The First Amendment Explained

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 to the U.S. Constitution

What do the words of the First Amendment mean?

Freedom of religion
The First Amendment prevents the government from establishing an official religion. Citizens have freedom to attend a church, synagogue, temple or mosque of their choice — or not to attend at all. The First Amendment allows us to practice our religion the way we want to.

Freedom of speech
The First Amendment keeps the government from making laws that might stop us from saying what we think. People have the right to criticize the government and to share their opinions with others.

Freedom of the press
A free press means we can get information from many different sources. The government cannot control what is printed in newspapers and books, broadcast on TV or radio or offered online. Citizens can request time on television to respond to views with which they disagree; they may write letters to newspaper editors and hope those letters will be printed for others to see. They can pass out leaflets that give their opinions. They can have their own Web pages and offer their opinions to others through the many means made available by the Internet.

Freedom of assembly
Citizens can come together in public and private gatherings. They can join groups for political, religious, social or recreational purposes. By organizing to accomplish a common goal, citizens can spread their ideas more effectively.

Right to petition
“To petition the government for a redress of grievances” means that citizens can ask for changes in the government. They can do this by collecting signatures and sending them to their elected representatives; they can write, call or e-mail their elected representatives; they can support groups that lobby the government.

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