By Emily Smith
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.
Freedom of Speech
Historical Significance-I believe freedom of speech was included in the constitution by the founders of our country, because they had been subject to the unreasonable rules and restrictions of the english monarchy. For example, the colonists could not speak freely against the policies of the king without having fear of punishment.
Current Example-Fau professor, James Tracy's comments about the Newton Massacre, show how the first amendment's freedom of speech protection allows an individual to publicly state an unpopular opinion about a tragic event.
Opinion w/ support-I believe that the freedom of speech protection allows for the free exchange of opinions and ideas no matter how unpopular. I believe this is what the founders of our country meant to protect and it is applied correctly.
Freedom of Religion
Historical Significance-This protection was included by the founders of our country because they had been subject to the rule of England, which intertwined the church and the monarchy. British rule required an allegiance to the church.
Current Example-In the Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah,the Supreme Court ruled that Hialeah's passing of a law banning ritual slaughter, a practice central to the Santeria religion, was unconstitutional. The court ruled that the City needed to have a compelling interest, which it failed to have.
Opinion w/ support-I believe that people should be able to practice the religion of their choice, even if that religion is not popular with the majority. However, this right should be limited if the practice of the religion harms others.
Freedom of the Press
Historical Significance-From the beginning of our country, restrictions on the freedom of the press were very unpopular. In 1798, when the governing federalist party passed the Alien and Sedition Acts making it a crime to criticize congress and the president. These restrictions on freedom of the press were so unpopular they led to the parties end.
Current Example-A current example of this freedom is the scandal involving WikiLeaks. Since November 2010, WikiLeaks has been publishing global intelligence files regarding the United States military, which contain classified and secret information. Because WikiLeaks has claimed protection under the first amendment, the U.S. government has been unable to stop them.
Opinion w/ support-I believe that this protection is necessary because it prevents the government from operating in secret without any threat of discovery. When the action of people empower are exposed to the public, government can be held accountable for any improper behavior.
Freedom to Assemble
Historical Significance-The protection dates back to the English monarchy, which restricted the rights of citizens to assemble in public. The monarchies feared that assembling groups of people would try to overthrow the government.
Current Example-A current example of this amendment's protection would be the Los Angeles port workers strike. These workers are striking to protect their job benefits and to prevent their replacement by low paid new hires.
Opinion w/ support-I believe that the first amendments protection of peoples right to assemble and demonstrate is an important tool used to protect the modern workers from big corporations.
Right to Petition
Historical Significance-This right comes from the colonists experience under British rule. They believed that the right of petitioning the king or either house of parliament was a right that applied to every individual.
Current Example-A current example of this right to petition the government is Oceana, an organization dedicated to the protection of the world's oceans. Oceana joined with over 100,000 citizens to sign a petition protesting the practice of long line hook fishing in many areas of the Atlantic Ocean. This petition resulted in a federal judge stopping long line fishing in many areas.
Opinion w/ support- I believe this protection is important because several voices are always louder than one. The right to petition is a valuable tool for citizens so they can join together to speak out for important issues.
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
Historical Significance-This protection is based on the English Bill of Rights of 1689, which stated, "that excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted". However, the Supreme Court has interpreted the 8th amendment to permit bail to be denied if the charges are serious.
Current Example-In the murder case of New York real-estate heir Robert Durst, a Texas judge set bail at 3 billion dollars. The 14th circuit Court of Appeals in Houston said "we can find no conceivable justification for a bail amount remotely approaching that imposed in this case".
Opinion w/ support-I believe this protection is necessary to prevent an ordinary person accused of a crime from spending long periods of time in jail, because he/she was unable to post an excessive amount of bail set by the court. Without this protection, the court would have unsupervised authority in setting bail for the accused.
Historical Significance-This protection is based on the English Bill of Rights of 1689, which stated, "that excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted". The Supreme Court has determined that any judicial determination regarding the severity of a particular criminal offense will be imprecise. The severity of punishment is a question of legislative policy.
Current Example- In United States v. Bajakajian, the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to take 357,144 dollars from a person who failed to report taking more than 10,000 dollars in U.S. currency out of the U.S.
Opinion w/ support-In my opinion, this protection under the 8th amendment prevents the government from improperly taking the money of an American citizen, like Mr. Bajakajian for the offense of failing to report a currency transaction. This amendment is necessary to provide supervision over the government's decision to fine a person.
Cruel and Unusual Punishments
Historical Significance-This protection is based on the English Bill of Rights of 1689, which stated, "that excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted". The U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted this to mean " that a punishment must not buy its severity be degrading to human dignity"
Current Example-In the case of Weldon Angelos, a 25 year old man was sentenced to 55 years in jail, with no parole, for selling 350 dollars worth of marijuana to a police officer. At his sentencing, judge Paul Cassell pointed out that mandatory sentencing gave Angelos more time in jail then he would have for hijacking an airplane, beating someone to death, or raping a 10 year old child. Judge Cassell referred to this sentence as unjust, cruel, and irrational.
Opinion w/ support-In my opinion, this protection is necessary to avoid situations like the Angelos case. In addition, it protects Americans from torture or punishments that are inhuman or degrading.