The First Amendment: some background The First Amendment: what is it? • When our ‘Founding Fathers’ created the United States, they wrote a rulebook for government called the Constitution. • Among other things, this rulebook included something called “The Bill of Rights”, which protect the fundamental freedoms of the people and their individual states from any infringement by the federal government. • The First Amendment is the first of ten rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. First things first: what does ‘The First Amendment’ say? • Amendment I “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.” What does the First Amendment mean? • The First Amendment originally said the federal government may not tell people what religion to be, what they can think, what they can say, or what they can write. • The federal government also was not allowed to tell people who they could associate with, nor could it deny people the right to sue the government if it violated their rights. The First Amendment: The Big Picture The First Amendment was a reaction to the tyranny practiced upon the people by government during the ‘Dark Ages’ • The ‘Dark Ages’ are often thought of as being the opposite of the ‘Age of Enlightenment’. • During the ‘Dark Ages’, the period from the end of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance, total control of the people by tyrannical governments (usually kings who claimed direct connections to God) left most people trapped in ignorance and darkness. • As a reaction against the ‘Dark Ages’ the ‘Age of Enlightenment’in the 16th and 17th Centuries brought the bright light of free thinking to the world. ‘Age of Enlightenment’ thinkers questioned authority! • Enlightenment thinkers realized tyrannical governments maintained power by keeping the people silent and in the dark. • People during the ‘Age of Enlightenment’ realized that government forced people to believe whatever made the leaders stronger and richer. • Enlightenment thinkers realized the people must be allowed to question government authority in order to ensure their freedom. • Our Founding Fathers wanted to make sure our new ‘post revolutionary’ government didn’t return us to the ‘Dark Ages’. Four Reasons why the Founding Fathers thought freedom of expression is essential to a free society: 1. The freedom of Expression is the foundation of self-fulfillment (the right to happiness) • The rights of individuals to express their thoughts, desires, and aspirations and to communicate with others proves the dignity of every member of society. 2. Freedom of Expression is vital to getting and expanding knowledge • People are capable of intelligent thought only when they can consider all available facts and ideas in order to compare their conclusions with those of others. • The right of citizens to express themselves can’t depend on what the government or others think about their views. • All points of view should be represented in the ‘marketplace of ideas’ so that society can benefit from debate about their worth. • When people are free to expose themselves to lots of knowledge they can expand knowledge from the known to the unknown. 3. Freedom of expression is necessary to our Democratic Republic. • To be truly masters of our own fate and of elected government, we must be well- informed. • To be well-informed, we must have access to ALL information, ideas, and points of view. • Government tyranny depends on mass ignorance. 4. Freedom of expression provides a check against government corruption and excess. • Restrictions on freedom of expression authorize the government to decide how, and against whom, the restrictions should apply. • Our Founding Fathers thought that the more authority a government has to control the people’s thoughts and words, the more it will use that authority to suppress unpopular minorities, criticism, and dissent. In conclusion • The Age of Enlightenment led people to question the beliefs about what the government said was true in the world, because they realized government control depended on the people’s ignorance. • Our Founding Fathers believed well-informed thought could lead to the truth without government’s interference. • Our Founding Fathers knew they needed to guarantee that government would never be able to tell people what religion they would follow, what they could think, say, or write. • The Founding Fathers also knew they needed to guarantee people the right to gather to argue (assemble) and to sue the government if it overstepped its boundaries.