Reflections to the First Amendment

First Amendment of the American constitution guarantees of the rights of religion and freedom of speech or expression. The freedom of expression includes the press, speech right to assembly and the right of every citizen to petition the government for any redress of grievances. The First Amendment was put in place because at America’s foundation, people demanded an assurance that their basic freedoms will be respected. As our blueprint for individual liberty and the characteristic of an open society First Amendment assures every American citizen that he or she will not be subjected to unfair practices.

Without the First Amendment in place the religious minorities could be mistreated, those protesting against the government action could be detained and silenced and the press would not be free to point the wrongs done by the government or generally criticize the government and finally citizens of united states would not have the freedom to assemble and freely express their views. The government is prohidited by this clause from passing any law or establishing an official religion or showing preferance of one particular relogion establishment over the others.

This clause basically enforces the separation of church and state. The constitution guarantees the freedom of every citizen of the united States of America in terms of expression religion and assembly. Any violations of these rights,the citizens is at libertry to seek redress in the court of Law,the only court that is mandated by the constitution to decide on such a case is the supreme Court of the United States. Several cases have been brought in this court by citizens who have had their rights violated. This has happened since the constituion was ratified.

One of the cases touching on the First ammendment was Zelman vs Harris (2008) in which the taxpayers of Ohio wanted to enjoin a program in that it violated the first ammendment establishment clause. An Ohio Program which education chances to the families in any of the district schools in this state. The program helps in giving tuition aid for some students in Cleveland city school being the only school which is included in the program. The students are given chance to attend any of the public or private school chosen by their parents. The program is open to religious and non religious learning institution.

The tuition aid is given to the parents on the basis of their financial needs and the school where the financial aid is spent depends on which school the parents who have been accorded this aid decide to take their children. It is a rule that the number of tutorial aids granted to those children remaining in the schools which are publicly run must be equal to the tuition aid issued. In the academic year 1999-2000 eighty two of those schools which participated in the program had a religious affiliation while almost ninety six percent of the enroll children in the scholarship program were attending religiously affiliated schools.

(Bodenhammer, J and Ely, J 2008) The taxpayers held that since the program was enacted on a secular platform with an aim of providing assistance to the less privileged in the society. The question was whether this program was helping or advancing religion. The court ruled out that it was clear that the government assistance program was not subject to be challenged under the establishment clause of the first amendment it was neutral as far as religion was concerned.

The court went on to say that if the program was issuing assistance to a wide range of citizens in terms of classes who in turn channel the aid to religious affiliated schools was their own and independent choice which could not be challenged. In such circumstances the aid reaches schools which are affiliated or associated to a certain religious group not by government own selection method but through deliberate choices made by those receiving the grants for the purpose of redistribution.

The advancement of religious mission which in this case can be incidental can not be attributed to the government but rather to the groups or those individual receiving the aid. The program was one which of true choice and in this matter a private choice as it was consistent to a line of cases known as Muller and therefore it was constitutional. It was not inclined to any religious grouping nor was it towards advancement of any religious beliefs rather it was intended to help the students who were suffering due to failing district public schooling.

The court ruled that the program confers education help to a broad selection of class individual who have been selected without taking into consideration to their religious inclinition. The only preferred or favored group could only be the low income earners who are bound to receive a greater portion compared to the others. That is a viable discrimination as it is bound to help these families educate their children who perhaps would not get a chance to have education if such a program was not in place.

(Bodenhammer, J and Ely, J 2008) Instead of creating financial incentives which are inclined towards the so called religious affiliated institution the program comes up with a system which can be described as disincentive where the private institution get half of what the government aided school receive. In terms of law no reasonable person would be of the argument that such a neutral program has been a government imposement to give the grants in the manner they have been doing.

There was no evidence that such an initiative had failed to provide opportunities to the secular schools student. The parents had the choice of keeping their children in the public schools. The question on whether the Ohio parents were being forced to send their children to learning institution which were religiously affiliated was to be answered through thorough evaluation of all the options available for the Cleveland children of which one of them was to get a scholarship and then selecting a religious learning institution.

It was a fact that the program did not give rise to religious schools but they existed even before its establishment. The respondents’ fundamental rights to religion were not violated. Parents had not been forced to send their children to these schools as they had a choice of retaining their children in public schools and still have a chance of receiving the assistance. The respondents’ argument that ninety six percent of the recipient of the aid were enrolled in religiously be considered of constitutional importance but it was rejected as the program was found to be neutral.

The court ruled out that the constitutionality of the program which was neutral could not be simply be turned on whether and why any specific region at a given period had most of the private learning institution as affiliated to a certain religious group. (Bodenhammer, J and Ely, J 2008) The court decision to declare that the program was not violating the first amendment as far as the constitution was concerned went further to prove that the constitution protects the entire individual.

It was proved that there was no discrimination in terms of religion as the program was not only restricted to the private school which for that matter could have been associated to a certain religious group but also to other school. Parents were given opportunities to choose the school which they wanted their children to attend as long as they were in the category prescribed by the program. Of all the provisions the Freedom of speech has attracted the most analysis from the Court.

