The First Amendment is perhaps the best-known amendment to the Constitution. It doesn’t just protect a number of your rights – it protects the rights that many consider to be the most important to Americans at large. Taking some time to understand what the First Amendment protects and how it works is the best way to understand your rights.
What Does It Protect?
The First Amendment protects some of your core freedoms. There are several statements in this Amendment, each of which does a fair bit of work to protect citizens. The First Amendment is perhaps most commonly invoked to protect the freedom of speech, but it also includes the freedom of press and the freedom to petition the government under that same umbrella. This amendment is also important for protecting the free exercise and establishment of religion. Finally, the First Amendment is responsible for protecting the right of lawful assembly – that is, the right to congregate together and form organizations.
From Whom Does It Protect Your Rights?
The First Amendment protects individuals from having their rights violated by the government. When a state or federal government entity attempts to stop individuals from lawfully assembling or speaking in protest, rights have been violated. The government also cannot create any laws that infringe on this right. If a private entity (like a social media site) bans an individual from speaking, on the other hand, no rights have actually been violated. It’s only when the government is involved that your rights can be violated.
Limits on the First Amendment
While not common or expressly stated in the amendment, there are a few limits on the scope of the First Amendment, usually involving safety. The government is allowed to make restrictions on religious groups, as long as it applies to all religious groups and it doesn’t prevent people from fully participating in their religious observations. On the other hand, if a religion is actively promoting harm to people or property that does not belong to them, government officials can restrict their activities. Additionally, we are allowed to assemble, but the assembly is required to be peaceful. A gathering that intends to riot is illegal.
It is important that we understand our rights as citizens, but we need to make sure we have a correct understanding. While the First Amendment cannot stop private entities from silencing people and it doesn’t give us license to do whatever we please, it does allow us to chart the course of America.
Author Information: Jenn Montgomery is a freelance writer, editor, and blogger based in San Diego. She writes on a variety of topics and enjoys learning new things. She graduated from San Diego State University with a degree in Rhetoric and Writing Studies. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, baking, and knitting. You can contact her on Twitter at @jennmontgomery5.