The first amendment was the first change that was made to the United States constitution before it was ratified. It mainly addressed the Bill of rights and it simply targeted the congress from making laws that would compromise the rights of Americans but it was later interpreted by the Supreme Court to apply to both the judiciary and the executive. This is perhaps the most important amendment to have been done on the US constitution as it addressed things such as freedom to express oneself, of religion, of peaceful assembly and of petitioning the government.
Its roots could be traced back to the 18th century’s bill that was drafted by Thomas Jefferson and it addressed issues of religion which after a series of amendments, the bill qualified to become a law. It was not easy to make changes as there were many stumbling blocks that impeded its amendments. The first amendment of the constitution was very important as far as the US constitution was to be accepted and the reason for this was that it was necessary to address issues of freedoms which were not incorporated in the constitution.
This research paper is going to discuss about the first amendment of the US constitution, its significance and challenges that it faced before it could be ratified. The paper starts by giving a brief introduction of what the First amendment entails and then will discuss the main issues that were addressed and various challenges that were faced in its main body.
The paper concludes by recapitulating the key points that have been discussed and on the last page of this research paper is a list of all the sources that have been consulted while doing this research formatted in accordance with the MLA formatting style requirements. The proposed constitution had to be ratified by nine states of the US before it would become a law and it was quite clear that it was hard for it to amass the required support as it was strongly opposed by the anti-federalists and other people who feared that the issues of human rights had not been properly addressed.
The people who were given the duty of drafting the constitution had miscalculated the outcomes of passing it the way it was. They thought that the constitution denied the Congress the powers to interfere with freedom of speech and thus they assumed it would practice restraint. After long tug of war, those who supported the constitution won the day but only after accepting that amendments were necessary and needed to be implemented the soonest an opportunity would avail itself.
It is in respect to this agreement that Madison, a congressman came with the first amendment proposal which mainly addressed the Bill of Rights and after some discussions were held it became a law which stated that “The 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” (American library association).
On the issue of religion, the amendment put on notice the ways through which freedom of religion would be infringed if it was ratified without some clauses being revised. Madison was the first to come with a proposal whose main objective was to separate state and religion to avoid the former from interfering the latter’s affairs. In his proposal, Madison proposed that civil rights should not be compromised on the basis of ones religious beliefs, stands, worship and practices.
He also proposed that a law be established to prohibit the establishment of any national religion as that would kill the freedom of religion. The proposal was subjected to a rigorous discussion and its language was altered and some phrases were revised to give what is now called the First Amendment. The looming danger of adopting the constitution before amendments were made could be understood well when 17th century history is revisited.
During this period, most of the newly established American colonies favored the establishment of one national religion whose affairs could be financed and managed by the government. These colonies also advocated for the passage of a law that would ensure that all citizens attended church ceremonies and services, a sentiment that was not shared by many residents leading to conflicts. Now, when it came to drafting the constitution, its drafters did not want to make similar mistakes and thus issues that would have affect the public had to be addressed in good time (US Supreme Court Center).
Since this amendment was made, several changes have been instituted through court challenges pertaining religion for example in 1940, the Supreme Court of United States of America in a court case Cantwell v. Connecticut where Cantwell a Jehovah witness follower was soliciting for new members in a catholic dominated region challenged the state’s Supreme Court in the US Supreme Court where it was ruled that the state of Connecticut was violating the freedom of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment by asking individuals who want to solicit funds and to obtain a license from the secretary of public welfare before they would do so.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court clarified the law that the provisions of the first amendment applied to both the states legislatures and the federal at large. On the issue of establishment clause, the court prohibited any officially sponsored prayer in schools and it allowed religious members to display their symbols of religion in public especially during some important occasions like Christmas. In 2005 (Abramson. and Pinkerton 169), another court case Orden v.
Perry, the court ruled that erecting a monument with Ten Commandments on Texas’ Capitol was not in any way a violation of the Establishment Clause. This clause raises question as to whether the state violates the freedom of religion by taxing properties of the church and if it does not, is that not unconstitutional establishment of religion? The clouds that surrounded this issue were cleared in the case Walz vs. Tax Commission of the City of New York where religious groups were exempted from taxation but though this was the case, the ruling went against the First amendment provisions.
Apart from religion, the other thing that was addressed by the First amendment was the freedom of expression which encompasses freedom of press, speech, freedom to petition the government to address issues affecting people and the freedom of assembly. The amendment on these issues was first meant for the congress but later it was interpreted by the Supreme Court of United States in a 1925 court case between Gitlow and New York to apply even to the federal governments. To prevent interference of these rights by the government, the 14th amendment clause called the Due process clause addressed this issue (Cornell University law school).
