“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.”
There are six parts to the 1st Amendment:
- “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion” – Congress cannot declare a national religion, nor can it create a national church. The very principal behind this part is why we broke away from England.
- “Or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” – Congress cannot make any laws dictating what religion(s) people practice, or in what way/shape/form they practice it.
- “Or abridging the freedom of speech” – Congress cannot make any laws restricting somebody’s usage of speech; verbally or written. This right also encompasses the concept of donating money to political campaigns, causes, or groups.
- “Or of the press” – Congress cannot make any laws regarding the way our media or press are used by the people.
- “Or the right of the people peaceably assemble” – Congress cannot make laws against or prevent anyone from forming a peaceful assembly for whatever purpose they choose. Note the word “peaceably” – does not apply to chaotic, disorderly, or disruptive protests in which the police are needed to detail people.
- “And to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” – Congress cannot prevent anyone from lodging complaints against their government, nor can they retaliate against anyone filing a grievance.
Other notes to be aware of:
- It is a federal crime to threaten or cause harm to the President or Vice President.
- Your right to each of the above ceases when:
- Your behavior or activity causes harm to somebody else.
- Your behavior or activity slanders the image or reputation of somebody else unjustly.
- What you do turns uncivilized.
- Your activity begins to harass others.
- A policy, order, or mandate places legal limitations on your expression (I.E. If you take a job with a news station and part of their company policy is that you not trash-talk them on any form of media).
- You agree to waive your rights for either legal purposes or voluntary purposes.
- When you are arrested and have your rights read to you, the line “You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can/will be used against you” is no joke; this is done for your protection.
- If you write to your Congressional representatives regarding anything, you have the right to an honest response. Making threats or using lewd/offensive/profane language in your communications may result in legal action; as it falls under the heading of harassment.
- As demeaning and disrespectful as the topic is, there is currently no law against burning the American Flag. There is a “flag code” in place, more for a “this is how you should treat our flag and national anthem”.
- Each state’s constitution also has a variation of the rights contained in the First Amendment. The First Amendment applies to Congress as a body, while your state’s First Amendment more closely spells out your rights as a citizen.