“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.”
Our right to worship without government interference or persecution is the fundamental freedom to choose our core principles, which is the governance of self. Not by compulsion externally (organized religion by government), but instead based on personal conviction. This freedom is the linchpin to the other four—one cannot be free publicly if they are not free personally.
Our right to speak freely enables active and authentic participation in the citizenry as a whole. This allows agreement or disagreement in the discourse of governance, which can only be forthright so long as those governing cannot interfere.
Freedom of the press is an organized corporate voice, empowering the right of free speech. This freedom carries the weight of the collective right to agree or disagree, as well as giving voice to the individual—thus making government answerable to the people.
Peaceful assembly is the ability to take freedom of speech to the public forum, whether in protest or proclamation. This right brings balance to the freedom of the press by empowering rights of speech without depending on the will of the press, or its editors.
Petitioning the Government is a citizen’s right to hold accountable those who govern, by political or legal means. A government constrained by the law governs more aptly than one operating above of the law.
We cannot overlook that the 1st Amendment rights come with inherent responsibility. These rights expressly limit government, “in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added”; however, personal freedom must not become an excuse for self-indulgence. As citizens and a nation, we are only as free as we take responsibility for being so.