With First Amendment Week at EKU set for April 15-18, the staff of the Eastern Progress gave its take on each clause, the freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition.
Freedom of Religion
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religious or the free exercise thereof.
In other words, congress cannot establish a state religion or infringe on an individual’s rights to worship in a way that they best deem fit. Today, people argue about certain religious traditions infringing upon citizen’s rights, but when they do, they miss the entire purpose of the freedom of religion clause.
The clause disallows the government from authorizing a state religion, or a religion that everyone is obligated to follow. This clause, however, should not be interpreted to mean freedom from religion. It allows people the right to practice the religion of their choosing, but does not give the government or other individuals the right to silence members of a particular religion from living out their faith simply because their beliefs are controversial.
The free exercise of religion has had its constitutionality tested by the judicial system. Courts have banned certain religious groups from certain forms of worship. While it is understandable that some groups cause harm to both themselves and others, religion was intended to be a choice. Religion is an individual choice that the government does not and should not interfere with or decide for us.
Freedom of Speech:
In tumultuous, political times, our right to freedom of speech is a necessity. Whereas we might not like what some of our classmates, relatives or Facebook friends have to say about current events, their right to voice those opinions is sacred and protected under the Constitution. Just like your right to rebuke those opinions.
When a group of neo-Nazis made plans to march through a heavily-Jewish community in Skokie, Illinois in 1978, the local board of commissioners made multiple efforts to keep them out. The Supreme Court ruled that while their speech may be despicable, it was unconstitutional to bar them from marching based on the content of their message. Instances such as these are inevitable in a free speech society, and remind us that the best way to fight speech we don’t like is by voicing our own.
With that being said, not all speech is protected under the First Amendment. Obscenity, serious threats and libel are just some of the types of speech not protected, and for good reason. Free speech can often be used as an excuse to inflict harm and is often misunderstood. It’s when this part of the First Amendment promotes conversation and understanding, however, that it strengthens the foundation of our democracy.
Freedom of Press
The freedom of press is more important now than ever before. The press plays a critical role in informing people from all over the world about public affairs and news. The press is a watchdog and vital for a democracy. Without the press, no one would be able to hold the government and those in charge accountable for their actions. The press faces many challenges in today’s society. With the threat to journalists and the killing of journalists around the world, the press needs our support now more than ever.
The freedom of the press is not just important to those in the media, but important to every citizen. The press has the power to speak the truth, and sometimes the truth can hurt. The press starts the conversation on essential issues. As “fake news” is being used to describe media outlets, people need to realize that there are still many journalists in America working hard to find the truth and report accurate information daily. When leaders and even the President threaten journalists, they are threatening the First Amendment.
Freedom of Assembly
Freedom of assembly is just as important as freedom of speech. It allows people with the same views to congregate and express their ideas publicly and in a place in which they will be accepted. Although the amount of differing stances are endless, it is remarkably important that we as a country are able to express our thoughts and beliefs. Freedom of assembly allows ideas to grow and spread to larger audiences. Without it, we would not be able to understand certain topics from others’ point of view. Whether one decides to engage in freedom of assembly or not, it is part of what makes we as Americans free.
Freedom of Petition:
The freedom of petition arguably supports all other freedoms outlined in the First Amendment. Essentially, this clause ensures that the public has the right to ask the American government to correct a problem at any level. Historically, the right to petition can be traced back to documents like the Declaration of Independence and the Magna Carta. While petition is only as effective as the response from the government, even unsuccessful petitions can draw attention to issues arising in our country and can lead to real change.
Although often taken for granted, the First Amendment secures some of the most essential rights of all Americans. As student journalists and informed citizens, we hold these rights dear and believe they are worth celebrating. This First Amendment Week, we hope you celebrate with us.