First Amendment to the United States Constitution

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The First Amendment to the United States Constitution, relating to the rights to free speech, a free press, freedom of assembly, freedom to petition, and free exercise of religion, was enacted as part of the Bill of Rights, its ratification occuring on December 15, 1791 with the support of the Virginia Legislature.

Text of the First Amendment

The First Amendment, as passed by the House and Senate and later ratified by the States, reads:

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.

Earlier drafts of the Amendment

  • The legislature of the United States shall pass no law on the subject of religion nor touching or abridging the liberty of the press.
    • Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Resolution offered in the Philadelphia Convention, May 29, 1787. The United States Constitution was enacted without any protection for religion or the press, but with the understanding that a Bill of Rights would shortly be enacted to address these concerns.
  • The Civil Rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, nor on any pretext infringed. No state shall violate the equal rights of conscience or the freedom of the press, or the trial by jury in criminal cases.
  • No religion shall be established by law, nor shall the equal rights of conscience be infringed.
    • House Select Committee, July 28, 1789.
  • Congress shall make no laws touching religion, or infringing the rights of conscience.
  • Congress shall make no law establishing religion, or to prevent the free exercise thereof, or to infringe the rights of conscience.
  • Congress shall make no law establishing religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
    • First Senate version, September 3, 1789.
  • Congress shall make no law establishing articles of faith or a mode of worship, or prohibiting the free exercise of religion.
    • Final Senate version, September 9, 1789.
  • Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
    • Conference Committee, September 24, 1789.

About the First Amendment

  • It must never be forgotten, however, that the Bill of Rights was the child of the Enlightenment. Back of the guarantee of free speech lay faith in the power of an appeal to reason by all the peaceful means for gaining access to the mind. It was in order to avert force and explosions due to restrictions upon rational modes of communication that the guarantee of free speech was given a generous scope. But utterance in a context of violence can lose its significance as an appeal to reason and become part of an instrument of force. Such utterance was not meant to be sheltered by the Constitution.
    • Felix Frankfurter, Milk Wagon Drivers Union of Chicago, Local 753. v. Meadowmoor Dairies, Inc., 312 U.S. 287, 293 (1941).
  • The First Amendment is often inconvenient. But that is beside the point. Inconvenience does not absolve the government of its obligation to tolerate speech.
    • Anthony Kennedy, International Society for Krishna Consciousness v. Lee, 505 U.S. 672, 672 (1992) (concurring).
  • You do not define the First Amendment. It defines you. And it is bigger than you. That's how freedom works. It also demands you do your homework.
  • You could say that the paparazzi and the tabloids are sort of the "assault weapons" of the First Amendment. They're ugly, a lot of people don't like them, but they're protected by the First Amendment — just as "assault weapons" are protected by the Second Amendment.

See also

External links