5 Freedoms in the First Amendment

The First Amendment is probably the most well known of the amendments in the Bill of Rights. It is also one of the most important ones. The First Amendment states, “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” (Education for Freedom Lesson 1).

To break it down, there are five key freedoms that are stated in the First Amendment.

1. Freedom of Religion– the First Amendment states that the government does not have the ability to establish a certain religion for the country to follow. It also states that the government does not have the right to forbid the practice of any religion. Citizens are allowed to attend religious meetings, or not attend them at all!

2. Freedom of Speech– as stated in the First Amendment, “people have the right to speak freely without government interference” (Illinois First Amendment Center). As a Mass Communications major, this freedom of the First Amendment is especially important. There are many rules and stipulations one must know about this freedom. While citizens do have the ability to speak freely, there are limitations and exceptions to that freedom. Some examples of speech that would not be protected under the First Amendment include but are not limited to, speech that would incite imminent lawless action, true threats, obscenity, or defamation (Freedom of Speech in the United States).

3. Freedom of the Press– the government does not have the authority to control what is printed in newspapers, broadcasted on radio and television, or sent through the Internet; Government is not able to interfere. Similar to the Freedom of Speech, Freedom of thePress is also important to Mass Communications majors and also has limitations. For more information of limitations and instances where the government can interfere, look to Freedom of the Press.

4. Freedom of Assembly– in the First Amendment, it is stated that “people have the right to gather in public to march, protest, demonstrate, carry signs and otherwise express their views in a nonviolent way” (Illinois First Amendment Center). The key word in this freedom is peacefully. Government puts limitations on the Freedom of Assembly by requiring sometimes hard to get permits that allow individuals to speak in a public place or march in a certain area.

5. Right to Petition– this freedom means that citizens are allowed to petition governmental laws if they seem unfair. Individuals are allowed to gather signatures and lobby legislative action to see a change in laws.

 

 

 

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The Pentagon Papers- Courtesy of Newseum

When I first heard about the Pentagon Papers, I was taking a Media Law & Ethics class. The class dealt with the First Amendment which says, “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” (US Constitution Bill of Rights).

During the late 60s and early 70s when much of the United States was protesting being involved in the Vietnam War, President Nixon was telling the country his plan to get out of Vietnam. However, when Daniel Ellsberg discovered the Pentagon Papers, officially called the Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense, he believed the Nixon administration was not to be trusted and the public must know the truth (Pentagon Papers). In 1971, Ellsberg released the confidential government documents to the New York Times who published the papers on the front page. The President ordered for a restraining order to be issued to stop further publications of the New York Times. After a judge agreed, Ellsberg gave the papers to the Washington Post. The same thing happened again. The most read newspapers in the country went to court saying the restraining orders went against their First Amendment rights of freedom from government abridging the press. The supreme court overturned the ruling and ruled 6:3 in favor of the press (The Pentagon Papers).

This was the first time in history that anyone, including the government, tried to halt the printing of the press. The case about the Pentagon Papers shows how important freedom of the press is. Daniel Ellsberg felt that the public needed to know what was going on regardless of the fact the papers were classified. This case forever changed the press.

Video courtesy of Newseum.