Free Critical Thinking On Amendment Interpretation Analysis
The First Amendment of the US Constitution, adopted on December 15, 1791, is one of the most influential laws protecting liberty and freedom in the land. This is arguably one of the most known and referenced amendments today, and it was passed as part of the original Bill of Rights. This amendment has been reinterpreted frequently throughout American history because it deals with issues vital to living in a free democracy. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition, which are the foundational elements of a free democracy.
The First Amendment was ratified as part of the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments. However, before its passage, there were a number of Federalist and Anti-Federalist debates going across nation. The question at hand was how much power the government should have, especially regarding personal freedoms. Some thought the current proposed constitution did enough regarding the protecting of liberty, and others did not. Federalists thought the Constitution did not need further amending, while Anti-Federalist disagreed. Therefore, after much political debate, the Anti-Federalists won the Congressional support for introducing the Bill of Rights, and they were ratified quickly in 1791 as a way to further protect individual liberty (“Bill of Rights of the United States”).
The implications for life in early America is that the Anti-Federalists won, and now felt more secure that the government would not severely restrict liberty. After just gaining independence from Britain, many Americans were worried about creating a system like Britain, especially that of a king. If a governmental body had as much influence as Britain, they feared a loss of liberty like prior to the American Revolution. Therefore, the passage of the First Amendment was a way to ease the fear over creating a strong monarchy like the British government they fought (“Anti-federalists”).
Today, this amendment has been heavily scrutinized and subjected to many Supreme Court cases. The most controversial issue in the First Amendment is how to interpret the freedom of religion clause. The amendment guarantees the free exercise of religion, while also prohibiting the establishment of one particular religion over another. This issue has led to debate over whether or not certain religious icons can be on display using public property. Nativity scenes during Christmas and prayer in public schools often prompt a discussion over whether or not this is violating the establishment clause. However, many other people argue that prohibiting something like a nativity scene is violating their ability to freely exercise religion. Therefore, the interpretation of this amendment has caused some disagreement on how to effectively enforce both the establishment and free exercise clause.
Another issue today that causes problems in how to interpret the First Amendment is gay marriage. Under the establishment clause, it would appear that gay marriage should be legal, due to the fact most objections to it are from a religious perspective. However, once again, many argue legalizing it violates the free exercise clause. The correct interpretation of current issues is sometimes hard to find, given the context of the amendment’s ratification, but generally the Supreme Court has sided more with the establishment clause. While any individual, on their own property, can worship anything they want, public property and governments are a different matter and must remain neutral. The founders likely had this interpretation in mind when constructing this amendment (Anderson).
Anderson, R. (n.d.). Same Sex Marriage and the First Amendment. Retrieved January 29, 2015, from http://www.firstamendmentstudies.org/wp/pdf/1st_religion_ch4.pdf
Antifederalists. (n.d.). Retrieved January 29, 2015, from http://www.ushistory.org/us/16b.asp
Bill of Rights. (n.d.). Retrieved January 29, 2015, from http://billofrightsinstitute.org/founding-documents/bill-of-rights/
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