What Is The First Amendment?

What is the first amendment? It is important to know the bill of rights in order to understand what our country was founded upon. These rights cannot be taken from us.

Increasingly, federal and state bureaucracies pass laws that infringe on the rights of the individual. Anti-Smoking laws, helmet laws, seat belt laws, speed limit laws, laws restricting speech in certain environments, drug laws, and laws requiring ratings for television shows and compact discs. These laws all infringe upon the first amendment. The major difference between the United States and other governments is the right of freedom of speech. No where in the world is this right held so dearly. The argument over freedom of speech has been going on since the inception of the United States. Founding Father James Lincoln called freedom of speech "the tyrants scourge"(Emrod). Tyrants, dictators, and despots despise freedom of speech because it leads to dissension and rebellion.

The Founding Fathers argued vehemently for the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. Today, many people would like to see those rights rescinded. A large group of people believes restricting freedom of speech and other First Amendment rights can solve the problems of modern society. They claim that artistic violence leads to real life social violence, and that some individuals need to be saved from the potential dangers of modern society. Therefore, under the mask of a good cause, they wish to curb the rights of all citizenry by calling for censorship of television, music, and the media, demanding prayer be returned to schools, and banning smoking. These First Amendment revisionists claim they wish to go back to the moral values of the founding fathers to bring stability back to the American family. According to the National Issues Forums, Freedom of Speech Where to Draw the Line, the reason bureaucracies have increased their power in policy implementation and policy formation is because "Many people are convinced that some forms of expression cause physical, and political harm to individuals and to society as a whole" (National Issues 9). The problem is depending on your point of view you may not agree with what that censorship should be (29), or what rights should be infringed.

The same can be said of smoking, but the choice whether or not to smoke""although second hand smoke does effect others""should be left up to the individual. Society has until an individual is eighteen to teach the values and morals that are the norm in a given society. Once a person reaches eighteen, they must be allowed to make the decision for themselves. Thomas Jefferson said:

I know no safer depository of the powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. (qtd. in National Issues 39)

This is true freedom. While it is true, that the benefit of the whole society outweighs the benefits of the individual, our country was founded upon a belief in the rights of the individual. Thus, the reason the founding fathers created the Bill of Rights.

Anti-smoking laws differ form the normal policy making process in that they specifically target one group of society, smokers. It borders on discrimination. Smoking is legal in this country. Jefferson in arguing for Freedom of Religion notes that:

our sister states of New York and Pennsylvania, have long subsisted without any establishment at all. The experiment was new and doubtful when they made it. It has answered beyond conception. They flourish infinitely. Religion is well supported; of various kinds, indeed, but all good enough; all sufficient to preserve peace and order; or if a sect arises whose tenets would subvert morals, good sense has fair play, and reasons and laughs it out of the doors without suffering the state to be troubled with it.

(Jefferson 37-38)

Jefferson and Franklin believed that the common sense and natural laws of man would prevent an establishment of a religion that was immoral. The same can be said of bad habits like smoking. The wise man "reasons and laughs it out of the doors without suffering the state to be troubled with it."

The argument over the First Amendment and free speech, and therefore smoking since smoking is a form of expression, should be mute. Politicians and philosophers have argued the point for generations. Many times in the history of our country attempts have been made to limit First Amendment Rights. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Back, a champion of First Amendment rights writes

I believe when our Founding Fathers, with their wisdom and patriotism, wrote this Amendment, they knew what they were talking about. They knew what history was behind them and they wanted to ordain in this country that Congress, elected by the people, should not tell the people what religion they should have or what they should believe or what they should say or publish, and that is about it. It says "no law," and that is what I believe it means. (qtd. in Dennis 4)

Black makes it simple "no law means no law." We are the greatest country in the world. The First Amendment guarantees we will remain that way. Do not let First Amendment revisionists under the guise of righteousness and virtue, infringe upon our personal freedoms that so many of our ancestors fought and died for. Please, as the song says, in this "Sweet land of liberty" we must continue to "let freedom ring."

Unfortunately, our personal freedoms, like smoking, are diminishing swiftly. New smoking bans crop up everyday somewhere in the United States, and we the citizenry accept them. The Los Angeles Times reported on Thursday April 23, 1998, "the case of the Dana Point defiant smoker, the defendant wanted the jury to take a stand for personal freedoms and the little guy. But in the end, the jury filtered all that out" (Geoff Boucher, B1). The jury fined the man, Craig Thomas Etling, "$270 and sentenced him Wednesday to three days of collecting cigarette butts and other litter from the harbor area near the scene of the crime." The Judge said, "Let the punishment fit the crime." She then fined Etling, $85 more "flouting the state's 4-month-old ban on smoking in enclosed, indoor bars"(B1). The constitution starts out "We the people. . ." Well, we the people have forgotten what personal liberty means. Because when smoking a cigarette is not only illegal, but also a crime worthy of a three hundred and fifty-dollar fine and three days of community service, there will soon be no such thing as individual rights.

Works Cited

Guy, Kingsley. "Before Teaching Founders' Religion, Make Sure You've Got the Facts Straight." Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel 19 March 1994: 26A.

Dennis, Everette E., Gillmor, Donald M., and Grey, David L. Justice Hugo Black and the

First Amendment. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State Press, 1978. 4.

Emrod, James. Freedom of the Press.

Franklin, Benjamin. Writings. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 1987. 71.

Jefferson, Thomas. Political Writings. Indianapolis: Liberal Arts Press, 1955. 36-39.

Jicha, Tom. "Ostrich-ized News Simply for the Birds." Fort Lauderdale News Sun Sentinel 19 April 1994: 26A.

Lannom, Jack. Interview, 3/30/94.

Madison, James. The Papers of James Madison vol. 17. Charlottesville: University Press

of Virginia, 1991. 338.

National Issues Forum. Freedom of SpeechWhere to Draw the Line. Dayton, Ohio: Public Agenda Foundation, 1987. 9-39.

New Webster's Dictionary and Thesaurus. Cayne, Bernard S. Ed. Danbury, CT: Lexicon, 1992. 253.

Record, Phil. "Founders Wanted A Free Press, Knowing It Would Not Always Be A

Fair One." Fort Worth Star-Telegram 3 March 1994: 3C.

Record, Phil. Phone Interview, 4/26/94.

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