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 amendment actually places prohibitions upon the federal government in regard to six areas.

  • Congress shall make no law
    • respecting an establishment of religion
    • prohibiting the free exercise thereof
    • abridging the freedom of speech
    • abridging the freedom of the press
    • abridging the right of the people peaceably to assemble
    • abridging the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances

It is obvious that these are not absolute rights that can have no bounds, but it is not for the federal government to set those bounds. Yelling fire in a crowded theater is the usual example of limits on free speech, should we allow religion to practice human sacrifice, or allow lies to be published with the forethought and intention of destroying another’s reputation or inflict any harm? Is blocking and stopping traffic in the streets peaceful just because you have an assembly of people instead of just one or two? Does a person have the right to walk down an empty street swinging a baseball bat and yelling obscenities? I would assume so. Would that same person have the right to do so on a crowded, busy, street? Absolutely not.

Just as when studying the Bible, one must accept the interpretation that does not cause it to contradict itself; we have to interpret these rights in a fashion that does not contradict common sense, decency, and equality.

  1. The Federal Government cannot establish a national religion or cause any religion to be supported with tax dollars.
  2. The Federal Government cannot prohibit the free exercise of a religion.

This second prohibition is the first sticking point. It is certainly not acceptable to allow human sacrifices, cannibalism, mutilation of minders, etc. Therefore, what is it the government cannot prohibit? It can only be the exercising of religious opinion; you can proclaim whatever religious beliefs one has as well as practice that which does not harm or impede the rights of another. All have the right to their own religious opinions, and beliefs, even if the practice is not allowed.

  • The Federal Government cannot abridge the freedom of speech.

This too is not an absolute right as many have interpreted it to be even expanding it to freedom of expression; this is an error. Once again, the only way to interpret this that does not contradict common sense, decency, and equality, is the freedom to express opinions. You have the right to express your opinion verbally, in writing, and in today’s world, by video, podcast, Facebook, Instagram, a tweet, a website, etc.

Whichever method is chosen to express an opinion, the manner in which it is expressed can be regulated. The opinion that one can express an opinion in an obscene, lewd, raunchy, or repugnant, manner is fine, but that opinion does not impart a right to do so. To threaten another is not an opinion.

I hope you see where I am going. Without a proper interpretation, these rights can be abused by both individuals and governments.

  • The freedom of the press cannot be abridged

Is this an absolute right? How could it be? There are expectations of privacy for individuals; we do not have the right to know all about everyone. The Press has the right to witness, search, and investigate, the events of the world, but it must be responsible for what it publishes. It cannot be allowed to publish information vital to our national security, however, national security should not be used as an excuse to hide things that are not. It can be a thin line between the press’s responsibility to inform the public of the truth and what is not the public’s business. Freedom of the press is not freedom to lie, slander, defame, or twist the truth to promote your personal views or ideology.

  • The Federal Government cannot abridge the right of the people peaceably to assemble.

The answer to the proper interpretation of this is so simple that any deviation must be intentional. Any assembly that violates or impedes the rights of another is not peaceful. Taking to the streets hindering traffic whether motorized or foot is not a peaceful assembly. You have the right to peacefully assemble in your home, back yards, a park, rent a hall, a school auditorium, a Church, theater, over the Internet, or anywhere else that does not impede another from exercising their rights.

  • The Federal Government cannot abridge the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances

Petitioning the government is the proper way to protest. You publicly express your opinions, peacefully assemble with those like-minded or desirous to learn more of the matter, then you prepare a petition signed by all that agree and submit it to your representatives. This is the only proper way to protest. Civil disobedience is not protesting, it is a crime.

It is the responsibility of every citizen to educate themselves to where they can express their opinions without having to act out or resort to criminal behavior.

With rights come responsibilities. There are only so many rights and they are shared by all. The only proper exercise of rights is to do so without impeding or preventing another from his.

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