TAHLEQUAH It contains just 45 words, arranged simply but eloquently, and its effects and influence have spanned centuries.
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 First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is actually the first of 10 articles in the Bill of Rights, which were demanded by Anti-Federalists those suspicious of a central government before dropping opposition to ratifying the document.
There was some concern in the 18th Century that a strong national government could be a threat to individual rights, said State Rep. Mike Brown. It was important then, as it is today, to prevent the kind of government tyranny seen in some other countries.
Though the amendment enumerates the rights most dearly held by most Americans, there has always been disagreement about their application, and sometimes, interpretation has led to different levels of government encroachment.
In 1798, less than 10 years after the Bill of Rights was ratified, the Federalist administration of John Adams passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, making criticism of government illegal, said Dr. Daniel Savage, chair of the Department of Geography, Political Science and Sociology at Northeastern State University. What does this tell you about their commitment to free speech? The law was aimed primarily at Jeffersonian Republican critics. Just because the First Amendment has been in force since 1791 does not mean that Americans have actually enjoyed freedom of religion, speech and press since then. There have been numerous exceptions.
Some regulations at the state, local and federal level can make petition difficult, and some such laws have been struck down by courts. The right to assemble is curbed on occasion; a recent example is protest zones.
The freedoms of speech and the press have felt restrictions during wartime. The motion picture industry introduced the Hayes Code during the 1930s because it feared government interference.
And many people today misunderstand the concept of freedom of the press, using it to demand publication or airing of whatever they say, regardless of whether it flouts the standards set for libel, defamation or privacy invasion.
That freedom applies to the press itself, not to the general public, who cannot force the media to act, or refrain from acting. The medias refusal to comply with someones demand to print or air is not censorship of that person; censorship occurs only if the government tries to interfere. Otherwise, declining to print or air material is merely a business decision.
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First Amendment covers basic rights