After the United States gained independence from the British, the architects of the Constitution allowed sharing of information among the citizens. They believed that democracy cannot be free and ignorant hence the need of openness and liberty. In this regard, they established the Bill of Rights in the U.S Constitution that contained the First Amendment. The amendment provides for protections and freedoms and forbids creation of a state-owned religion. In addition, the First Amendment demands separation of state and religion and safeguards the freedom of free speech, worship and the press. Furthermore, it guarantees the rights of association, assembly and petition. However, these rights and freedoms are not absolute because they have limitations.
The First Amendment has survived for more than 200 years without major changes or negations. The law has been a crucial role in the lives of the Americans. In 1798, the United State president John Adams signed into law the Sedition Act of 1798. This act empowered the federal authorities to prosecute any citizen who was suspected of plotting against the government. Therefore, the act prohibited any person from speaking or writing maliciously of the president or of congress intended to defame or disrepute.
Therefore, the act limited most of the political discussions hence critics of the government bowed to its pressure or were punished. Fortunately, in 1800, the act was not renewed after expiration. They argued that the act was contravening the provisions of First Amendment. In addition, at the time of slavery, many states did not follow the provisions of the amendment. Between 1600 and 1800, many states permitted slavery and slave trade and censored abolitionists’ speeches, pamphlets and writings. These states argued that the wording of the First Amendment was not clear as compared to the other Bills of Rights amendment.
In the First Amendment, it states “Congress shall make no law…” which expected the interpretations of federal government. Therefore, in 1865, the Congress passed the Fourteenth Amendment to solve the conflict. In this regard, the Fourteenth Amendment strengthened the First Amendment because it made it binding upon government below the federal level.
The Fourteenth Amendment established adjustment to the constitution to the post-Civil War conditions. It created due processes and equal protection of the laws against states’ violation. In this regard, no state could make laws or censorship of speech that contravened against the First Amendment.
Moreover, various laws were developed that hindered the effectiveness of the First Amendment. For instance, censorship was used during the First World War when another Sedition Act was ratified in 1918. The law prohibited against speaking abusive and disloyal messages about the government, flag or Constitution. Espionage Act also banned speaking negatively against the United States military.
Throughout history, the First Amendment protects several basic liberties such as freedom of religion, petition, speech, press and assembly. Therefore, every citizen in the nation is permitted to be a member of any religion. In addition, free speech enables every citizen to participate in the public speech and to give their opinions on matters of public importance. Speech involves actions such as protesting, demonstrating and use of words.
In fact, United States citizens are permitted to assemble peacefully for lawful discussions. However, this freedom must observe traffic flow, public order, peace and quiet as well as freedom to continue with normal business.
Epps, Garrett. The First Amendment: Freedom Of The Press. 1st ed. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2008.