The First Amendment Of The Constitution Has Five Parts

The First Amendment Of The Constitution Has Five Parts

The First Amendment  Of The Constitution Has Five Parts

Whenever we discuss the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, most often, we talk about free speech. There are actually five parts to the First Amendment. It’s important to understand all five parts in order to understand why the United States Constitution is so exceptional.

James Madison is called the Father of the Constitution, but he was initially opposed to any amendments. Those amendment we call the Bill of Rights. His first thought was that the Constitution, in itself, was complete. Fortunately, Thomas Jefferson persuaded him otherwise. Madison, with guidance from Jefferson and inspiration from Alexander Hamilton and John Adams, wrote the majority of the amendments.

The First Amendment in full 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.

The five parts of the First Amendment are:

  • Freedom of Religion
  • Freedom of Speech
  • Freedom of the Press
  • Freedom to Assemble Peaceably
  • Freedom to Petition the Government for a Redress of Grievances
  • Freedom of Religion– I find it interesting that Freedom of Religion comes before Freedom of Speech. I like to think that is because the Founding Fathers believed that a free people must believe in something larger than themselves in order to be a free people. However, we had just violently divorced ourselves from Great Britain, where there is still a state religion, The Church of England. Here we are free to exercise our religion or not to believe in anything. As Jefferson expressed in the letter to Danbury Baptist Association, there is no religious test for public office. This letter is where we get the term “separation of Church and State”. It is nowhere in the Constitution, and pertains only to religious tests for office.

    Freedom of Speech– The second of the five parts, Baby Boomers (Okay Boomer) think free speech was discovered in the sixties at the University of California at Berkeley. The very same school where, today, anyone to the right of Mao Tse Tung is shouted down. Founding Father Benjamin Franklin wrote in 1737:

    “Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government; when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins. Republics…derive their strength and vigor from a popular examination into the action of the magistrates.”

    In other words, telling someone, “You can’t say that. You might hurt someone’s feelings.” is bad for our Republic.

    Freedom of the Press– Censorship is detrimental to our Republic, also. The news media and all writers should be free to report and write without fear of retribution. This contributes to the necessary vigorous debate in society. Although President Abraham Lincoln is revered today, he violated the First Amendment during the Civil War:

    Eventually the military and the government began punishing editorial opposition to the war itself. Authorities banned pro-peace newspapers from the U.S. mails, shut down newspaper offices and confiscated printing materials. They intimidated, and sometimes imprisoned, re – porters, editors and publishers who sympathized with the South or objected to an armed struggle to restore the Union. For the first year of the war, Lincoln left no trail of documents attesting to any personal conviction that dissenting newspapers ought to be muzzled. But neither did he say anything to control or contradict such efforts when they were undertaken, however haphazardly, by his Cabinet officers or military commanders. Lincoln did not initiate press suppression, and remained ambivalent about its execution, but seldom intervened to prevent it.

    Right to Peaceably Assemble– This fourth part of the First Amendment is also known as “the right of free association”. As long as a group of people remain peaceful and non-violent, the group can assemble on the street corner to protest or advocate for anything they wish. Don’t want that new speed bump in your neighborhood, grab your neighbors and your signs and stand on the corner of the street and chant, “No bumps for us.”. Just don’t block traffic or impede your neighbors egress. Antifa violates every, single thing about the right to peaceably assemble. This is self-explanatory.

    Right to Petition the Government for a Redress of Grievances– I wasn’t really sure about this one. I knew that we can call our congressman, but what did “redress of grievances”mean? Turns out it came right out of the Declaration of Independence, courtesy of Thomas Jefferson:

    On July 4, 1776, the country’s Founders adopted a famous statement of principles and list of grievances, declaring that:

    “In every state of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”

    King George III’s crowning wrong, in the end, was his indifference: Those who revolted felt they had no other recourse. In building a new democracy, the Founders avoided the king’s mistake by guaranteeing political receptiveness to public concerns.

    In other words, King George III didn’t listen to the colonists and kept harming them.

    Sadly, civics hasn’t been taught in our schools for decades, as the video below demonstrates:

    Importantly, there are limits to any freedom. The late Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Oliver Wendell Holmes had two quips that over the decades have become common knowledge:

    “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater. . .” “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.”

    In my opinion, freedoms are easier to maintain, if you have good manners. Shouting in public is, in general, not good. Swing your fist in your own home, at a punching bag or pillow. If you assemble publicly, remember there are others in the world who aren’t into your issue. Don’t clog up the courts redressing your petty issues. And, respect others religion, or lack thereof. Good manners make your transit through this world easier and maintains all of our freedoms.

