The First Amendment and its importance in American popular culture

“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”

On December 15th 1791, the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights was adopted into the United States Constitution. The purpose behind the First Amendment, it seems, was to create equal ground for citizens to partake in religious practice, protests and demonstrations, communication and expression through any media, and the sharing of ideas and thoughts, without consequence or interference from the government. Let’s take a look at the importance of free press in America’s political culture, and whether the First Amendment actually does protect it’s citizen’s freedom of expression in the media.

The First Amendment is widely seen to be a distinguished and honourable provision of the Constitution, which continues to protect the freedoms of the American people.

The important question though, is, does the First Amendment always protect the right freedoms?

I’d like to use Donald Trump in a few examples to understand the importance of the First Amendment rights and the possibility of constitutional contradictions in America today. Firstly, let’s understand why having freedom of press is so important in American political culture.

The Freedom of Press Clause is considerably similar to the Freedom of Speech clause, which both essentially state that citizens have the right to express themselves without interference or constraint by the government. The Freedom of Press Clause allows citizens to express themselves through publication and dissemination, although there are no special rights or privileges given to members of the press that aren’t available to all citizens (Cornell University Law School).

This clause is especially important in American political culture because it allows the media the freedom to write and publish material that is critical of the government without fear of punishment from the government.

The Freedom of the Press Clause, when written, was a protection for the works published using the printing press, and The Freedom of Speech Clause was to protect the spoken word (Volokh, 2012). Since its adoption in the constitution and certainly as technology and society has advanced, The Freedom of the Press Clause has a considerable amount of differentiating interpretations. William Rawle believed “the press” to mean “a vehicle of the freedom of speech” (Rawle, 1829). Whereas, Francis Holt seemingly predicted the various approaches to the media, by defining the liberty of the press as that “the personal liberty of the writer to express his thoughts in the more improved way invented by human ingenuity in the form of the press” (Holt, 1816). These interpretations are both valid and still relevant in today’s discussions.

The Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press clauses are exceptionally important in America’s political culture today. With Presidential hopeful Donald Trump making countess disparaging and sexist comments about journalist Megyn Kelly, inciting and encouraging violence and riots at campaign rallies towards voters protesting against him, and endorsing racist behavior, there are many examples that show First Amendment protections working in an interesting way. Trump will not be convicted of inciting violence, because the law will concentrate predominately on the people committing the crimes, not the speaker. In this instance, the First Amendment and the Freedom of Speech clause protects Trump from being punished for hate-speech.

The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, is certainly an exceptionally considered and honourable provision of the Constitution, although there are obvious times where the First Amendment has caused some ethical contradictions. Donald Trump’s rhetoric is protected by the First Amendment when, in fact, it deserves greater speculation and condemnation. The Constitution is incredibly important to American political culture and tradition, and it is interesting to note the instances where it seemingly protects some questionable circumstances.

References

Cornell University Law SchooI. Freedom of Expression: Is There a Difference Between Speech and Press. CRS Annotated Constitution First Amendment. from https://www.law.cornell.edu/anncon/search/display.html?terms=first%20amendment&url=/anncon/html/amdt1bfrag2_user.html

Holt, F. L. (1816). The Law of Libel. London: J. Butterworth and Son.

Rawle, W. (1829). A view of the Constitution of the United States of America. Philadelphia: P.H. Nicklin.

Volokh, E. (2012). Freedom for the Press as an Industry, or for the Press as a Technology? From the Framing to Today. University of Pennsylvania Law Review, pp.459-540.

Feature image credit: https://noplaceforsheep.com/2016/07/22/pray-for-the-bigots/
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