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The First Amendment to the United States Constitution Explained

First Amendment
The 1st Amendment guarantees 5 basic freedoms.

1st Amendment of the Constitution
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.

1st Amendment?

The United States Constitution is a written document that took effect in 1789. It sets out the principles by which the new nation was to be governed.

The founding fathers were keen to preserve the principle of individual freedom with the First Amendment. So they enshrined in law certain limits on the role and scope of the federal government.

Woman at protest
Freedom of speech is protected by the United States Constitution.

Freedoms and Amendments

A series of amendments have been added to the Constitution over the years, each designed to clarify the government’s role in certain circumstances. The first ten amendments together comprise the Bill of Rights.

The First Amendment protects freedoms such as free speechreligious freedom, and press freedom.

Guaranteed Freedoms in the First Amendment

The 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees American citizens basic rights.

These are:

  • the freedom to practice a religion of your choosing
  • the freedom to speak freely
  • the freedom of the press
  • the freedom to assemble for a common purpose
  • the freedom to petition the government

Together these freedoms are termed ‘freedoms of expression.’

Journalist taking notes
Freedom of the press in the United States is legally protected by the First Amendment.

No government can remove freedom of expression

The First Amendment ensures that no government can legislate to remove these basic freedoms.

The First Amendment established the principles for the United States’ future governance by protecting the individual right to freedom of expression and limiting the federal government’s power.

The First Amendment is reasonably clear in setting out the basic freedoms individuals enjoy.

A march for equal rights
Peaceful protest is another freedom of expression protected by the Constitution.

However, as time has passed and changes and developments occurred, it has been necessary for courts and legislators to go into greater detail on exactly what is protected and what is not.

The 1st Amendment interpretation has led to landmark court cases and subsequent legislation to ensure it is up-to-date.

Freedom of Religion

One area where doubts have been expressed about the interpretation of the First Amendment is concerning religion.

Were the Founding Fathers, such as James Madison, concerned only with established religions at that time?

Portrait of James Madison
Founding Father James Madison

Were they only considering the various factions within the Christian religion?

Did they grant religious freedom to all, even if the religion in question was unusual?

For example, should cults enjoy the same freedom as the main religions?

The Supreme Court has ruled on religious freedom matters on several occasions, although some say not always consistently.

Freedom of Speech

In the past, the United States Supreme Court guaranteed political free speech due to the 1st Amendment.

The protection of political speech offered by its decisions ensures that the government cannot interfere to limit the right to express political opinions.

United States Supreme Court
United States Supreme Court.

The areas where the Supreme Court admits government interference is legitimate are inciting illegal acts, inciting violence, hate speech, obscene language, pornography, other obscene material, symbolic means of expression (for example, burning draft cards), and commercial speech.

Interference in freedom of commercial speech allows the government to legislate to protect consumers from misleading advertisements, for example.

Freedom of the Press

Similar conventions brought by the First Amendment cover freedom of the press and the enforcement of censorship.

Newspaper stack
Freedom of the press extends to the right to publish material that might be libelous.

The United States Supreme Court has moved in the past to protect the press’s rights to publish material that might be libelous. It is up to the injured party to prove that the statements were false and were published maliciously.

The government is only permitted to step in and prevent the publication of any item if it can be proven there is a ‘clear and present danger’ to national security by appearing in print.

First Amendment of the US Constitution
The First Amendment is one of the ten amendments that make up the Bill of Rights. It was adopted on December 15, 1791, and protects fundamental rights such as freedom of religion, speech, and the press, as well as the right to assemble and petition the government.
Key Provisions
Freedom of Religion
Freedom of Speech
Freedom of the Press
Right to Assemble
Right to Petition the Government
Freedom of Religion
The First Amendment’s Establishment Clause prohibits the government from establishing or endorsing a specific religion, while the Free Exercise Clause protects individuals’ right to practice their own religion.
Key Provisions
Establishment Clause
Free Exercise Clause
Freedom of Speech
The First Amendment protects the freedom of speech, including unpopular or offensive speech. However, certain types of speech, such as libel, obscenity, and incitement to violence, are not protected.
Key Provisions
Protection of free speech
Limits on free speech
Freedom of the Press
The First Amendment protects the freedom of the press, including the right to publish information that is critical of the government. However, like freedom of speech, the freedom of the press is not absolute, and certain restrictions apply.
Key Provisions
Protection of free press
Limits on free press
Right to Assemble
The First Amendment guarantees the right to peacefully assemble, meaning that individuals are allowed to gather in public spaces to express their views.
Key Provisions
Right to peaceful assembly
Limits on assembly
Right to Petition the Government
The First Amendment guarantees the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances, meaning that individuals have the right to make requests, complaints, or demands to the government without fear of retribution.
Key Provisions
Right to petition the government

Limits on petitioning the government


5 Responses

  1. A couple of typos on this sentence : The governemnt is only permitted to step in an prevent publication of any item if it can be proved there is ‘clear and present danger’ to national security by its appearing in print.

  2. It’s interesting you “omit” the term “peaceably assemble.”
    Do you question the term “peaceably?” Try Webster’s, Standard Version.
    Arson, breaking and interring, theft, destruction of property, assault, do not, in any manner, encompass
    peaceful assembly.
    The willful destruction of this Republic lies at the feet of the Press, twisting the first amendment into a pretzel.
    Lets follow this thought:
    The Constitution was written to protect, and defend, We The People.
    Does “Freedom Of The Press Shall Not e Abridged’ cover obfuscation and lying?

  3. The concept of freedom of religion by definition also includes the freedom FROM religion. I have the right to not be impacted by any religion that wants to enact laws based upon their particular religion’s creeds or literature.
    Any law that is based upon a religious text or concept should be automatically voided by the courts.

    And this is me using my First Amendment right of freedom of political speech to say so.

  4. Nor do you have free exercise of Religion, as the Bible Jesus said to be armed, in Luke 22:36 yet you can be arrested in many states, like California if you even open carry a gun for protection.
    So much for the “Free exercise of Religion”.

  5. Our four fathers had created the government and the constitution for the sole reason to protect the people, “We The People”
    For the 1st Amendment is as it states and yes an individual can choose to believe in the religion that they choose, but it does not give a person the right to make another believe in the one they want.
    If you want a different set of rules, go to another country, it is your right to do so. But it does not give you the right to change what has worked here for the “American People”
    Our country is one of a kind, and it seems that people that believe in “Lucifier” want to destroy our country.
    so if anything must change it is the ones that are presenting the lies, manipulation to our citizens, ill guiding our children and trying to brain wash them into becoming what they want instead of letting them be who they are.
    Unity is good, even if you choose to believe different things. For diversity is a tool to move forward in ways maybe someone didnt know even possible before. I really think that we all should just live life by the “golden rule”
    Very simple and i wish that instant karma was real, so if so, you know how much crZY, SICK AND illegal *!@# would stop….. INSTANTLY???

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