In the U.S Constitution, the First Amendment is a part of the Bill of Rights. It outlaws making of any new law about an establishment of religion, shortening the freedom of speech, looming the free exercise of religion, overstepping on the freedom of the press, prohibiting appeals for governmental rights of protests or interfering with the right to peacefully assemble. Gradually the amendment which was originally applied only to laws and passed by the Congress has been applied to each state by the Supreme Court through the due process section of the 14th amendment.
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Some cases relate to the provisions of the First Amendment. The first provision for review is an establishment of the clause, which strictly prohibits the preference of one religion over another and the establishment of a national religion. It is more commonly known as the provision that provides the separation of the church and the state. A case heard in 1962 of Engle versus Vitale, came into consideration due to a New York City’s policy that required each school day to begin with a prayer written by the state board of regents. Parents of students complaining about the prayer at a high school filed the case. They claimed that the prayer contained the phrase “Almighty God” which contradicted their religious beliefs. The opinion was interpreted as reading regents which the governing arm in the use of state was not to dictate a required prayer to the children in their care. The prayer was seen as a way of promoting one specific religion. The lasting impacts of this case are still felt; nowadays the enduring legislation does not allow prayer in school (Vile, 2010).
Another case heard in 1919 created a need for clarification, when a socialist was observed distributing leaflets against the 13th amendment’s provision against involuntary servitude, where the socialist urged people to assert opposition to the draft. The socialist by the name Schenck was arrested on charges of conspiracy to violate the espionage act by attempting to interfere with recruitment and make rank and file soldiers break rank. His defence was based on the First Amendment’s provision of free speech citing the protection given to him during the act of distributing the leaflets with his original arguments and thoughts. Repeatedly, the case was repealed until it eventually required a hearing in the Supreme Court. The court’s opinion stated that the conditions created by war permit restricted on the freedom of speech. Since the socialist’s actions could lead to a reduction in the number of troops taking part in a war-time sanctioned by the government and even lower recruitment numbers in support of that action, the levelled sanctions ruled against Schenck. The earlier judgment stood and he served a six-month jail sentence (Adamson, 2008).
In a more complicated case between the City and County of San Francisco and the American Family Association, two clauses of the First Amendment were involved. The Family Association sued the City and County of San Francisco for openly and actively discouraging local radio and television stations from airing a series of audio and print ads created by the Association. The ads stated that any form of sexual sin including homosexuality was disapproved by God. The ads further stated that through the help of Jesus Christ many people did walk out of homosexuality and opted for celibacy and even heterosexuality. The City reviewed and deemed the movement as hateful bombast which provoked hate crimes. The Association felt that the City and State of San Francisco overstepped on its freedom speech by asking advertisers in the local regions to reject the ads. The Association further claimed that since the ads were made of religious themes, the City had no right to prevent them from being heard and that the City’s actions were illegal. Later on, the Association brought added support from other Christian groups implying that the City and State of San Francisco violated the First Amendment’s free exercise and free speech clauses by attempting to prevent the Association’s ads from being aired. The Oakland District court ruled that the actions of the City did not violate the First Amendment and was only performing its assigned duty to address public safety by encouraging local media not to run the ads. Protecting religion could fall under the protections of speech. However, it should not be stripped from regulation, should the message be found capable of disturbing the safety of the public (Adamson, 2008).
The Constitution’s Bill of Rights holds a strong commitment to the right of privacy. In the establishment clause of the First Amendmentreligion defends private person worship. Gun ownership is made a private issue in the second amendment. The third and fourth amendments seek to make a zone of privacy where people are free of public intrusions. The fifth amendment is connected with the idea of judicial privacy, a realm where people can remain silent and not be coerced into giving false confession. According to the ninth amendment, “individuals establish private contexts that might not have been constructed in the prior amendments” (Vile, 2010, n.pag.).
From the above cases, it is clear that an important element of Supreme Court which is the protection of Civil Rights, has been its position, stating that the protection of the Bill of Rights, initially created to protect citizens from Federal Government abuses, was also extended to State abuse. The Civil Rights covers more than the rights of the minorities and extends to all Americans. Citizens are guaranteed certain rights and freedoms under the Constitution where these freedoms must be balanced with the rights of a person and the needs of a society at large. Cases that involve speech, gender biasness, religion, discrimination and criminal’s rights could affect the public. Decisions ruled by the Court affect the permanency of law (Vile, 2010).
The American Constitution gives several rights and responsibilities to its citizens. The citizens have the rights to serve on a jury, run for federal office, vote in federal elections, become eligible for federal scholarships and grants, obtain citizenship for children born abroad, and bring family members to the U.S among others. The citizens of the United States have responsibilities of supporting and defending the Constitution, respecting and obeying federal, state and local laws, serve their country when called upon, take part in their local communities and respect the rights, opinions and beliefs of other citizens (Haynes & Association for Supervision and Curriculum, 2003).
Even with just forty-five words for all the clauses of the First Amendment, the few dozen words are responsible for some of the most argumentative court cases in the recorded legislation history. Despite the considerable efforts used in refining and understanding the spirit of the provision, it is clear that there is more work to be accomplished. The creation of deeper and more advanced court opinions as indicated in the above mentioned cases will ensure that the provision will continue to support the public for which it was written. With reference to the First Amendment, the American society is overwhelmed by popular talk shows, television series and popular media that deem its newsworthy from major newspaper markets. These allusions are clear to a point that explicitly draws on arguments of how case laws are affected by precedents set by the outcome of hearing cases that call for the definition of the provision. The First Amendment is a simple relative proposition which becomes complicated when the rights of one person conflict the rights of another person.
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