for all others.
with unpopular views or unrefined speech, members of the public
may ask, Why doesn't the government do something about that?
The answer? Neither government nor a majority of the public has
the authority to stop an unpopular idea.
First Amendment belongs to everyone to each individual
it encourages us to respect the right of others to hold
their viewpoints and religious beliefs. The First Amendment protects
minority viewpoints and helps us to understand that limiting the
rights of some people may eventually limit the rights of all.
When rights collide, government must balance them.
the government plays a role in balancing our rights. When two
rights collide, tension and controversy may result. What happens,
for example, when a person's right to a fair trial conflicts with
our right to learn if a fair trial is actually taking place through
accounts reported in our free press? What happens when an individuals
right to personal privacy conflicts with the free flow of information?
The government (through the courts) may make decisions that protect
both rights to the fullest extent possible.
to knowing where government officials draw the line when regulating
expression, it is important to understand who may and may not
control what we say or write or perform.
administrators are government officials and, like city officials,
have both power and limits regarding regulation of expression.
Although students do not give up their First Amendment rights
when they come to school, the United States Supreme Court has
determined that school officials may restrict students rights
if the administrators determine that exercising those rights would
interfere with the schools mission of educating its students.
However, as government officials, they may not control or censor
expression to the degree that a private organization or family
might. The First Amendment does not apply to private school officials.
The First Amendment helps us make choices.
In the marketplace
of ideas, we may choose which views to support and which
ones to reject. When all ideas are allowed to flourish, we
as individuals may decide what ideas and concepts to question,
embrace or reject.
advocates say it best: The antidote to distasteful or hateful
speech is not censorship, but more speech.