The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads as follows: “Congress shall make no law
respecting an establishment of religion.”
This first part means the United States government, or its representatives, are not allowed to create a new religion and require the citizens to follow that religion under penalty of law.
This clause was written because England dictated their citizens to follow their chosen state religion. The colonists’ firm belief in the right of conscience prompted the need to add this clause.
As James Madison noted during House debate on ratifying the Constitution, “Congress should not establish a religion, and enforce the legal observation of it by law, nor compel men to worship God in any manner contrary to their conscience.”
“Or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”
This means each individual citizen has the right to believe and follow any religion without fear of government recourse.
That’s any government recourse including withholding aid from religious communities.
Like much of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights, these first clauses can be traced to the 1776 Virginia Declaration of Rights written by George Mason.
That declaration states, “That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore, all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practise Christian forbearance, love, and charity; towards each other.”
“Or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press,”
This means people cannot be prosecuted for speaking out against the government.
The media cannot be ordered by the government to hide facts.
In case you don’t know, abridge means to shorten without losing the meaning.
In many countries, the media must clear articles which could be considered political in nature through their government representative before it goes to print.
This practice is considered unconstitutional in the United States.
“Or the right of people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
This means to peacefully protest or to petition the government to rectify unfair laws or practices.
This amendment is probably the most misunderstood amendment to the Constitution.
This is partially because the U.S. Supreme Court — either out of ignorance or desire — has taken it upon themselves to essentially rewrite the amendment multiple times.
The original language of amendment itself could not be any clearer.
The U.S. government does not have the authority to create a religion, nor does it have the authority to dictate a religion.
By not allowing the government to dictate a religion, it also prohibits the government from punishing its citizens based solely on his or her chosen religion.
Nowhere in the Constitution does it state politicians are required to be atheist, which is also a religion the government does not have the authority to force us to follow.
This is the very essence of the amendment.
It also does not allow the government to withhold rights or privileges — including benefits, grants, loans, etc. — because a citizen does not choose to follow the preferred atheism or any other religion.
A recent Supreme Court ruling has been in the news because many people do not believe in the God-given rights protected in this amendment.
Those people, supported by groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, believe the government is allowed to withhold privately donated funds from anyone who refuses to rebuke God.
They will holler and scream at the top of their lungs that any mention of God or anyone who openly serves God is violating the government-dictated religion and therefore not eligible for funds.
Those claims are directed primarily toward Christians because atheism is, by definition, anti-God.
It is not saying they don’t believe in God.
It very clearly says we oppose the one and only living God.
Folks, taking rights away from people who serve God is exactly what the First Amendment protects against.
The government is not allowed to force its citizens to follow the anti-God religion. Christians have rights, too.
As Noah Webster wrote in his
Oct. 16, 1829 letter to James Madison, “I know not whether I am singular in the opinion; but it is my decided opinion, that the christian religion, in its purity, is the basis or rather the source of all genuine freedom in government. I speak not of the religion which gives the property and power of a state to [maritus] and dignitaries. I speak of the religion which was preached by Christ and his apostles, which breathes love to God and love to man. And I am persuaded that no civil government of a republican form can exist and be durable, in which the principles of that religion have not a controlling influence.”
I am happy to see the Supreme Court has decided to keep, at least for now, that portion of the First Amendment.
The next part of the First Amendment, which allows for freedom of speech, is often used to allow the media to print stories which either have not been proven or have already been disproved in order to sway public opinion.
I suppose that was a flaw in the Founding Fathers to not consider
the possibility of using the press in the spreading of gossip for political gain.
I look forward to the day when the Supreme Court is given the opportunity to address this, as well.
It is hard to guess how the court will interpret it, but any interpretation will provide one of two conclusions: The media has the right to report a proven true story without interference, or the media is nothing more than a gossip column —
equivalent to The National Enquirer or Facebook — which should be considered fiction on face value.
The final part of the First Amendment deals with the right of peaceful protest.
This is a right we all have and has not, to my knowledge, been challenged.
If we as citizens hope to keep constitutional protections of that right, then we have to allow a way to stop the rioters who hope to take away our God-given rights.
For as long as there are people who use this right as an excuse to destroy other people’s property, there will be a risk of losing protection of the right altogether.
As John Philpot Curran stated in his “Speech upon the Right of
Election for Lord Mayor of Dublin” in 1790, “It is the common fate of
the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.”
ALICE BARNES of Henry County is a member of the local Volunteers for Freedom Tea Party. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.