Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Scattered Thoughts on the First Amendment

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The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says, "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."

This Amendment gives Americans five rights:
1. Freedom of Religion
2. Freedom of Speech
3. Freedom of the Press
4. Freedom to Gather
5. Freedom to Petition

In this post, I've put together a few thoughts on our First Amendment rights, how they are used and misused today, and what Biblical principles should guide our interpretation of these rights.

Thoughts on Freedom of Religion 
The First Amendment clearly says that the government shall not establish a national religion. In court cases in the 1950s and 1960s, the Supreme Court decided that this meant that there could be no public prayer or reading of the Bible in public schools.

This amendment gives each person the right to practice whatever religion they want to practice. Our nation, though founded largely on Biblical principles is not a Christian nation, nor a Muslim nation, nor an Atheist nation. Each person has the right to practice the religion they want to.

Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash
All too often I hear Christians complaining that their right to practice Christianity freely is being taken away. I won't argue. More and more, laws in the United States, and especially in the state I live in, make it more difficult to stand up for your Christian beliefs and values. The big example is the case of the baker who was taken to court because he would not make a cake for a same-sex couple. He was a Christian, and this practice went against his beliefs, so he refused to make the cake...and went to jail for it.

And although Christians mourn the fact that our right to practice religion freely is slowly being taken away, we forget something. This amendment gives freedom of religion to ALL religions...not just Christians. In our nation, mosques, temples, and churches have the same rights to remain standing, and those who go to worship in each one have the same right to their choice of religion.

As Christians, I think it is important to remember to give the same respect to others and their choice of religion that we would require them to give us.

Thoughts on Freedom of Speech/the Press
Photo by Samuel Lopes on Unsplash
In my mind these rights go hand in hand. If you have freedom of speech, but don't have freedom of the press, then your thoughts would never get published. If you have freedom of the press, but don't have freedom of speech, then you would never have anything to publish.

So what kind of speech/print does this amendment protect? We have the right to express different opinions. We have the right to disagree with those in power in our government. We have the right to express outrage at something...respectfully!

We do NOT have the right to obscene, slanderous, or dangerous speech. "Dangerous speech" means anything that would compromise national security (i.e. treason) or public safety (i.e. causing a stampede by yelling "fire" in a crowded mall). The "smear tactic" used among politicians is not a right protected under the first amendment. The slogan "Hate speech is not Free Speech" is true. Speech that hurts or tears down another person is not a right given to us by the First Amendment.

When the government controls or limits what can be said or printed in the name of what people "ought" to hear, the society is no longer free.

As Christians, we don't have the right to say "anything we want to." Our speech must follow the instructions given in God's word: "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear." (Ephesians 4:29)

Thoughts on Gathering/Petitioning 
The First Amendment guarantees us the right to have a voice in our government. If we see something being done that we don't agree with, we have the right to gather together, peacefully, to draw attention to the evil. We have the right to petition our government for change.

However, we do not have the right to riot. When a rally turns violent, it is no longer protected under the First Amendment.

Remember to respect those who are in authority over us, to obey God before men, and to speak the truth in love.

Final Thoughts...
I'm not usually a political writer. I had to write about the First Amendment as a school assignment, and decided to do it as a blog post. There is a lot packed into this Amendment.

My summarizing thought would be the same as Peter in Acts 5:29: "We must obey God rather than man." The laws that God has given us should guide our lives above all else.

Photo by Joey Csunyo on Unsplash


  1. Very interesting thoughts. I do agree that we must allow other people to practice their religions, but I do think that the government should not interpret that to mean that we can't evangelize. That's what I see happening; even freedom of the press is being taken away when social media companies delete followers from conservatives. I even read that California plans to ban the sale of the Bible! I'm glad you bravely decided to face being a political writer:-). It's an area Christians have sadly neglected.

    1. Yes, for sure. Freedom to evangelize would fall under freedom of press/speech. It's a difficult balance to find, and to be honest, I'm not sure it can be found in today's culture. :(