By Zack Shevin
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free excercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and petition of the Government for a redress of grievances."
The 1st Amendment Song
Freedom of Speech
People have the freedom of speech. This means that they can speak their opinion without being punished. The Americans who wrote the Constitution put this in because, in England, if you spoke against the king and expressed your opinion, you could be subject to "cruel and unusual" punishment such as being tortured or beheaded. This Amendment is still debated today. People say that you can say whatever you want, but there are limits on what you can say. You can say what you want, but you cannot say anything threatening or harmful. You can say that you dislike the president, but you cannot say that you are going to kill the president. You can also not scream bomb in a plane or fire in a movie theater. You also cannot commit an act of libel or slander. Libel is publishing information that is falsely harmful to somebody and hurts their reputation. Slander is false speech that you are saying just to harm somebody. Some people commit acts of slander by lying about a candidate that they are competing with. In my opinion, freedom of speech is important because it is good that people can express their opinions without being punished for it.
Freedom of Religion
People also have the freedom of Religion. This means that there will be no laws preventing somebody from celebrating their religious faith, no matter what it might be. Before the colonies and America existed, all British people needed to be of the same faith and if they weren't of the Catholic faith they could be "cruelly and unusually" punished. Recently, there was a Muslim mosque being built near the World Trade Center. Many people did not want this to be built because it was thought as offensive. It ended up being built because the mayor of New York City said that the Muslims were protected with the first amendment right of freedom of speech. I agree with the mayor because I think that people should be able to warship any god (or gods) that they would like to. This is because all people should all be treated equally and fairly.
Freedom of the Press
Freedom of the Press means that the press can publish any information without primary restraint from the U.S. government. Having no prior restraint means that the government cannot sensor material before it is published. Like with freedom of speech, the press cannot commit false acts of libel and slander. Near v. Minnesota was a United States Supreme Court decision that recognized the freedom of the press by roundly rejecting prior restraints on publication, a principle that was applied to free speech generally in subsequent jurisprudence. The Court ruled that a Minnesota law that targeted publishers of "malicious" or "scandalous" newspapers violated the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. This is a good law because I think that the press should be able to publish whatever they want without the government having to sensor it.
Freedom to Assemble
Freedom to assemble means that people have a right to peacefully have meeting and cannot be interrupted or stopped from assembling. Like most of the rights in the first amendment, this was made because it was something that the king would not let the British do, and was believed to be a human right. However, if an assembly is going on and there is believed to be something against the law going on, the police have the right to stop and search the assembly. This is called probable cause. If the assembly is also getting in the way of normal daily occurrences, they can be asked to stop or move. In a case called Hill vs. Colorado, there was a group of people assembling for a protest and the Colorado government forced them to stop. Because of the fact that it was getting in the way and the people were possibly committing acts of slander, (which relates back to the freedom of speech) the court ruled that the Colorado government did not violate the first amendment rights. It is good that this is in the constitution because, once again, people should be free to express their opinions.
Right to Petition
Right to petition is the freedom to complain to one's government without being subject to cruel and "unusual punishment" like you would be in the England before the time of the American Revolution. This amendment was put into action in Edwards vs. South Carolina when 180 black students peacefully marched into the nations capital and were arrested because the police thought they would cause a riot. The Supreme court said that the police did not give the 180 students their freedom of speech, assembly, and petition. This is a good amendment because people should be able to complain to their government without being punished.
The Right to Bear Arms
"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed"
The second amendment states "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed", or people can have and use guns. This amendment was originally made because the founding fathers wanted people to be safe and able to defend itself. This is one of the most debated amendments today because of many incidents where people have bought guns and used them irresponsibly and putting people in danger. Most recently, the incident at Sandy Hook Elementary caused many questions about gun laws and weather there should have even been a gun in the criminals hands. Some believe that incidents like this one happen occasionally, but responsible people still need guns to protect myself. But others, and me personally, believe that if the man did not have the right to own a gun and was never sold that gun, incidents like these would never happen. I do not agree with the second amendment completely because I believe that officers and trained professionals can have guns, but I do not believe that all people should be allowed to own guns because, in my opinion, if guns were not sold to everyday people, then terrible incidents like the ones in the past would never happen and the world would be slightly more at peace.