    A citizenry who does not know or understand their rights are easily led to the slaughter. Know your Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

    Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

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    • Joe R. says:

      5 parts to the 1st Amendment ???

      All “Freedoms” or “Rights” are essentially freedoms F R O M “government” (the human component of which is merely comprised of your idiot ay-whole neighbors who needed a job). The 2nd Paragraph of the Declaration of Independence states 2 x, in its flesh-language, that you should chuck those ay-wholes “whenever” you deem necessary. It also states 1 x, again in its flesh-language, that it is your “duty” to.

      Therefore, the 2nd Amendment requires P A R I T Y of ARMS (NOT JUST “GUNS”) with our government [cause those ay-wholes can’t be counted on for anything, much less that they’ll just go home quietly, peaceably, and of their own volition], AND IT’S NOT OUR FAULT WHAT THAT PARITY MIGHT ENTAIL !

      So, 5 parts to the 1st Amendment, greaaaaaate.

      • Toni Williams says:

        We get zero freedoms from government. All our freedoms are endowed by our Creator.

        I will write on the 2nd Amendment, shortly. I think you will like my take on the 2nd.


    • Joe R. says:

      All freedoms are freedoms from gov’t. Therefore government cannot also be their protector or guarantor.

      2nd Amendment says it’s ok to arm yourself against the day that your idiot neighbors who needed a job (your gov’t) needs replacing [because they were going to try to “protect” you into despotic and tyrannical slavery], under the 2nd Paragraph of the Declaration of Independence.

      The Declaration cannot be repealed or amended. We can write a new one, but that’ll likely cost you your pelt.

      • “2nd Amendment says it’s ok to arm yourself against the day that your idiot neighbors…” The Second Amendment says no such thing. It says “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

        Obviously “All freedoms are freedoms from gov’t” is not true. Freedom from oppression by non-government actors is as important. I’m reminded of the anarcho-capitalist facing a lynch mob who breathed a sigh of relief on hearing it was a private lynch mob.

        “Therefore government cannot also be their protector or guarantor.” Also untrue. I’ve experienced govt official directly protecting my rights (law enforcement officers) and indirectly (military personnel). I know of cases in which one part of government blocks another part from violating our rights. SCOTUS in DC vs. Heller is an example.

    • GWB says:

      Importantly, there are limits to any freedom.
      One thing I feel it’s important to say: You are actually perfectly free to shout “FIRE!” in a crowded theater. However you must accept consequences for your actions. If there was no fire, you can be held liable for lying. If there was but people panicked because of your shouting, you could be held liable for negligence.

      Also, my right to swing my fist does NOT end at your nose – if I have a darned good reason to swing. One of the consequences from which you used to suffer if you misused your freedom of speech was a good sock to the schnoz. It wasn’t so much that you were allowed to punish someone for their nastiness, but that some things would incite even a reasonable man to lose control and punch you – and they, therefore, could not be held liable for doing so (even though punching someone was considered wrong).

      Our loss of understanding of these sorts of things is part of the reason our country is infested with snowflakes and Anti-Fa and socialist tyrants (in the form of our political class).

      • Kevin says:

        I live in the petri dish of the Pacific Northwest, more specifically, Portland, Oregon, (April through October) in what seems to be the epicenter of the whole Anti-Fa, Proud Boys, White National, free speech debate/struggle. When the two sides clash, usually in downtown Portland, I stay away. I’m not one of those individuals who slows down to look at the car wreck. I have minimal interest in drama, chaos, or trying to be the one to scream the loudest. (Quick Note: Generally, a nice summary/article Toni Williams. Thank you.) Usually my tactic is “shut it off.” If you don’t like it don’t watch it. I tell friends who get hysterical over conservative pundits to “turn it off.” That’s the pundit’s worst fear … to not be listened to by others. I will occasionally watch/listen to right wing pundits then I have to turn it off because it’s too skewed. For me, it comes from an isolated, ignorant and uninformed, divisive place. (Again, my perspective.) Especially when the focus is on things I care about … respecting ALL individuals (LGBTQ, people of color, younger/older, people with disabilities, differing religious beliefs, and, also, the dominant culture which I am a part of).

