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  • Writer's pictureMichael Sauls

What the First Amendment Means

The First Amendment

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.

I'd say that most Americans know that the first amendment guarantees freedom of speech, but I doubt that very many have given much thought beyond that. The evidence for this is the fact that so many people believe that they have the right to say whatever stupid crap that comes into their empty heads, then they insult and threaten anyone that disagrees with them.

Some of these fools fancy themselves to be the judge, jury, and executioner in charge of silencing anyone who disagrees with them. These people are so extreme that they are willing to do violence or perhaps even commit murder to silence opposing opinions. All the while, they claim infringement against their freedom of speech.

So let us examine what the law means. First, we need to understand what freedom is. It is the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint. In other words, one has the freedom to do as they wish so long as doing what they do does not hinder or restrain another from doing as they want, within reason. According to the Declaration of Independence, we are granted certain unalienable rights by our Creator, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

So now specifically, I wish to examine the first amendment, which deals specifically with freedom of speech but has other essential elements, which are religion, speech, the press, peaceful assembly, and the right to petition the government.

Let's start with religion. I don't believe that it is an accident that religion is listed here first. Faith isn't just about one's ability to go to church. It is about one's ability to think, feel, and believe as they wish. What we think, feel, and believe is the first step in every action that we ever take or word that we ever speak. Primarily when told that we are not allowed to say certain things, we are also being told that we are not allowed to believe certain things. In other words, speech control and thought control are the same.

We have come to understand that speech is more than just the words we say. It is all forms of expression. So when the first amendment mentions the press, in essence, it is capturing the spirit of that by protecting the written word. It encompasses more than just the written word. It also protects artistic expression because there are many ways that we communicate ideas and feelings, including images, music, and sculpture.

The right to assemble peacefully means that we can share our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs with others. The right to redress grievances implies that we can protest against perceived injustices or that we can petition the government for aid when someone has done us some wrong.

Freedom comes with responsibility, and it only works if you are not infringing on the rights of others. Each of us is responsible for governing ourselves. That means before you open your mouth and insert your foot, it is wise to think before you speak.

Which brings me to my final point, consequences, yes, you have a right to say it, but is saying it the wisest course of action. There can be consequences for anything that you do or say. For example, if I don't like a man's wife and I decide to insult her in front of him, it could make him angry. He might conclude that I deserve a punch in the face for what I just said. If I make a threat, I could suffer severe consequences for making reported threats, as others might take those threats seriously and decide to take steps to prevent my carrying them out.

Maybe you are wondering what the point of all of this is? Let me give you some examples. Regularly we have various groups and individuals that spout off hateful and divisive speech unapologetic as they offend the vast majority of Americans with this toxic way of thinking, and when people say anything, they insult them, threaten them, and try to destroy them. That is not free speech. The moment these individuals try to force their toxic way of thinking on others, it stops being about freedom and becomes a hindrance to the freedom of others.

We have people who use feelings as an excuse to hinder the freedom of others. For example, when a person says that flying the American flag offends them, and they try to force those flying them to take them down. Or someone says something, and the offended seek to silence them.

Freedom isn't a guarantee that you will never be offended, nor is it an excuse to act like a jerk. People are going to hurt your feelings sometimes. Get over it. Accept the possibility that your words may have consequences and start using your head in the future. That is called being an adult. We do not live in the land of the fearful and the home of the easily offended. If there is any hope for the future, it is time for a whole lot of people to grow up.

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