The Importance of the First Amendment
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In 1791, after the final completion of the warfare fought for our nation’s independence, our forefathers drafted and ratified the Constitution for the United States of America, which contained the single most important document for any American citizen – the Bill of Rights. This precious document outlined the basic rights sought after by all the nation’s citizens, ranging from the freedom of exercising one’s inborn rights to the constitutional rights given to each of the unique and individual thirteen colonies, now part of the United States of America. Specifically, the First Amendment includes the most important rights for a truly democratic society: the rights of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition. Without these valued rights there would be no new ideas; we would all conform under totalitarian rule for fear of punishment, quite like in the fictional world of dictatorship portrayed in George Orwell’s ingenious novel, 1984. Thus, the First Amendment is often considered by many the most important amendment in the Bill of Rights because it protects the rights Americans hold most dear – the freedoms of religion and expression.
The very first right stated in the First Amendment is the freedom of religion, indicating its vital importance to the American people. As we flip through the pages of history back to the establishment of the first colonies, one perceives that religious toleration was not well respected during this time period; in fact, a minor difference in religious belief could cause the eternal banishment or even death to one’s family. Thus, many were determined to leave the conservative Old World in search for a place of religious toleration. Because of this strong motivation for freedom of religion, the Pilgrims left their beloved homeland and came to the New World, the Puritans established the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Lord Baltimore created Maryland as a haven for Catholics, etc.
Clearly, these exceptional individuals endured hardships as they struggled to cross the ocean and establish their homes on this bleak and desolated New World, leaving the comfort of their homelands, simply because they wanted to freely exercise their rights of religion. Even today, as we take this right given to us by this valuable amendment created by our founding fathers almost for granted, various other individuals around the globe are suffering from religious prosecution. And many others, like our soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War to gain this freedom for us, are fighting for their religious freedom. Therefore, based upon the struggles of these individuals as they fought for their religious rights, one can truly see that this freedom holds a significant place in the hearts of these people, thus clearly indicating the First Amendment’s priceless value both in historical and contemporary times.
Moreover, the First Amendment was composed because our founding fathers believed that the freedom to express personal opinions is essential to a free and truly democratic government. The founders knew from their own personal experiences and knowledge of history that the freedom to write and publish must be protected from government interference in order to establish their original purposes. As many would probably agree, the right to think about and arrive at your own conclusions concerning morality, politics, or anything else, is part of individual freedom. That right would be meaningless without the freedom to speak and write about those opinions. Thus, freedom of expression serves as an important part for the advancement of knowledge, as new ideas are more likely to be developed in a community that allows free discussion. Furthermore, freedom of expression is a necessary part of our representative government; it is critical both in determining policy and in examining how well the government is carrying out its responsibilities.
It is also vital to bringing about peaceful social change protection of all individual rights by allowing the freedoms to assemble and petition the government – to ask the government to take action or change its policies. From the beginning, Americans have always felt free to speak to ask the government for action on issues that were important to them. The use of the right to petition, especially, was a chief way for women, African Americans, and others who were denied the right to vote to communicate with public officials. As many know, the importance of the right to assemble is nowhere bettered demonstrated than in the civil rights movement of the1950 and 1960’s. Under the leadership of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., thousands of valiant African Americans participated in the march for “Jobs and Freedom.” Obviously, these powerful achievements would have never accomplished their goals or to even have started if it was not for the First Amendment in allowing the freedom to express personal opinions.
The First Amendment protects those freedoms essential to a democratic society. Without freedom of expression, including speech, press, assembly, petition, and association, citizens would not have the free exchange of ideas and information mandatory to formulate sound political decisions. Likewise, without the freedom of religion, a democracy can be torn by religious strife and reject some citizens their basic rights to participate in government, as was done in colonial America. Thus, one can clearly conclude that the rights protected by the First Amendment help ensure that a democracy is not just majority rule by uniformed bigots, but rather a government run by well informed citizens and politicians who respect each other’s unique differences.