Explore the First Amendment Freedom to Petition

Where America Stands on Petition

whereamericastands.org

Americans use their right to petition more than they might realize. The latest Freedom Forum survey shows just 14% can name it as a First Amendment freedom. But 73% say they have signed a petition and more than four in 10 have petitioned elected officials in other ways.

Find more of where America stands on the First Amendment at WhereAmericaStands.org.

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The First Amendment is the cornerstone of a government of, by and for the people. One of the five freedoms it guarantees is the right of the people to petition the government for change.

The right to petition protects our right to ask the government to fix a wrong or change a policy.

Petition is a powerful tool that has supported social change from the birth of our nation to ending slavery, women’s suffrage and the civil rights movement.

Signing a petition is one way to exercise this right. But it is not the only way.

More ways to petition are to:

  • File a lawsuit
  • Testify before the government at any level, from your local school board to the U.S. Congress
  • Submit a complaint to a government agency
  • Contact a government official
  • Circulate a ballot initiative or referendum for others to sign

Voting is often called the ultimate expression of petition. By voting, citizens can reelect or defeat an incumbent, support a cause or deny a policy proposal.

The right to petition does not guarantee a petition will be answered. It does protect the right to complain to the government without fear of punishment.

Here you can find how-to guides, historic lessons, First Amendment insights and stories of using the First Amendment right to petition the government for change.

A Nation Born of Petition

Our nation exists because of petition. The British crown had repeatedly ignored the American colonies’ petitions. For many colonists, this was not acceptable. The founders declared independence, saying:

“In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free People.”

Later, the First Amendment specifically protected this freedom the former colonists did not have.

Expert Columns

Freedom Forum fellows offer their insights on the right to petition and the First Amendment.

FirstFiveCol_Protest_9.1.21

Perspective: Protect assembly and petition by preserving listening at public meetings
By Gene Policinski
Public meetings are an important opportunity to petition government officials, but this freedom is being tested in today’s rancorous, confrontational society.

More columns:

Petition in Action


Seven Days of 1961

Seven Days of 1961
The USA TODAY NETWORK highlights critical moments of petition and protest that shaped the civil rights era.

Dig Deeper: Resources for Engaging With Elections


Disinformation Nation: Are You Propaganda Proof?

Disinformation Nation: Are You Propaganda Proof?

#CantDupeMe: 10 Tips to Spot Media Manipulation

#CantDupeMe: 10 Tips to Spot Media Manipulation

Decoding Elections: Process, Persuasion & Participation

Decoding Elections: Process, Persuasion & Participation

Evaluating Election Ads: Examine Techniques Campaigns Use to Persuade Voters

Evaluating Election Ads: Examine Techniques Campaigns Use to Persuade Voters

Exhibits


Experience the ultimate form of petition — the right to vote — from the Newseum’s collection, past and current pop-up exhibits supported by the Freedom Forum.

An Evening with the Curator: Women Win the Vote

First Amendment Freedoms: Women Win the Vote
Support for this exhibit was provided by Booz Allen Hamilton and the Barbara Lee Family Foundation.

Take a virtual tour of the First Amendment Freedoms: Women Win the Vote exhibit, which is currently on display at Ronald Reagan National airport and Dulles International airport. This exhibit tells the story of the fierce women who fought a decades-long battle so that women nationwide could vote. It displays images of historic front pages from the Newseum collection and photographs of the suffragists, plus touchable suffrage banners in purple, yellow and white, the colors of the movement. It will be on display through this year’s 100th anniversary of ratification of the 19th amendment.

Every Four Years: Presidential Campaigns and the Press

Every Four Years: Presidential Campaigns and the Press

Every four years, Americans elect a president. And every four years, battle lines are drawn as presidential candidates and reporters face off in the conflict zone known as the campaign trail. The path to the presidency provides stories of privacy and personality, of image and character, of polls and spin. This Newseum exhibit examines the tactics used by politicians — and illuminated by the press — to put democracy to the test and a candidate in the White House.

Support for this exhibit was provided by Booz Allen Hamilton and the Barbara Lee Family Foundation.

Programs


Social Media Platforms and the Fight Against Election Disinformation

Social Media Platforms and the Fight Against Election Disinformation
Nathaniel Persily, co-director of the Stanford Program on Democracy and the Internet, and others explore what social media platforms are doing to tackle disinformation, foreign interference and fake news during this election season. Jeffrey Rosen, president and CEO of the National Constitution Center, will moderate.

First Five Now: Student Activism and the Poll Hero Project

First Five Now: Student Activism and the Poll Hero Project
Ryan Schwieger, a senior at Princeton University and co-founder of the Poll Hero Project, talks about his organization’s goal to recruit thousands of young people to be poll workers on Election Day.

Jack Weinberg (Steve Marcus, via University of California, Berkeley/The Bancroft Library)

First Five Now: The Free Speech Movement: How It All Began
“First Five Now” presents an interview with Jack Weinberg, whose act of civil disobedience 56 years ago helped launch the highly influential and revolutionary Free Speech Movement. Along with championing free speech, Weinberg used the power of petition and assembly throughout his career as he campaigned for a variety of social and environmental causes.

‘Raise Your Voice’

First Five Now: ‘Raise Your Voice’
First Five Now previews the new documentary, “Raise Your Voice,” which follows the student journalists at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School following their school’s mass shooting in 2018 and connects to a broader story about the importance of youth voices, particularly in an election year, as adults in their lives carry their perspectives with them into the voting booth.

For more upcoming programs, visit our events calendar here.

Gen Z on Overlooked First Amendment Freedoms


Each year the Freedom Forum selects an outstanding high school student from every state and the District of Columbia to participate in the annual Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference. In addition to winning a $1,000 scholarship, our Free Spirit Scholars produce projects to help educate their peers about the First Amendment. Learn more about Free Spirit Scholars here.

Bridgette Adu-Wadier

The Importance of Civic Engagement Among Youth
Bridgette Adu-Wadier, a senior at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., interviewed student journalists and activists from around the country. She asked them to share ways in which they exercise their First Amendment freedoms, with particular focus on the freedoms of petition and the press, and their impacts on elections.

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