Does the First Amendment apply to private businesses?

So how inclusive is our First Amendment? That’s the focus of the questions we’ll answer today as part of the Missoulian’s monthlong campaign to educate readers and advocate for the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

We’re part of a nationwide effort, dubbed 1 For All, to bolster the First Amendment by making everyone aware of and invested in its protection. And a key to any preservation effort, of course, is a strong and effective educational campaign.

Thus today’s Q&A:

Does the First Amendment apply to private companies and organizations?

No. The First Amendment applies to the government — to protect individuals from government censorship. While the text of the First Amendment says “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech,” it means that no federal, state or local government official can infringe on your free-speech rights. A private company is not a government or state and therefore generally is not subject to the requirements of the First Amendment.

How does the First Amendment protect religious liberty?
It protects religious liberty through the establishment clause and the free exercise clause. The establishment clause — “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” — provides for separation between church and state. The free exercise clause — “or the free exercise thereof” — means that individuals can hold whatever beliefs they wish on religion or nonreligion and to freely practice those beliefs.

I’ll keep checking in with you all month, here at, with more about the First Amendment.

Sherry Devlin

One thought on “Does the First Amendment apply to private businesses?”

  1. The first of today’s Q & As seems a little underexplained. The first amendment protections DO extend to speech made BY private companies and organizations. I think what you’re saying here is that the first amendment does not (necessarily) extend to restrictions by private companies on speech by employees and/or persons in, for example, a private or limited public forum controlled by the company or organization.

    That said, thanks for this series. The first amendment is my second favorite. The 14th is my fave.

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