The First Amendment

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.

Freedom of religion. Freedom of speech. Freedom of the press. Freedom to peacefully assemble. Freedom to petition the government.

All right there in one amendment. The very first one. Our Founding Fathers found these six freedoms to be so important they wrote them first and grouped them together.

Why? Well, one would assume they believed strongly that these bore the weight of democracy. I’d wager to say they are grouped together because each of these freedoms are crucial together.

The First Amendment is not a buffet. You don’t get to pick and choose what applies, when it applies and to whom it applies. Every single citizen in America is guaranteed these rights regardless of whether you agree with what they are saying or not.

I share a lot of things that are my opinion and beliefs and I am passionate about all of them. When you disagree and comment, I respect your right to do so. I also reserve the right to respond. I continue to work on doing so more respectfully.

Freedom of Religion – the majority of America is of the Christian faith, but our country was founded as a haven for those seeking freedom from religious persecution. But, a few hundred years later and we seem to have forgotten this. There is a reason Thomas Jefferson fought for separation of Church and State; when the government meddles in religion or the church meddles in the government freedom of religion goes out the window.

Freedom of religion applies to Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Atheism, Scientology or any other religion. Before you argue about terrorism, let me remind you that I am talking about religion, not violence. Christianity has been on the giving end of violence, terror and fear over the course of its history and yet I can still separate the faith from the acts of those perverting their religion to further a personal or political agenda. Hence, separation of church and state.

Freedom of Speech – this is one that social media has put under attack. If we don’t like what you post, we feel you to shut up. If we don’t like what we see we attack. Over the course of history, we have defined what constitutes as free speech and what does not. Not included: hate speech, speech meant to incite or threaten violence, slander and libel. What is included: burning flags, sharing opinions, art, disagreement, etc.

Burning flags is a hot topic lately, pun intended. Here’s what I’ve never understood, getting up in arms as if by someone burning the flag they are attacking your freedoms. Yes, the fabric is gone, but the meaning still stands – the meaning of the flag lies with us, not the cotton or fibers that construct it. We, the citizens of the United States of America are the only true representation of our values. Can you imagine how angry someone must be to burn the symbol of the very freedom that gives them the right to do so? How threatened must they feel in their own country? It’s an act of protest and an expression of free speech. As someone who isn’t a minority, it might be hard for me to understand the true feeling of being oppressed by the country that touts freedom as it’s biggest calling card. But, the burning of the flag, the symbol of that freedom, is an act against the oppression. It is a way of saying “you say we are free and yet you refuse to provide those freedoms and protections to us based on skin color/religion/social class/etc.”

Freedom of the Press – without this small sentence the democracy that we live in would cease to exist. Dramatic? Yes. True. Absolutely. The press’s job is to report to the American people what the government is doing. And, yes, bias is often laced in the reporting. But, just because you don’t like what you hear does not mean it’s true.

Just as there is left leaning media there is right leaning media. You need to find a balance that provides both sides and reports it. And for the love of everything, please check facts. If you only follow Alex Jones or Michael Moore, you’re not getting he whole picture.

Freedom to Peacefully Assemble – If you’re still reading, bless you. I debated putting this first, but opted to follow the order the Founding Fathers laid out. The course of American history has been changed because our citizens are willing to stand up and come together for what we believe if right and just.

Rioting is not peaceful assembly. Taking to the streets and marching in protest is peacefully assembling. Blocking traffic is not rioting. Let me say that again … blocking traffic and marching are not rioting. They are not pathetic. They are standing up and coming together to fight what they feel is a violation of their rights. Just because you don’t agree with or understand their position does not make it any less protected by the First Amendment. For example, I despise all that the KKK stands for, but they still have the right to March. Where they lose that right is when they become violent or incite violence. Well, and the whole hate speech thing.

Freedom to Petition the Government – if we all stood back and just accept things are the way they are, we’d still be under British rule. The Declaration of Independent was the first time we exercised this right, although we didn’t have the right to do so at the time it was written.

If our Founding Fathers hadn’t had the gumption to stand up for what they felt was right, we’d still be sipping tea and singing Hail to the Queen.

The First Amendment the defining Amendment for American Democracy. These rights, which apply to all citizens, afford us the ability to stand up and fight for the good of our collective republic.