The First Amendment
The first amendment refers to a part of the bill of rights which guarantees the freedom of an individual to religion, worship, free speech, assembly, and petitioning. It also guarantees the freedom of press. Essentially, the first amendment ensures that an individual’s freedom of expression and association are not infringed upon by the government. The amendment itself came about as a result of the wishes by the founding fathers to establish a strong government, while at the same time guarantee and safeguard the civil liberties of the citizens. In order to safeguard the civil liberties as envisioned by the constitution, proposals were made to ensure the inclusion of the said civil liberties within the constitution. Although this suggestion was initially objected to by certain states prior to the passage of the constitution, they were successfully passed as ten constitutional amendments to the constitution beginning with the first amendment, aimed at guaranteeing civil liberties tied to expression and association. Initially, some of the provisions of the first amendment such as freedom of religion, as following ratification, certain states continued to support established state religions, although this position was rectified following a Supreme court decision compelling state and federal governments to respect the separation of the church and state, essentially guaranteeing the free exercise of religion.
Despite these numerous teething problems, over time, the government has become more and more respectful of the citizen’s rights to the 5 freedoms guaranteed within the first amendment, although certain grey areas still exist when it comes to the freedom of assembly, speech, as well as the right of press to be free. Due to these grey areas, the government usually finds loopholes through which it is able to indirectly curtail the freedom of the individuals to assembly, as well as speech. Although the government’s curtailing of press is no longer as widespread as it used to be, there are still instances where the press comes off worse following conflict with the government, more so in cases where manipulation occurs in a bid to muzzle the reporting of any sensitive information that the government would like to keep secret. However, due to the increasing power and authority wielded by the judiciary as well as the legislature, such episodes in which an individual’s or the press’ freedom is infringed upon are becoming increasingly scarce. In fact, the opposite has become the norm. A greater number of individuals are increasingly taking advantage of the liberties guaranteed by the first amendment, abusing their freedom to speech as well as assembly, while some sections of the press are increasingly engaging in unethical and unprofessional conduct.
Due to the civil liberty of free speech, a number of citizens are increasingly hiding behind the law to spew vulgarities, obscenities and disturb the peace of other citizens. The freedom of speech that is guaranteed by the first amendment is currently being used to insult public figures, as well as justify unwarranted insults that public officials exchange and hurl at each other. The freedom of expression has become abused to the extent that individuals simply abuse each other and express themselves in an uncivilized manner and easily get away with it, as they are according to the constitution, entitled to “express themselves regardless of how such expression may affect others. This has led to a situation in which the citizens actually end up interfering with the rights of others to a peaceful coexistence. To an extent, such individuals end up making fellow citizens feel like they are second rate citizens who deserve the abuse or insults they are being subjected to. To an extent, public figures have been at the front of the firing line, as citizens find it quite easy to insult leaders through the press, or even through online media. Due to the freedom of expression, a whole new form of bullying has arisen; cyber bullying. Citizens have taken their freedom of expression to a whole new level, to an extent even using it to bash their fellow citizens into depression. The freedom of speech liberty has created a whole new monster responsible for the institutionalization as well as death of some citizens.
Instead of the noble situation envisaged during the ratification of the first amendment, the current situation is one that promotes an uncouth society in which all citizens feel the need to give as good as they get, essentially to the disadvantage of others. It has opened Pandora ’s Box and essentially allowed just about any citizen to not only have an opinion on just about anything, even matters that are not of their concern. It has led to a situation in which citizens and the press interfere with the personal lives of their fellow citizens and torment them beyond measure. The advent and proliferation of the internet has essentially served to make things worse, as it provides an avenue through which vulgar and uncouth individuals can air opinions they feel they are entitled to have, regardless of how these opinions may affect those around them, or those they are aimed at.
Although one cannot fault the founding fathers for their vision, it is necessary for the freedoms guaranteed under the constitution to be practiced with caution. The concept of remaining our brothers’ keeper must always be the motivating factor, more so if the American dream is to be fulfilled. Even in cases where one feels like expressing themselves on an issue, they must always remain mindful of how it affects others. The main motivation behind expressing oneself must always be to benefit others. The freedom of expression must therefore be fulfilled in a positive and respectful manner that builds upon the beautiful liberty that is guaranteed by the first amendment.