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The U. S. Constitution | The Bill of Rights | Amendments 11-27

The 1st Amendment

"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." Amendment 1 of the Bill Of Rights

The 1st Amendment in the Bill Of Rights protects freedom of religion, speech, press, the right to assemble, and the right to petition government. It does not say “unless”, “if”, “except”, or use any other qualifier.

Read the actual text, it's really pretty simple.

Regarding religion: “Congress shall make no law... prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. We can establish and practice any religion we want.

Let's look at the freedom of speech clause: “Congress shall make no law...; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press;”. The most common use of “abridge” today is “to shorten”, usually related to literature. One archaic definition is “deprive”. Regardless of original intent, it's fairly clear that “we the people” have freedom of speech, without qualifiers.

How about the “the right of the people to peaceably assemble”? Are there limitations included in this clause? As written, we can “peaceably assemble” anytime we want, without asking for permission, without paying a fee. The clause “Congress shall make no law respecting” applies to each section of the 1st Amendment: ...establishment of religion; ...freedom of speech, or of the press; ...of the people peaceably to assemble...”. The only qualifier here is “peaceably”.

And last, we have the right “to petition the government...”. “Congress shall make no law respecting” this right.

These rights can be changed anytime we want, through the process described in Article 5 of the U S Constitution. We can relinquish these rights, but until we do so, these rights are written into law. Legislation does not overwrite the U S Constitution, nor does a 51% majority of the people.

Here are quotes from several of the founders:

"If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter." George Washington

"Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost. Thomas Jefferson