The "other" freedoms guaranteed under the First Amendment
Like a star quarterback or shooting guard who can consistently drain a three, freedom of speech gets all the press. Think recently, if you will, of Overland High’s Jay Bennish and the Bush-as-Hitler imbroglio. Or the Pittsburgh, PA driver, Thomas Burns, who after being cited for disorderly conduct for giving a construction worker a one finger salute, sued the township for malicious prosecution, advancing that by citing him, he had been abridged his freedom of speech.No doubt that freedom of speech is one of the biggies. It’s part of the First Amendment for goodness sake, not the Seventh or the Twenty First (which, by the way, deal with the right to a jury trial and the repeal of prohibition, respectively). If it wasn’t so darned important, why would it be first? But freedom of speech is not, in fact, the first of the First. It’s actually the second of the First. The first of the First that is the first right guaranteed under the First Amendment is… Well, let’s hold on a minute. What other rights are guaranteed under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Go on and think. I’ll wait a minute while you do.Too long since your last civics class? Okay, then, here’s a hint. Like the stars of the hardcourt, there are five players who comprise the First Amendment or, depending on how you count, let’s call it five and one bench player. Presumably, all five (or six), being part of the First Amendment were equally important to the Framers. If not, presumably, they could have split them up and given each of them their own amendment.In order of appearance, the rights are these: 1) that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion known as as the “establishment clause,” (and its corollary, freedom of religion known as the “free exercise clause”). The guarantee against an establishment of religion prohibits the government from passing legislation to establish an official religion or preferring one religion over another. It is what we think of when we talk about the “separation of church and state.” Such guarantees were, of course, essential perhaps above all other rights to the fathers of a nation which was founded largely upon the free exercise one’s religious beliefs. Keep in mind that the Pilgrims had fled across the seas into a dark unknown seeking freedom to believe what they believed and from Plymouth Rock grew the nation. These two essential freedoms, to believe and worship as you please and to be free of governmental sanction or interference in the arena of religion, were of the highest magnitude of importance. You can count these rights as one combined or as two distinct and separate rights. Thus, the designation of the “bench player” in our analogy. Call it, instead, an essential sixth man, bench strength being everything.Second on the hit parade is freedom of speech which really has two distinct and separate parts. Let’s call these parts freedom number 2 and number 3. They are, that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, nor shall it make any law abridging freedom of the press. To speak one’s mind without inhibition was a rational and natural response to rebellion aligned against royal mandate and prerogative.In reality, freedom of the press is not really very different than the more general freedom of speech. It confers no special rights upon the press. Instead, the right to freedom of the press simply (and explicitly) allows an individual to express him or herself through publication and dissemination. It is part and parcel of the constitutional protection of freedom of expression. Rights four and five are the right of the people to peaceably assemble and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances. Although the language of these last two is somewhat stilted, they mean simply that citizens of the United States may assemble in groups (so long as not for illegal purposes) and, impliedly, to associate with whom they please, and may challenge the government and seek recompense for governmental wrongs. More explicitly, the right of assembly is a right to associate for first amendment purposes and not a right of social association. The right to seek redress of grievances from the government contemplates both access to the courts and a right (independently or in groups) to seek governmental change. Perhaps surprisingly, the First Amendment, in its entirety, consists of 45 words (nearly half of which are prepositions, adverbs or conjunctives) which are all contained in a single sentence. Surprising, perhaps, because many of the framers were trained as lawyers and, too, in that a stack of paper from here to Jupiter and back has been generated (mostly by other lawyers) in interpreting the nuance apparently packed into those 24 substantive words.Taken together the five rights (or maybe six) can be conceived to really distill down to two core concepts: freedom of religion and freedom or expression. It can be persuasively argued that freedom of expression includes the rights of freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly and of the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances, as well as the implied rights of association and belief.At the end of the day, freedom of speech is not a lone performer on the field of play and though it often basks in the klieg lights, it takes all the horsemen of the First Amendment to power our democracy. The First Amendment has been interpreted by the Supreme Court as applying to the entire federal government even though it is only expressly applicable to Congress. Furthermore, the Court has interpreted the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as protecting the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment from interference by state governments.Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. He is a member of the Colorado State Bar Association Legal Ethics Committee and is a former adjunct professor of law. Robbins lectures for Continuing Legal Education for attorneys in the areas of real estate, business law and legal ethics. He can be heard on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) as host of “Community Focus.” Mr. Robbins can be reached at 926-4461 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado
Support Local Journalism
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User