The first freedom


Understanding the First Amendment protects free society. This is National Newspaper Week, and the events of this year have highlighted more than ever the value of freedom of speech.

Amendment I: 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 to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The theme of 2019’s National Newspaper week is Know your Five Freedoms, which are the freedoms guaranteed under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Do you know yours?

Freedom of religion allows you to practice your religion freely or not at all. Under this right, you are protected from the government of depriving you of what you believe in or worship. This right was created to keep government out of religion – to guarantee the separation of church and state. 

While you can exercise your faith openly, Freedom of Religion does not protect you from suppressing, attacking, harassing or discriminating someone else’s beliefs. This freedom also does not protect harmful, violent or threatening actions tied to any form of religious beliefs. 

You own your religious liberty, your beliefs and whether or not you practice a religion, with the protection of interference, involvement or penalty from the government. As long as your worship is not violating core constitutional principles or harming others, then you are embracing this right correctly. Only 15 percent of Americans were able to name freedom of religion as one of the freedoms guaranteed under the first amendment, according to the Annenberg Constitution Day civics survey in 2018. Forty-nine percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 support the protection for all religious faiths, according to the Freedom Forum Institute.

Freedom of Speech is protected within certain limits and includes both direct (words) and symbolic (actions). Depending on the delivery of speech or expression, there can be consequences, as the Freedom of Speech does not protect you from libel or slander. You, as an American citizen, have the freedom to exercise this right peacefully without government interference. These include all forms of speech, even those that can be objectionable to groups or individuals.

Nonverbal expressions, such as wearing a T-shirt that states an opinion or shares a message, are also protected under this right. Freedom of Speech is not only the most commonly recognized freedom housed under the First Amendment, but it also ensures that the government does not have a right in forbidding us from saying, writing or expressing what we like. Forty-eight percent of Americans were able to identify freedom of speech as one of the freedoms guaranteed under the first amendment. Fifty-four percent of Americans agree that racist views should be prohibited on social media. Forty-three percent of Americans agree that colleges should have the right to ban controversial campus speakers, according to the Freedom Forum Institute.

This brings us to Freedom of the Press, the first amendment freedom our newsroom lives each day. It protects the right to report news or circulate opinions without censorship from any form of government or law. This includes information you gather from news programs, newspapers, books and magazines, or social media. 

Not only does this critical right allow people to gather news, information and opinions from a variety of mediums, but a free media also acts as a watchdog with the capability to report on government wrongdoings.

This right is not limited to major news programs and mainstream sources. It also protects you in obtaining and sharing information without penalty. Freedom of the Press exposes ideas and opinions based on facts, research and credible sources to inform ordinary citizens. Only 14 percent of Americans who answered the Annenberg Constitution Day civics survey were able to name Freedom of the Press as one of the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Even fewer, 10 percent, were able to identify Freedom of Peaceable Assembly as one of the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. It is a nonviolent resistance or action with a goal of advocating for or achieving change. This right has been exercised throughout the history of the United States, from human rights issues and anti-war campaigns to disapproval of government policy. It’s far from radical. It’s safe. It’s nonviolent. And it’s your right as an American citizen.

This right includes a very important keyword: peaceably. So, as long as constitutional laws and safeguards are in place, you are free to peacefully assemble. This freedom does not provide the right to cause danger, disorder, violence, force or immediate threats to public safety.1

While this fundamental right is encoded and protected under the First Amendment, the government has authority to impose restrictions on certain aspects of assembly, such as time, place and manner of assembly.1

Freedom to petition the government for redress of grievances is the least known freedom as only three percent of Americans can name it as a right guaranteed by the first amendment. It is the freedom to encourage or disapprove government action through nonviolent, legal means. This fundamental freedom enables you to stand up and speak out against injustices or policies that are affecting you or in which you feel strongly.

This right can be exercised by gathering signatures for ballot initiatives, lobbying, peacefully assembling, email campaigns, letter-writing, filing lawsuits and picketing. While this right allows you to take action on particular issues, the government can impose reasonable restrictions in regards to place, time and manner of petitioning, depending on the case.

Protected under the First Amendment, and by safely exercising this right, you can publicly participate in government. When put into action, it’s recommended to gather petitions on public property and to exude a civil demeanor.

The first amendment protects these five freedoms equally. Our newsroom believes it is important for citizens to practice and enjoy all of these freedoms.


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