I heard on a radio talk show yesterday that most Americans know more about The Simpsons than they do about the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. At first, I scoffed, saying to myself, “Surely, everyone knows the First Amendment!”
Then, I said, “Who are you calling Shirley? And I don’t know the First Amendment, either. I know that there are five members of the Simpson family, (Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie) and I can name at least five other characters on the show (Moe, Barney, Smithers, Mr. Burns, and Ned Flanders). I find this distressing, to say the least. I don’t even watch that much television. If you don’t believe that, ask my wife.
So, I looked up the Bill of Rights. In case you don’t know what that is, it is a list of Ten Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, specifically the first ten Amendments. I discovered that there are actually five different rights guaranteed in the First Amendment. This was a surprise to me, since I had always assumed that the first amendment was just the Freedom of Speech and Press Amendment. Actually, it is both more and less complicated than that. Here it is, for your perusal:Amendment I
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.
According to this, citizens of the U.S. are guaranteed the following:
1. Freedom to establish or join a religion of their own choice, without interference or coercion from the Government
2. Freedom of Speech, namely the freedom to speak out in criticism of the government without fear of reprisal.
3. Freedom of the Press, meaning that I can write anything I want here, and no one from the Government can censor me.
4. Freedom to Peaceable Assembly, specifically to protest. The key word here is “peaceable.” No right is guaranteed for assembling to protest, if your idea of protesting is hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails. In my not-so-humble opinion, hurling words can also be non-peaceable.
5. Freedom to Petition for Redress. I had to do further research on this one. I wasn’t sure what “redress” meant. But it boils down to this: if you have been wronged or injured, especially by the government, you have the right to ask for it to be made right, or at least to be compensated for it. Note that the right to Petition has been guaranteed, not the right to receive.
Now, I might not be a world-renowned Constitutional Scholar, but it only took me about 15 minutes to get this. I might also be wrong in my interpretation, but I don’t think so. I urge all of you to take a look at your life. What TV show do you know more about than the Constitution? How long would it take to learn more?