According to the First Amendment, all people of the United States have the right to express themselves freely without any interference whatsoever by the government; be it in speaking, writing or publishing their views. The first proposal on this was introduced in the House of Representatives by Madison on 8th June, 1789 and after discussions, it was restructured into a law that stated that, “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and consult for their common good, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
” (US Supreme Court Center) According to Madison, press liberty is what determined whether a state could claim to be free or not as this could only be gauged by looking if the press is being censured before publication is made or a publisher is harassed if he exposes a criminal related matter to the public. This concern emanated from what was practiced in US since American Revolution time whereby for a media to be allowed to operate, it had first of all to acquire a license which had conditions that had to be met before it was issued something that limited the power of the press.
According to him, everybody should be free to say whatever he/she wants as long as it is right and could be substantiated but if mischievous, improper or something illegal is published then the publisher should be held accountable. Proper clarifications of this law were made in 1970 when the then president of the united states Richard Nixon filed a court case in 1971 in his bid to prevent the Washington Post and the New York Times from releasing Pentagon papers to the public.
In this case, the Supreme Court made it clear that neither the court nor the president had powers to do so because it was unconstitutional (Abramson. and Pinkerton 171). According to the Supreme Court, no one according to the constitution should be punished for publications or speeches’ content something that would have left a loophole for malicious information to be made public without the publisher being held accountable.
This is why the Supreme Court was quick to make some changes in this law by excluding some speeches from what the is guaranteed by freedom of speech in the First Amendment for example publications and speeches meant to criticize the government. Controversy over whether people were to be allowed to openly criticize the government or incite people to vote it out rose but specifications were made by the Congress in 1798, though unconstitutional, under the Alien and Sedition Act that any publication or speech meant to disrepute the government were prohibited.
Though this adjustment was in contravention of the amendment, nobody rose to challenge the Congress’ decision before its expiry date in 1801 (Emerson 875). According to the (Cornell University Law School) most of the freedoms of expression laws were put into test properly during the World Wars for example during the First World War, there were many espionage cases in court and the court seemed to suggest that the Congress could constitutionally disband any form of speech that ought to interfere with war efforts however remote it was.
The claim was made clear in the 1919’s case, Schenck vs. United States where it was ruled that speeches that posed what the Justice Wendell Holmes Junior termed as ‘clear and present danger’ would be banned but his sentiments were not shared by other Justices and other citizens who kept challenging this decision though not in courts. In 1969, in another court case, Brandenburg v.
Ohio it was made clear that it was unconstitutional for the government to prevent its people to advocate for violence or any illegal action unless it was in such a manner as it would be inciting or would result to imminent lawlessness for example mobilizing people to take revenge on a prisoner who has been convicted (Emerson 881). In short, what the court was trying to say was that anybody could advocate for violence so long as his/her actions can in no way result to violence.
The First Amendment is one of the major and most important amendments to have been made in the US constitution as it addressed the issues of human rights without which people could not enjoy the fruits of democracy. It was hard for the constitution to have been ratified without taking into consideration the issues that its opponent had raised and particularly the anti-Federalists. The amendment was able to address the issues that affected the Americans prior to its ratification like lack of the freedom of expression where one had to obtain a license to be able to publish information to the public.
There is high probability that future clarifications will have to be made because the amendment on the freedom of expression left a lot of loopholes that will have to be addressed at one time. For example, allowing people to spread information that can lead to people losing confidence in their government it might in future be banned just like it was the case before 1801 when they were outlawed by the expired Alien and Sedition Act.
Works Cited: Abramson, Paul R. and Pinkerton, Steven D. With pleasure: thoughts on the nature of human sexuality. Oxford University Press US, 1995. America Library Association. First Amendment of the Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution. 2009. Accessed at http://www. ala. org/ala/aboutala/offices/oif/firstamendment/firstamendment.
cfm Cornell University Law School. First Amendment: an overview. Retrieved from http://topics. law. cornell. edu/wex/First_amendment. Emerson, T. I. Toward a General Theory of the First Amendment. Yale Law Journal Vol. 72 (5): 1963; 869–949. US Supreme Court Center. Freedom of Expression – Speech and Press: Adoption and the Common Law Background. 2005. Accessed from http://supreme. justia. com/constitution/amendment-01/20-freedom-of- expression. html