This goes back to as early as 1919 when the Court was called upon to deal with and determine whether this liberty is unlimited, or whether the Government has the power to curtail the speech in given situations. The case in question, Swenk v. United States (1919) relates to a situation where the secretary general of the socialist party had ordered the printing of leaflets which were to be sent to people in Philadephia. These people were in the middle of conscription process. The content of the leaflets was calling on the people to register their opposition of the war in Europe.

The paper was appealing to the young men to resist being taken to Europe to participate in the war. Some of those who received the leaflets made formal complaints to the authorities prompting the police to arrest Schnek where he was charged . H e pleaded not guilty to the charges brought against him. (Don, M 2003) After his conviction in December 1917 he appealed against the judgment to the Supreme court where he was challenging the Espionage act legality as far as the constitution is concerned . He argued that the act was not constituonal in relation to the First Amendment act.

In his argument the law limited full public discussion on the issues of war. His lawyer was of the opinion that the law was out of touch with the English legal system from which the American law system has borrowed a lot, where there is a distinction between an honest opinion and incitement speeches. Don, M (2003) observes that n this appeal the court ruled to uphold the act. While delivering his verdict Justice Holmes coined a phrase “clear and present “that have become a fundamental test for deciding whether a speech is guarded by the first amendment or not.

In explaining why Scheck should be convicted of his offence Justice Holmes said that” The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent” p 52. Scheck was inciting people to defy a government directive during wartime and therefore he was a threat to he national security, though he had every right to air his objection to the war in Europe he had no right to incite other to defy government order as that was tantamount to treason.

The constitution guarantees each and every individual freedom of speech but that freedom should not be enjoyed in a way that it threatens the very peaceful coexistence is supposed to provide. Scheck was convicted due to the reason that his action was tantamount to rebellion against his own government and his very act could not have been defended on the basis of the first amendment provision of freedom of speech. In the case Sherbert v. Verner (1963) a Seven-Day Adventist declined to perform his duties on a Saturday which is a Sabbath day according to his faith, due to this he was fired.

After several weeks unsuccessful trying to look for a job where he was not to work on Saturdays he was not taken on any that he applied. He applied for unemployment benefit but he was denied. The Employment Security Commission of South Carolina refused to give him benefits on the ground that he was on a working condition ,that he could have worked and he was available therefore he was not eligible for the unemployment benefit. Sherbet sought to challenge the statute as he was discriminated on the basis of his faith.

He argued that his freedom to practice his faith was being violated. The court forced the “strict scrutiny” standard against the state’s law and ruled that the point of preventing a situation where he could have been involved in fraud was outweighed by his right to observe what his religious prescribes. Here the court decided that Sherbet’s rights to worship had been violated and he was entitled to his day to worship. He could not get any job where he was not supposed to work on his day of worship.

The state’s body refusal to grant him the benefits was a violation of his right since they did not take into his consideration his right to worship was being violated making him unemployable. (Witte, J 2005) One may ask why these cases have to be decided by the Supreme Court. They are basically touching on the constitution; they aim at challenging the legality of some of the statutes that have been passed with time. The cases need to address whether these laws are unconstitutional.

The constitutional is the highest law on our land and the highest court in the land is mandated to hear and determine such cases which touch on the interpretation of our supreme laws. The decision made by the Supreme Court set a precedence which can be used in other cases in future. The judges can quote these rulings when deciding a case in future but they are not bound by such decision. They affect in one or another future rulings. The rulings in the above cases can be used in future and they in one way or another affect the rights of American citizens as far as their rights are concerned.

In one hand they encourage the citizens to seek redress once they feel that they have had their freedoms violated and on the other hand they serve as a lesson for those who may be ignorant on the law especially the one touching on the individual rights to take precautionary measures. (Don, M 2003) Passing of the patriotic act in the recent past has been challenged on the ground that it violates the rights of the people. This law basically touches on the protecting America from terrorist act. There have been cries from different quarters concerning the provisions made in this law.

The basis of this law largely touches on the matters of national security which are paramount for the protection of the citizens. A debate has been raged whether the need to protect the nation should supercede the need for an individual to enjoy his or her freedoms. Definately there is bound to be some conflict as pertaining these issues since both of them are important. The national security in this country is paramount but at the same time personal liberties should be respected at all the times unless we are convinced beyond reasonable doubt that an individual is a threat to the same security we all should enjoy.

The need to protect our nation is such an important issue whereby people some to be growing comfortable with the law despite the shortcomings and the oppositions coming from the different corners. First Amendment act goes a long way in ensuring that every citizen is protected at his or her own right, if the law takes its course then citizens in this country will be at a better position in terms of their rights even on matters touching on our security.

The law is there to protect all of us from oppressions by others and also to some extent by us. First amendment protection is enough but we as citizens need to be responsible enough to allow other to enjoy their freedom. Reference Bodenhammer, J and Ely, J (2008). The Bill of Rights in Modern America, Indiana University Press Witte, J (2005) Religion and the American Constitutional Experiment, Westview Press Don, M (2003) The Right to the City: Social Justice and the fight for Public, Giulford Press