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1st Amendment Case

Essay by   •  May 18, 2011  •  Case Study  •  1,552 Words (7 Pages)  •  2,651 Views

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Found in the beginning of the Bill of Rights, the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution states; "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." Our founding fathers felt that this statement was plain enough for all to understand, however the federal government often finds it necessary to make laws in order to better define or even redefine our rights. Today the framers would be both encouraged and disheartened by our modern interpretation of the 1st Amendment.

Many laws dealing with the 1st Amendment have been passed under the pretense that they would better outline our natural rights and ensure our freedoms. Occasionally these laws, first beginning with the Alien & Sedition Acts of 1798, are created with disregard to what is stated in our Constitution. They can pervert the original meaning of the Constitution, counter acting the federal government's purpose of ensuring and protecting our rights. At times the Supreme Court is needed to intervene and nullify these unconstitutional actions of Congress. The original intention of the Bill of Rights was to be an outline of the people's most basic and fundamental rights. These ten Amendments were meant to ensure that there would not be a repeat of what the framers had experienced under the tyranny of the British Empire.

The 1st Amendment is home to two essential freedoms that seem to cause the most controversy; the first being freedom of speech and the second being the freedom of religion. Although these rights are essential to forge a free society, they are not completely absolute. For instance, while the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion goes a long way, it does not protect acts believed to be immoral such as polygamy or murder in the name of "religion." Children also cannot be forced to salute the flag when it is prohibited by their religious beliefs. Similarly, freedom of speech does not protect acts of sedition, which affect the national security or pose a clear present danger to the safety of the republic (Dennis v. United States). In the case of Dennis it was found that "In each case [courts] must ask whether the gravity of the "evil," discounted by its improbability, justifies such invasion of free speech as necessary to avoid the danger." The Supreme Court has also found that the Alien Registration Act (or Smith Act) does not forbid promotion of an "abstract doctrine," but only an actual incitement to action designed to bring about rebellion in order to overthrow the government of the United States (Yates v. United States). The federal government may also regulate and enforce laws forbidding the use of 'fighting words' which may lead to a breach of the peace (Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire) or the publication of obscene matter (Roth v. United States).

The Constitution implies that the freedom of the press establishes the right of a reporter to publish or print any news that he or she deems vital to the public interest. Throughout history Congress has passed laws in order to prohibit this freedom. By creating laws in order to protect individual privacy or national security, we are limiting one's ability to report facts and keep the public informed. Furthermore, many records previously available to the public may become sealed in the name of privacy. On the other hand, new freedoms are being constantly being expanded upon. In a New York Supreme Court case, Justice Joseph Teresi made an important stride for constitutional rights and an open judicial process by allowing cameras to televise a murder trial. She stated that televising trials could "further the interests of justice, enhance public understanding of the judicial system and maintain a high level of public confidence in the judiciary." By allowing a camera into the courtroom people are better; able to understand our judicial system in the United States. This decision also allows citizens to view our Constitution in action and understand the facts without any reporter created biases. Legal changes like these are necessary because our beliefs are constantly changing as well. As our society is growing and changing, with increased technological capabilities, we are constantly working to create laws that protect individuals from being taken advantage of.

The freedom of Religion is the second freedom that is filled with controversy. The Constitution prohibits the federal government from establishing a religion. It also allows a person to practice whatever



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