        So, here’s my perspective specific to the freedom of speech. Knowing world history and the horrible and unspeakable atrocities committed by some individuals, as a member of a community I do not want someone from the outside (or inside) to come in to my community and, as an example, espouse their beliefs on why Hitler should be exalted and how disappointed they are that he was unable to finish what he set out do. This individual isn’t damaging my property, stealing my belongings, physically hurting those that I love, doing nothing to physically harm me other than espousing hatred towards another ethnicity/culture/race as an example. It’s not acceptable. When that line is crossed and someone is condoning violence towards another person or population because of who they are, then that’s where their rights end and mine begin.

        Specifically to the Anti-Fa movement. I’ve never been a fan of violence or destruction of property in an attempt to make a point. Ever. Even before the Anti-Fa movement I saw this on college campuses and where generally, younger, more anti-establishment leaning people would congregate. I would encounter, again, generally a younger individual, who would damage something that they did not own and then somehow justify that behavior. I so badly wanted to get my hands on something they owned (car, bike, computer) and then damage it somehow and say, “See. It doesn’t feel good when someone that does that to you, and, more importantly, it’s not right. Stop it.”

        • GWB says:

          why Hitler should be exalted and how disappointed they are that he was unable to finish what he set out do
          someone is condoning violence towards another person or population
          These are not the same thing. Also, “condoning” is not “inciting”, which would actually be problematic.

          In general, the fact that you think they’ve “crossed a line” should not cause the gov’t to force a stop to their speech. Ever.

          See, this was my point about crying “FIRE!” – if everyone in the theater can see there’s not a fire and just tells the guy to sit down, then no harm, no foul. If they can’t tell and they erupt in panic, then there’s a foul. It’s all in the actions taken, not the speech. (BTW, if he won’t shut up and someone simply sits on and gags him until the movie is over, then – as long as he isn’t harmed out of proportion to the good achieved – I have no problem with that.)

          Shutting down speech because it might hurt someone’s feelings is anti-freedom. Shutting down speech because a nutball somewhere might take action is anti-freedom. Allowing individuals to deal with speech by using more speech (and sometimes being offended enough to physically act) is pro-freedom. Encouraging mob frenzies to shut down speech is anti-freedom. The idea that “hate speech” exists is anti-freedom.

          The fundamental problem is the loss of our moral center (about 50 years ago). That moral center defined what was “acceptable” in speech, and defined it as “good manners” (self-regulated speech). But, since we tossed it in favor of crassness, crudity, and shock-value, there are no limits on speech. It does not mean that the gov’t – or even subsets of the populace – should replace that moral center with some sort of speech code. It means that we must re-educate the populace to bring that moral center back.

          The moral scolds of 40 years ago warned of this and were spurned as, well, scolds. People laughed at them and got indignant about “how dare you!” Well, they told you so.

        • GWB says:

          OH, those “horrible atrocities” didn’t happen because people said things. They happened because people did things. The failure isn’t in the allowance of speech. It’s in the hearts of the people who acted on that speech. And that’s not an intellectual failure – it’s a moral one.

          (As an additional point, every single one of those gov’ts where those “horrible atrocities” happened… enacted speech codes. Always. Every time.)

      • Toni Williams says:

        Oh definitely. If someone needs there face punched, do it. And, if someone needs to be shot, center mass.


      • Charles N. Steele says:

        Yes. That’s the principle of free speech (and freedom in general). One is free to speak or act, and also must bear the consequences — good or bad — of one’s actions.

        Is the “sock in the schnoz” such a consequence? And do we have a right to punch someone for their nastiness? No. It’s unclear what speech you think warrants this, but “misuse of freedom of speech” sounds to me like an oxymoron. I am inferring you mean someone who says something you find inflammatory, rather than clearly criminal. That’s problematic. What standard defines inflammatory?

        Of course, the law is made for men, men are not made for the law. Hence the “reasonable man” standard for “fighting words” outlined by SCOTUS (words that “by their very utterance, inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace. It has been well observed that such utterances are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth…”). We don’t have a right to punch people who use obnoxious or inflammatory language, but the law sensibly recognizes that humans are humans and the law shouldn’t require us to be emotionless Vulcans. Note that it’s not a question of whether you have a right to punch someone for speech (you don’t) but whether the state is required to protect that speech (no, if it is “fighting words”).

