The United States government was established immediately after the American Revolution. This means that the there was no American government before 1776. This also means that the American people were governed by the British for more than a century.
The founding fathers were not only aware of the abuses of the British Crown but also the problems that tyranny and the suppression of human rights has brought to the people of Europe and then in the New World. Thus, when after the founding fathers wrote the U.S. Constitution they added an amendment known as the First Amendment, a mere 45 words of legislature that ensured the basic freedoms of all Americans from the late 18th century up to the present.
The freedom that Americans experience comes at a price because there are conflicts and problems that arise from the interpretation and implementation of the First Amendment, however, many legal experts are saying that it is simply the price to pay for freedom. and with regards to children it is the responsibility of the parents to
The First Amendment can be argued as a safeguard against the rise of tyranny and even the abuses of the majority. The founding fathers knew fairly well what it means to be under the influence and control of the powerful few, the most influential and the elite.
They wanted to be sure that there will not come a time that the most dominant group can force others to do their bidding and perform acts against their conscience. More importantly the founding fathers understood the perils of having a national religion – even Christianity has different forms of expression – and made a way to prevent bloodshed and unnecessary conflicts. The First Amendment thus 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 First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution)
According to legal experts the First Amendment is just a short set of words and yet it has proven its effectiveness for more than 200 years (Smith, 2008). Consider the fact that “between 1971 and 1990, 110 of the world’s 162 national constitutions were either written or extensively rewritten” and that “an average of five new constitutions are adopted somewhere in the world” (Haynes et al., 2003, p.9).
Canada for instance had its most recent revision to its constitution completed in 1982 and the French have written and rewritten their own for a total of 15 times (Haynes et al., 2003, p.9).
The reason why the U.S. Constitution required no revision for the past 200 years can be partially explained by the brevity, simplicity and power of the First Amendment which has prompted French commentator and one of the most respected observers to American democracy Alexis de Tocqueville to exclaim:
Let us look to America … less to find examples than instruction; let us borrow from her the principles, rather than the details, of her laws. The laws of the French republic may be, and out to be in many cases, different from those which govern the United States; but the principles on which the American constitutions rest, those principles of order of the balance of power of true liberty of deep and sincere respect for right, are indispensable to all republics (as qtd. in Haynes et al., 2003, p.9).
Much of what Tocqueville wrote can be found in the First Amendment. His praise for the U.S. Constitution can be magnified even further as one begins to analyze the deeper meaning and implications of the First Amendment.
Consider for instance that this short stanza contains the following basic freedoms: the first is freedom of religion; the second is freedom of speech; the third is the freedom of the press; and the fourth is the freedom to demand that the government must stop doing wrong (Smith, 2008, p.8). The First Amendment assures that an American democracy is indeed a government by the people and for the people.
By creating a constitution that guarantees these four basic freedoms to future generations of Americans is like having a government handing over its power to its citizens. The Federal government is still powerful by all means but it can no longer abuse its power. It was as if the founding fathers made sure that the problems of Medieval Europe will never be replicated in America.
For more than 200 years this dream came true. There is no perfect system, there are still problems in this country but the government cannot impose its will on the populace. There are also citizens who abused these rights but on the brighter side, every U.S. citizen has the freedom to pursue his or her goals in life – in pursuit of happiness – without someone telling him how to do it.
It can be argued that without the First Amendment the United States may have become a free but weak nation. It could have been a weak government with a weak economy because its citizens do not have the license to experiment, to explore and to express what they felt inside. But more importantly the First Amendment guarantees against suppression of basic human freedom and would easily turn this country into a predictable and repressed society where ideas and innovations are stifled.
A legal expert was able to describe succinctly the consequences of a rule book without the First Amendment and he wrote: “Without the First Amendment, religious minorities could be persecuted, the government might well establish a national religion, protesters could be silenced, the press could not criticize government, and citizens could not mobilize for social change” (Buchanan, 2010, p.1).
In other words the First Amendment is a safeguard against the tyranny of the few or the many. The value of each member of society has been enhanced because of this amendment to the U.S. constitution.
