Staff writer

The Bill of Rights states the first ten amendments. Our rights as American citizens are perfectly laid out within the ten amendments.

The first amendment is weighted with five freedoms. It gives us: the freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly and the right to petition the Government for redress of grievances.

It specifically states, “The First Amendment proves that Congress make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting its free exercise. It protects freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and the right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The Supreme Court still tries cases pertaining to the first amendment. Each case that is presented gives the court the authority to uphold the protections and continue to expand the definition of each right so that they are protected.

Throughout history the Supreme Court has been able to establish the definition of each by ruling on cases that have been presented to them.

Speech, by the Supreme Court, has been defined as symbolic, not to speak, to utilize certain offensive words and phrases to convey a political message, to contribute money to political campaigns, to advertise commercial products and professional services (with restrictions).

The right to symbolic speech gives each citizen the ability to express themselves by utilizing an object or an action to convey their thoughts or feelings to a specific event.

The two examples given; wearing an armband to protest a war or burning the American flag, are from two cases brought to the Court, specifically. The Court ruled in favor that both, respectively, protected freedom of speech.

To not speak, specifically refraining from saluting the flag is another form of speech protected by the first amendment. This also protects a citizen’s right to withhold from reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

The contribution of money to political campaigns, under certain circumstances and the use of certain offensive words and phrases to convey a political message are also protected. This means that a citizen is protected to contribute to political campaigns or causes with these methods. But, a citizen cannot be protected by the first amendment when either inciting crimes or hateful behavior.

Lastly, the ability to advertise commercial products and professional services is protected. It is under some scrutiny, however. The products must work, be safe for consumers and adhere to any state or federal regulations. Professional services must be legit and adhere to state and federal regulations.

The freedom of press is pertinent to democracy. It is the “watchdog” of the government. It is the source of information and it is the means of disseminating information. The press, also, must adhere to standards that remove bias from its reporting and ensure that its reporting is truthful.

The ability to assemble is also protected. It is the ability of people with common interests to come together and act upon those interests. Significant examples of this are the civil rights movement, protesting for women’s right to vote in the 1920’s, bra burning, and in protest of the Miss America Pageant in the ‘60s.

Religion is protected as well. The Court has a significant history with defining religion and establishing parameters so that it can be appropriately protected. Initially, in 1890 the Davis v. Benton decision defined religion as: having reference to one's views of his relations to his Creator and the obligations they impose of reverence for his being and character and of obedience to his will.

There have been cases throughout history that have expanded upon this initial definition. The Court continues to strive to ensure that religion is not bound to a secular definition and that all citizens are protected and encouraged to exercise their practice of their religion.

Lastly, the right to petition the government for redress of grievances is protected. This gives each citizen the ability to seek recourse if any of their constitutional rights have been violated. This does not guarantee that the ruling will be in the citizen’s favor. It means that the grievance will be considered by the courts and will be decided accordingly.

Knowing your rights as a citizen of the United States of America is perhaps the most important thing you should be well informed about.

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