        Employing a “reasonable man” standard is difficult in the age of the unreasonable, the antifas, snowflakes, and xirs. And surely you are on target when you say “our loss of understanding of these sorts of things is part of the reason our country is infested with snowflakes and Anti-Fa and socialist tyrants…”

        • GWB says:

          Note that it’s not a question of whether you have a right to punch someone for speech (you don’t) but whether the state is required to protect that speech (no, if it is “fighting words”).
          You had it … until this, imo. No, it’s not that you can ban “fighting words” (at least not under common law), it’s that the “fighting words” are a defense against the charge of assault that results. “OK, well, yeah, we all pretty much agree we’d have punched him in the nose for that, too.”

          I think this is an important distinction. Because no one should be arrested (or otherwise censored) for calling you a n-word. But, also, no one should punish you for punching the guy over it. (Going further? That would be an issue.) You have given a “reasonable” response.

          One note: I am interpreting the phrase “protect that speech” as implying that the question is whether it falls under “free speech” or not. My point is there is no speech that doesn’t fall under the category, and “un-protected” speech is really punishment for the actions (or intended actions) related to the speech.

          • Charles N. Steele says:

            Yes, I didn’t mean that the state could ban “fighting words” speech. I think we’re in agreement.

      • justbob says:

        With rights come responsibilities.

    • GWB says:

      Oh, and I concur wholeheartedly with this:
      Know your Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

      And I would add your history and your philosophy/religion. If you don’t, you can neither reason well, nor see what’s coming down the road.

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    • Excellent post, except there are *six* parts. Not establishing a state religion and freedom of religion are two separate points. One could have an official state religion and still have freedom to practice other religions. Even Sayyid Qtub, the philosophical mentor of groups such as Al Qaeda, endorsed a state religion plus freedom of religion. OTOH America’s founding fathers were rightfully skeptical of putting the church in the hands of the state, and of putting the state in the hands of the church.

      But that’s not equivalent to free exercise of religion. Freedom to practice one’s religion — so long as it doesn’t involve violating others’ rights — is a different matter. Fundamentally it means freedom of thought and of action, and is the most fundamental statement of the Bill of Rights. Congress must butt out.

      • GWB says:

        Concur. And one of the points with which we have struggled here is how you allow “free exercise” when the religion is contradictory to our society or our form of gov’t? For instance, it would be obvious we could stop one of the fundamental practices of the worship of Huitzilopochtli, because child sacrifice (after birth, anyway… don’t get me started) would be murder, and we have established a higher morality that bans that.* But, if they didn’t do that, would we still allow the worship of a war god? How about ritual sex? That was a big part of most ancient religions. How about a religion that specifically demands that its religious strictures be put in place, regardless of the local law?

        In general, we’ve said that you can do what you want as long as it’s not already illegal, and it’s consensual. But we might have been fooled by the overwhelming consensus among those who founded this country that was based on Christianity. Christian principles (often armed principles) had already eliminated cults of child sacrifice, ritual sex and things like suttee. So, an assumption (oh, pride, how dangerous you are!) was built in that we could allow any religion to practice, because we had already eliminated the ones that couldn’t be allowed.

        (* Any argument that neglects that Judeo-Christian morality is the basis of natural/common law will ultimately fail in the face of human nature and history. Western Civilization is not founded on something discovered by reason and enacted on that foundation. It derives from Judeo-Christian morality. And it has to maintain its supremacy, or we get a return to the primitive – which isn’t nearly as pretty as the progs think it is from their documentaries and their LARPing.)

        (Also note: that was a riff off your comment, not anything against it.)

        • Charles N. Steele says:

          Yes, important point. Free exercise of religion is constrained by individual rights. Congress (and states) *are* given power to pass laws protecting individual rights. One can’t commit murder, say, and get off by claiming it’s one’s religion. If one understands natural rights, defining this constraint isn’t too problematic.

          For the left, such a standard is mysterious and arbitrary. Many on the left imagine that a cake decorator who refuses to create a work celebrating same-sex marriage is violating rights; clearly he’s not, by natural rights standard.

          The point you raise is greater than simply freedom of religion. I don’t know that Judeo-Christian morality is *the* necessary foundation for Western society (nor is it irrational or non-rational), but clearly *some* objective moral basis that respects individuals and their flourishing, and also recognizes individual responsibility is. So is a philosophical basis in reason. The contemporary post-modern left effectively rejects all such metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics for subjective whim, and has as its project undoing several thousand years of western civilization. (One of the founders of extinction rebellion actually said this.)

          Can a civilized society survive if too many of its members reject civilization and work to undermine it? Does saving it require removing them? And would the process of removing them destroy the civilization anyway? We are possibly in the front row for seeing a test of these questions.

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