My name is Claire Walker. I am a Political Science major at the University of Texas at Dallas. I have had special experience training in at the Mercury One Leadership Program, led by historians Tim Barton, David Barton, and Glenn Beck. I am also the President of the Turning Point USA chapter at my university. The more experience I get, the more I realize that most people do not understand the original meaning and intent behind essential laws that established our nation. Over the next few weeks, I will be explaining my understanding of critical amendments, why they were created, and how they have changed today.
“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.
”First Amendment, 1791
THE TRUE INTENTIONS BEHIND THE FIRST AMENDMENT
The Freedom of Speech
Everyone knows what the First Amendment says, but not everyone knows why the First Amendment was created and what its true protections are. The Bill of Rights was established to limit the government and not the people. The founders understood that to have a free country, they needed to establish the protections of free speech, the freedom of religion, the freedom of the press and the freedom to assemble. The freedom of speech, assembly, and press were all created with the biggest concern of the government regulating political beliefs that oppose the politicians in charge. In simple terms, the freedom of speech was adopted to protect the voice of the minority, but that minorities today do not look the same as we imagine they did in 1791 when the first amendment was ratified. Minorites can range anywhere from race to political beliefs. The beauty of the Freedom of Speech Clause is that even though minorities and societies have changed, the law still applies the same way as it did when it was created. It is important to remember that the First Amendment protects what you want to say, as well as what you want to refrain from speaking. The Supreme Court case, Pacific Gas and Electric Co., v. Public Utilities Commission of California (1986) explicitly states, “since all speech inherently involves choices of what to say and what to leave unsaid, one important manifestation of the principle of free speech is that one who chooses to speak may also decide what not to say.” When the Supreme Court does their job correctly, they interpret the original meaning of a law and the framer’s intent to establish the law. The protection of choosing what you want to refrain from saying is vital for public businesses. With this protection, businesses should not have to represent anything for the city or state that is against their sincerely held beliefs. The majority opinion in Pacific Gas and Electric Co., v. Public Utilities Commission of California (1986), written by Justice Powell, explains that the First Amendment, Freedom of Speech Clause was created so all people, even minorities and businesses, can choose what they want to say. However, the First Amendment does not protect all speech. R.A.V v. St. Paul (1992) defines and prohibits hate speech on the basis of race, color, creed, religion or gender. In this Supreme Court case, the Justices address that the government does not have to protect speech that is harmful to other people.
The Freedom to Assemble and the Freedom of the Press
As I mentioned earlier, the Freedom to Assemble and the Freedom of the Press were established with the concern of the government silencing political oppositions. The 2020 riots have shown that the details of the First Amendment’s assembly freedoms are extremely important. The First Amendment gives, “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” Americans have abused this right by rioting and vandalizing instead of peacefully protesting their political opposition. The freedom of the press was created to promote the truth, and check governmental values . However, this does not give the press the right to publish malicious and scandalous content, and news that is false. Near v. Minnesota (1931) , established the term prior restraint, which prohibited any “malicious, scandalous and defamatory” news from being published. New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964) , held that the First Amendment does not protect the publication of knowingly false information.
The Freedom of Religion
The final and most crucial freedom granted in the first amendment is the Freedom of Religion. It is a common myth that freedom of religion means the separation of religion in the government, but that is certainly not the case. George Washington (1796) said in his farewell address, “Religion and Morality are indispensable supports of our political prosperity.” The Founders did not believe that religion should be separate from states, the government or politics, but they wanted to refrain from establishing a national church. However, the words “separation of church and state” do not appear in the constitution. The phrase comes from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson in 1802 to the Danbury Baptist Association . In this letter, he expressed his concern of the government establishing a religion that all Americans abide by. However, Jefferson never said religion should not take place in the government. In fact, Jefferson wrote many letters explaining that certain policies and the structure of the government were influenced by biblical verses. The founders intended religion to be involved in the government. Even today, the Supreme Court has the 10 Commandments posted above the bench in the courtroom.
HOW THE FIRST AMENDMENT HAS EVOLVED
The First Amendment was established to protect essential freedoms of Americans, but only to the extent that does not cause chaos and harm. Today, the First Amendment protections are repeatedly being abused. I have briefly mentioned the obvious already, that the 2020 riots were not protected under the first amendment, and separation of church and state does not mean religion cannot be involved in the government. Now I want to address how the first amendment is being abused by three of our nation's most powerful influences. Peter Switzer, president of the Government Accountability Institute and Casey Research Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, conducted a study of determining the most powerful things in the United States . The most powerful influences in the United States are social media, universities, and mainstream media. Social media and mainstream media are abusing First Amendment protections by publishing fake news. As stated above, New York Times Co., v. Sullivan (1964) is one of many cases that determined that fake news is not protected under the First Amendment. Fake news is causing chaos and harm throughout our nation, therefore it is illegal. Justice Holmes famously wrote in Schenck v. United States (1919) , you cannot “shout fire in a crowded theater”. In this case, he emphasizes the effects of falsely causing chaos. There have been many Supreme Court cases where the justices have written in the opinion that they will not tolerate harmful speech. Fake news must not be tolerated anymore. Universities are also monopolizing what students think. For example, every college in the nation has a Safe Space. Safe Spaces were established to dedicate a place where students can speak freely and obviously feel safe while doing so. If I was to go to my college’s safe space and express my political views, I would put myself in potential harm, because I am a minority on my campus due to of my political beliefs. Adam Carolla and Dennis Prager released a movie called “No Safe Spaces” that further emphasizes how dangerous universities are becoming .
The First Amendment is one of the reasons America is the greatest country in the world. It gives us freedoms many take for granted. It protects the minorities and gives them the right to choose what to say and to refrain from saying. The First Amendment grants Americans the right to peacefully assemble and protest contradictory ideas. The freedom of the press promotes the truth and allows Americans to be informed about current government activities. Finally, the freedom of religion permits citizens’ right to choose what religion they what to practice. We must understand the founders’ intentions in creating this law so we do not abuse the privilege given to us.
First Amendment Citations
Coralla, A. & Prager, D. director. (2020). No Safe Spaces.
Cruz, T. (2020). One vote away: How a single Supreme Court seat can change history. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing ; a division of Salem Media Group.
Near v. Minnesota ex rel. Olson. (1932). Oyez. Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://www.oyez.org/cases/1900-1940/283us697
New York Times Company v. Sullivan. (1964). Oyez. Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://www.oyez.org/cases/1963/39
Pacific Gas & Electric Company v. Public Utilities Commission of California. (1985). Oyez. Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://www.oyez.org/cases/1985/84-1044
R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul. (1991). Oyez. Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://www.oyez.org/cases/1991/90-7675
Schenck v. United States. (1919). Oyez. Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://www.oyez.org/cases/1900-1940/249us47
Switzer, P. (2020, November 15). Who Has More Power? - Billionaires, The President, Media Giants (TV & Social) or Universities. Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gHY-eruV5IU
Washington, G. (1796). George Washington's Farewell Address. Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://wallbuilders.com/george-washingtons-farewell-address/
Witt, W. (2019). Do You Understand the First Amendment? Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://www.prageru.com/video/do-you-understand-the-first-amendment/