First Amendment Day

Yesterday was First Amendment Day at UNC.  I probably would not have known that it was yesterday if I wasn’t in the J-School – which is sad, really.  The First Amendment is the most important part of the Bill of Rights.  It guarantees all of the freedoms in which the country was founded on: freedom of expression.  Without these words, America wouldn’t be one of the best countries on Earth:

“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.”

Shockingly, studies show only about 6% of Americans know what the amendment says.  It’s somewhat comical that people plead free speech as their right when supporting something they are doing.  They are correct, but “free speech” is not some umbrella term that incorporates all of the First Amendment.

There are really six parts of the amendment in which Congress shall make no law against.

  1. Freedom of religion.
  2. Freedom from religion.
  3. Freedom of non-obscene speech.
  4. Freedom of the press.
  5. Freedom of peaceful assembly.
  6. Freedom to petition the government.
The First Amendment protects not only civilians, but all people on U.S. soil.  This is crucial to protecting the marketplace of ideas that make a democratic society as effective as it is. People can voice their opinion in America no matter what their race, sex, creed, nationality or their favorite ice cream flavor is – and that is truly a beautiful thing.  The exchange of ideas is what makes America such an innovative country that comes up with new technology and brings a new standard of living to it’s people.  According to Supreme Court rulings, all speech is protected.  There are very few exceptions to this rule: obscene speech (child pornography for example) and threatening speech.  Even these two genres of speech are hard to prove unprotected by the First Amendment.  Threats must incite violence (like death threats) and obscene speech is so subjective that very little is unanimously decided to be unprotected.  It’s exciting, albeit sometimes scary and frustrating, to be in a country that permits such easy exchange of ideas.  It’s truly what makes this country great – a melting pot of ideas mixed in with a melting pot of people.
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