The First Amendment is perhaps the most important part of the Bill of Rights. It protects five of the most basic liberties. They are freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom to petition the government to right wrongs. These were the guarantees that the Antifederalists missed most in the new Constitution.
Freedom of Religion
Freedom of religion means that the government may not force you to accept one set of religious beliefs nor may it interfere with the way you worship.
One of the most heated debates of our time involves the issue of prayer and schools. Do students have the right to pray in class? Or would a prayer interfere with another student's rights "not" to pray? A number of cases have been brought before the Supreme Court to settle this matter. The Supreme Court has held that prayers or even a moment of silence would violate the principles of the First Amendment.
Freedom of Speech
This freedom entitles American citizens to say what they think, provided they do not intentionally hurt someone else's reputation by making false accusations. Neither may they make irresponsible statements deliberately harmful to others, such as yelling, "Fire!" in a crowded theater when there is no fire. There are many issues about which Americans disagree, from child-rearing practices to baseball teams to Presidential candidates. Freedom of speech enables people to state their opinions openly to try to convince others to change their minds.
The First Amendment also gives you the right to disagree with what others say without fear of punishment by the government authorities. However, if you make an outrageous statement, such as, "The earth is flat," free speech will not keep people from making fun of you. If you express an unpopular opinion — for example, that students do not get enough homework — don't be surprised if your classmates avoid you. The First Amendment does not prevent social or peer pressure to conform to what others think.
Freedom of speech
This freedom makes it possible for Americans to keep informed about what is going on in government. It helps them to be responsible citizens. Reporters and editors can criticize the government without the risk of punishment, provided they do not deliberately tell lies. Newspapers, magazines, and books, as well as television and movie scripts, do not have to be submitted for government inspection before they are published. This censorship would violate the First Amendment.
Freedom of Assembly
This freedom makes it possible for Americans to join clubs or political parties, even if those groups represent unpopular views. Because of the First Amendment, people can join groups to promote animal rights, the nuclear freeze, or conservation. They can join groups to protest government intervention in Haiti, imported clothes and shoes, toxic wastes, or aid to Serbia or Bosnia. By sharing common interests, Americans can learn to work together. There are groups devoted to the interests of young people. Scout troops and 4-H clubs are but two examples.
Freedom to Petition
This important freedom allows people to tell the government what they think is needed. They can try to prevent the government from acting in a certain way. They can complain to the government without fear of penalty when things aren't going the way they should. For example, if people dump garbage near your school, you and your parents can petition the government to clean it up. Freedom to petition helps the government to clean it up. Freedom to petition can also let the government know how well it is doing its job.
The Second Amendment: The Right to Bear Arms
The Second Amendment protects the right to keep and bear arms, a right that dates back to England before the Magna Carta. The English Bill of Rights protected the right of Protestants to own and carry weapons, but denied that right to