The Bill of Rights consists of the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution of the United States.
The First Amendment is becoming increasingly important in current times and it is specific to the issue brought up in this website. The First Amendment states:
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.
In this short lesson on democracy, we want to specifically explain what that portion of the amendment means that talks about "abridging the freedom of speech."
First of all, what is an amendment?
The people who created our constitution, which is the document that says how our country is suppose to run, knew that they might not totally get it right. They knew others would probably come along later with some good ideas and the constitution would need some tweaking. So they wrote in the original constitution a way for us to do that: make an amendment or a change. It is not an easy process, but it is possible and it is very important in a democracy when we know something isn't working.
So, what does it mean for congress that they make no law to adbridge the freedom of speech?
What it means in a nutshell is that you have the right to say what you think:
- even if it offends other people,
- about anyone, including the President,
- even when it might make you unpopular.
Most importantly, you can't be punished, or put in jail for disagreeing or saying what you think, especially about the people who govern us.
It does not give you the right to break other laws. And, just because you can say anything you want to, does not mean that you should!