More than a third (37 percent) of Americans cannot name any of the five rights protected by the First Amendment.
This fact makes me feel incredibly sad. If Citizens do not know their basic Constitutional rights , then they do not understand when their rights are being violated.
The First Amendment states: 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.
Only 15 percent of Americans could name Freedom of Religion as a freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment. This Freedom is so important to our country and was one of the main factors of the establishment of our country since most came to our shores to escape religious persecution.
Freedom of Religion allows you to practice your religion freely or not at all. Under this right, you are protected from the government of depriving you of what you believe in or worship. While you can exercise your faith openly, Freedom of Religion does not protect you from suppressing, attacking, harassing or discriminating someone else’s beliefs. This freedom also does not protect harmful, violent or threatening actions tied to any form of religious beliefs.
You own your religious liberty, your beliefs and whether or not you practice a religion, with the protection of interference, involvement or penalty from the government. As long as your worship is not violating core constitutional principles or harming others, then you are embracing this right correctly.
Freedom of Speech is one of your Five Freedoms protected under the First Amendment. It is protected within certain limits and includes both direct (words) and symbolic (actions). Depending on the delivery of speech or expression, there can be consequences, as the Freedom of Speech does not protect you from libel or slander.
You, as an American citizen, have the freedom to exercise this right peacefully without government interference. These include all forms of speech, even those that can be objectionable to groups or individuals.
Nonverbal expressions, such as wearing a T-shirt that states an opinion or shares a message, are also protected under this right. Freedom of Speech is not only the most commonly recognized freedom housed under the First Amendment, but it also ensures that the government does not have a right in forbidding us from saying, writing or expressing what we like.
Of course, my favorite is Freedom of the Press. It protects the right to report news or circulate opinions without censorship from any form of government or law. This includes information you gather from news programs, newspapers, books and magazines, or social media.
Not only does this critical right allow people to gather news, information and opinions from a variety of mediums, but a free media also acts as a watchdog with the capability to report on government wrongdoings.
This right is not limited to major news programs and mainstream sources. It also protects you in obtaining and sharing information without penalty. Freedom of the Press exposes ideas and opinions based on facts, research and credible sources to inform ordinary citizens.
Only 10 percent could name the Freedom to Peaceably Assemble or protest as one of the Five Freedoms protected under the First Amendment. It is a nonviolent resistance or action with a goal of advocating for or achieving change. This right has been exercised throughout the history of the United States, from human rights issues and anti-war campaigns to disapproval of government policy. It’s far from radical. It’s safe. It’s nonviolent. And it’s your right as an American citizen.
This right includes a very important keyword: peaceably. So, as long as constitutional laws and safeguards are in place, you are free to peacefully assemble. This freedom does not provide the right to cause danger, disorder, violence, force or immediate threats to public safety.
While this fundamental right is encoded and protected under the First Amendment, the government has authority to impose restrictions on certain aspects of assembly, such as time, place and manner of assembly.
Only 3 percent could name The Freedom to Petition the government for redress of grievances as one of your Five Freedoms protected under the First Amendment. It is the freedom to encourage or disapprove government action through nonviolent, legal means. This fundamental freedom enables you to stand up and speak out against injustices or policies that are affecting you or in which you feel strongly.
This right can be exercised by gathering signatures for ballot initiatives, lobbying, peacefully assembling, email campaigns, letter-writing, filing lawsuits and picketing. While this right allows you to take action on particular issues, the government can impose reasonable restrictions in regard to place, time and manner of petitioning, depending on the case.
Protected under the First Amendment, and by safely exercising this right, you can publicly participate in government. When put into action, it’s recommended to gather petitions on public property and to exude a civil demeanor.
I encourage everyone to use your rights. If you do not use them you may lose them.
And do not just use them on social media. Use them in the real world where you are more likely to have an impact.
Editor’s note: Joseph McCain is the publisher of The Choctaw Plaindealer, The Webster Progress Times and Winston County Journal. He maybe reached at newsroom@winston countyjournal.com or 662-803-5236.