However, there are problems when it comes to interpretation and implementation of the First Amendment and therefore it is inevitable for conflicts to arise. Take for instance the freedom of religion. This is an important component of the First Amendment if one will consider the history of religious persecution in Europe and even in the early days of the American colonies.
Therefore, freedom of religion became a major principle incorporated into the U.S. constitution. This means that the Federal Government cannot disrupt Sunday services if the President feels that a particular religion does not conform to his own belief system.
This is especially true when it comes to children (Saunders, 2003). There is an argument that children must be protected from the impact of First Amendment rights. For instance children walking past a store selling nude pictures this will have an effect on them but at the same time the store owner has the right to sell his merchandize.
There are also pornographic materials that are readily available through the Internet and a child will simply have to have a basic understanding of how a computer works in order to access these sites. However, many legal experts are saying that it is the responsibility of the parents to take care of their children.
Thus, freedom of religion gives peace of mind to every family who simply wanted to worship their own way. On the other hand there are those who would like to use this freedom to perform acts and establish a belief system that is offensive to the mindset of other people.
Take for example religious cults that allow leaders to totally dominate the lives of their members – taking their money and their personal freedom away (Snow, 2003). Think of the suicide cults that are responsible for the demise of innocent people. This is just an example of the problematic aspects of the First Amendment.
The freedom of speech is another important component of this tenet. This allows individuals and even organizations to voice out their concerns and beliefs. Everyone is entitled to express what he or she feels to be important. Consider for example the freedom to voice out an opinion or a discovery.
Without the First Amendment scientists can be ordered to keep their research findings to themselves. So the person who discovered the pollution effects of fossil fuel can be silenced by those who may find the report damaging to their business interests. Think of how the world will become if brilliant minds and people of substance are not allowed to speak.
The freedom of the press is also another critical component of the First Amendment because censorship can paralyze a democracy. Since a democratic country like the United States is run by elected officials then it is imperative for the voters and the general public to know what their leaders are doing.
This is especially important when it comes to government spending because the state collects taxes from its citizens. What if elected officials are able to smother the freedom of the press? Then there will be ample opportunities for corruption because no one is allowed to blow the whistle so to speak. There will also be a severe lack of accountability because no one will know.
On the other hand the press can abuse this right. Journalists can use their tremendous power to destroy the reputation of people. Journalists can be biased in their reporting and will not adhere to the principles of balanced and fair journalism. It is good to know that there are laws in effect that acts as a counterbalance to the freedom of the press.
The freedom to assemble is also another major facet of this principle. This freedom goes beyond safety and security. This freedom allows American citizens to complain about mediocrity.
In the previous discussion the basic freedoms protects the individual from the tyranny of the strong and the few but this time around the freedom to assemble and to petition the government to redress grievances is the reason perhaps why America is one of the most powerful in the world. It allows the citizens to continuously improve the kind of government that rules over them. However, peaceful demonstrations can easily turn into an ugly riot and disrupt peace and order in a certain place.
There are problems and conflicts when it comes to the interpretation of the First Amendment but one legal expert was able to put it in correct perspective when he said “Such difficulties are the price of freedom of speech and religion in a tolerant, open society” (Buchanan, 2010, p.1). Americans must see the big picture in order to appreciate the importance of the First Amendment.
The First Amendment is one of the most important amendments to the U.S. Constitution. By writing it down the founding fathers assured the stability and continuous progress of the United States. There are conflicts and problems that result from the interpretation and application of the First Amendment but if one will look at the big picture the bad outweigh the good.
This is because the First Amendment assures everyone that they have the freedom to think and to choose what they believe is right in the path towards success and happiness. The problems that may arise as a consequence of these liberties must be considered as the price to pay for freedom in a wonderfully open and tolerant society.
Buchanan, Brian. About the First Amendment. First Amendment Center. 25 Nov. 2010. Web. 25 Nov. 2010.
Haynes, Charles et al. The First Amendment in Schools: A Guide from the First Amendment Center. VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2003.
Smith, Rich. First Amendment: The Right of Expression. MN: ABDO Publishing, 2008.
Snow, Robert. Deadly Cults: The Crimes of True Believers. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2003.