First Amendment to the United States Constitution

From Citizendium
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This article is developing and not approved.
Main Article
Related Articles  [?]
Bibliography  [?]
External Links  [?]
Citable Version  [?]
This editable Main Article is under development and subject to a disclaimer.

First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is an amendment, or supplementation, to the Constitution of the United States. It was a part of the U.S. Bill of Rights and was ratified in 1791 with other nine amendments in the Bill of Rights. The amendment stipulates that the Congress shall not legislate to restrict the freedom of speech, religion, assembly, and petition. Originally only applicable to the federal government, the Fourteenth Amendment, as interpreted in the Supreme Court case Gitlow v. New York, incorporates its provisions to the state and local level.


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.


The interpretation of each clause in the First Amendment has long been a contentious subject of debate among jurists, politicians, and ordinary citizens.

Scope of application

The First Amendment originally only applied to the federal government. Protection from state or local government action could only come from state courts enforcing the rights afforded within those state constitutions. Since the Fourteenth Amendment, which, among other things, prohibited states from denying people "liberty" without "due process of law," was added to the United States Constitution (1868) the Supreme Court has gradually interpreted the Bill of Rights to state governments. The First Amendment currently applies to all branches of government, including legislatures, courts, juries, executive officials and agencies, public employers and public university and school systems.

Establishment Clause

In its simplest interpretation, this clause forbids the creation of an established church like the Church of England. Beyond this, it raises issues which remain with us to this day. Can the state legitimately support religious schools or charities?[1]

There are a great variety of issues that have caused advocates of church-state separation to express concern and to bring legal cases under the Establishment Clause including school prayer (see, for example, Abingdon Township v. Schempp); the use of "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance and "In God We Trust" on banknotes; and public religious displays (such as in Alabama (U.S. state) by Roy Moore, in Lynch v. Donnelly, in Allegheny County v. Greater Pittsburgh ACLU, in Van Orden v. Perry and in McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky).

The George W. Bush Administration created the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Americans United for Separation of Church and State have asserted that this goes against the Establishment Clause. The Freedom from Religion Foundation have brought suit against the government over the creation of the Office but were denied standing by the Supreme Court in Hein v. Freedom from Religion Foundation (2006).

Free exercise clause

Free speech

Political speech


The Supreme Court has ruled that obscenity is not a protected form of speech and established its standard on obscenity in Miller v. California ("Miller Standard"). Pornography and obscenity are considered related but distinct matters in various cases.

Commercial speech

Speech on campus

The Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment protection of free speech applies to school campus with limited extent. In Tinker v. Des Moines the court decided that a school cannot penalize students for wearing armbands to protest against Vietnam War. However, in subsequent cases, such as Bethel v. Fraser (on sexual innuendo), Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier (newspapers), and the recent Morse v. Frederick (on illegal drugs), the court has consistently ruled in favor of school districts against students on whether the First Amendment protected the students' right to engage in different types of speech.