So what’s all this about a First Amendment?

We’re still in an Independence Day state of mind here at the Missoulian – and we’re just getting started on a monthlong tribute to and education in the First Amendment, along with other newspapers nationwide.

So today, we’re providing the first few questions and answers in what will be an ongoing Q&A about the First Amendment, part of the 1 For All campaign. To wit:

1. What is the First Amendment?

The First Amendment consists of the first 45 words of the Bill of Rights, ratified in December 1791, that protect the freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition. It serves as the blueprint for freedom of expression and religious liberty.

2. What is the value of the First Amendment to us and to the nation?

The First Amendment enables citizens to express their thoughts and beliefs in a free society. It allows citizens to practice whatever religion they wish — or no religion at all. Without the First Amendment, religious minorities could be persecuted, the government could establish a national religion, protesters could be silenced, the press could not criticize government and citizens could not mobilize for or against social change.

3. The First Amendment starts with the words “Congress shall make no law …” But don’t we sometimes limit First Amendment freedoms?

Yes, at times we do limit First Amendment freedoms. While the text of the First Amendment references that “Congress shall make no law,” there are some limited types of speech that do not receive free-speech protection. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously expressed this point when he wrote that “the most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.” Holmes’s famous phrase means that not all forms of speech are protected. For example, the First Amendment does not protect obscenity, child pornography, true threats, fighting words, incitement to imminent lawless action, criminal solicitation or defamation.

We’ve got lots more Q’s – and A’s – planned for the days ahead. Plus, I’d love to hear your questions about the First Amendment, to which I’ll seek out answers. So reply to this blogpost with your First Amendment wonderings, and stay tuned!

Sherry Devlin

One thought on “So what’s all this about a First Amendment?”

  1. Does the 1st Amendment protect us fully from false accusations and incorrect information?

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