Modern Interpretation Of The First Amendment

The 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution says; “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." Our fore fathers felt that this statement was plain enough for all to understand, however quite often the United States government deems it necessary to make laws to better define those rights that are stated in the Constitution. Today the framers would be both encouraged and discouraged by our modern interpretation the 1st Amendment the United States Constitution.

A great deal of bills have been written and passed as legislation under the pretense that they would better outline the citizen’ rights and ensure their freedoms. Yet occasionally these laws, first beginning with the Alien & Sedition Acts of 1798, are created with disregard to what is stated in our Constitution. At times they distort and twist the original meaning of the work, counter acting the purpose of creating the Amendments. The intention of Amendments was to be an outline of the rights of the people. They were to ensure that there would not be a repeat of what the framers had experienced when they set out on their mission to draft a document that would govern our country for years to come. Little by little our elected officials have been discounting our Constitution. There are many resulting repercussions; the most dear to everyone being the individuals rights. The end result of these interpretations being that our people are hurt, as we are slowly being stripped of our rights as U.S. citizens.

There are two freedoms that seem to cause the most contention, the first being freedom of press and the second being the freedom of religion. It remains to be noted that none of the great constitutional rights of conscience, however vital to a free society is absolute in character. Thus, while the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion goes a long way, it does not serve to protect acts judged to be morally licentious, such as poly amorous marriages. Children also cannot be required to execute the flag salute when it is forbidden by religious belief. Similarly freedom of speech, often defended by the courts, does not extend to the seditious utterance of a conspiracy which, is the considered opinion of Congress, poses a clear present danger to the safety of the republic (Dennis v. United States). The court has emphasized that the act of Congress on the subject the Alien Registration Act (or Smith Act) does not forbid mere advocacy of abstract doctrine but only incitement to action designed to accomplish the illegal purpose of overthrowing the government (Yates v. United States). The state is not free to license the privilege of giving speech… yet it may punish for ‘fighting words’ which may lead to breaches of the peace (Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire) or the publication of obscene matter (Roth v. United States).

The Constitution states that a person has the right to publish or print any news or opinions that they deem worthy. Yet today some laws prohibit this freedom. By creating laws in order to protect the individual’s privacy, we are limiting one’s ability to report facts. Furthermore, many records previously available for the public to view become sealed in the name of privacy. On the opposite end of the spectrum new freedoms are being allowed. In a New York Supreme Court case, Justice Joseph Teresi struck an important blow for constitutional rights and an open judicial process by allowing cameras to televise the murder trial. She stated that televising trials could “further the interests of justice, enhance public understanding of the judicial system and maintain a high level of public confidence in the judiciary." By allowing a camera into the courtroom people are better able to get a grasp on our judicial system in the United States. This decision also allows citizens to view first hand news in action, without any biases created by reporters. As some of our freedoms are revoked other are being ratified. These changes are necessary to accommodate our changing beliefs. As our society is growing and changing, with increased technological capabilities, we are forced to create laws that protect the individual from being taken advantage of.

The freedom of Religion is the second freedom that has much controversy surrounding it. The Constitution prohibits the federal government from adopting a religion. It also allows a person to practice whatever religion they desire, or even not practice if they choose to do so. Ample controversy has arisen around the government and its stance on religion. Nowhere in the Constitution does it state that there must be a separation of church and state, thus creating a gray area because it is an implied law. When prayer was prohibited in schools through incorporation under the 14th Amendment, many believed that it created a direct violation of our rights. Our Constitution has given us the liberty to practice any religion we select. Yet prayer is no longer allowed in school due to federal legislation that has been passed to prevent it. As for the education aspect, schools may not teach “creation science" or other religiously based concepts in science classes. Yet they are not prohibited from teaching the evolutionary theory. In order to not force beliefs upon students, creationism is barred from being taught in the classroom. Personally, I believe that the founder’s intent was to have the education system run on a state and local level. The people, through their local communities, would have the power to decide what was taught in their schools and whether or not religion was involved. Through interpretation the 14th Amendment has technically changed the words of “Congress shall make no law" to “No state shall make a law" in regards to the establishment of religion.

In America, a free country, we are garneted unalienable rights. Our freedoms here are great and broad, yet they can be narrowed with every law created. The intention of the framers annexing the Bill of Rights to the Constitution was to protect the people from the governmental control that they had previously been subjected to. Their goal was to create a free country without persecution and a general government of limited and defined powers. Throughout the years, many changes have taken place and many new technologies have been discovered, yet the principles of our Constitution remain. Some say that the Constitution was written for people hundreds of years ago, and in turn is out of step with the times. Yet its principals and guidelines have held thus far. The framers would be pleased that their great planning and thought have been implemented up until this point. However this does not compensate for the fact that “we the people" have empowered the government more so than our fore fathers had intended. Citizens were entrusted with the duty to oversee the government, yet so many times they are disinterested and only seem to have an opinion when the government’s implications affect them. As time has changed, so have the American people.

Although I believe the 14th Amendment was a step in the right direction for ensuring equality of all citizens, I feel that the Supreme Court may have gone too far in incorporating some of the Bill of Rights. The 1st Amendment is the best example; sometimes it is necessary to limit the freedom of speech. Originally the states and their people had the power to limit speech when necessary (i.e libel or defamation). Laws that prohibit speech in order to disturb the peace such as screaming “fire" in a movie theatre also would fall under the state’s authority. I believe that the federal government does not have the power to pass such laws. Another example would be laws that prohibit the burning of the flag. Although I believe that the states have the authority to prohibit flag burning, I agree with the Supreme Court in the case of Texas v. Johnson when a federal law prohibiting flag burning was found to be unconstitutional.