When the Constitution was written, it was not the intent of the authors to assure human rights to its citizenry, it was written in order to set up a federal government that would allow the United States to be a self-governing entity, and to put in place a system of government that would serve the citizens of the country in the way that they saw fit. After the ratification of the Constitution in 1787, “people soon began to notice that it did not list many of the personal liberties (individual rights) that they had come to believe were theirs. (Cullop, 1999)
At the behest of some states the first ten amendments were added to the Constitution that protected the personal rights of the citizens called the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment prevents Congress from implementing an official religion, offers the free exercise of religion, and allows freedom of speech in the public and the press without fear of legal retribution for what is said.
It also allows citizens to assemble peaceably to protest government or its decisions and to petition the government to change things that the people do not agree with. On the surface this amendment appears to settle some problems, but as time has gone by there have been many interpretations of the words and many arguments as to the intentions of the authors when the amendment was written. Most people agree that freedom of the press is necessary for the dissemination of accurate and reliable information whether it is good, bad or otherwise.
People just basically want all of the facts. One conflict that has come from the general wording of the First Amendment is how the press will handle the confidentiality of their sources when reporting. The authenticity of what the press presents depends on the guarantee that sources can be protected. Many people would not otherwise give information for fear of implications that would arise from giving that information.
The amendment protects a citizen from punishment for what they have said, but it offers no protection for the privacy of providing information without revealing the source. Recently there have been many bills introduced at both the House and Senate level asking for this protection to be guaranteed by law. In 2005 a bill was introduced into both the House and the Senate that would establish a Federal shield law that would in essence protect the source of information used by the media to report a story.
The argument is whether or not the first amendment should preclude the security of the nation. The legislators think that this would prevent the government from protecting America from terror by allowing potential terrorist or informants to escape questioning or observation. So far the issue has not passed through the legal avenues due to the potential for compromising national security. Another controversial issue that has risen from the First Amendment is the freedom of religion and the right to exercise religion.
Again this comes from years of twisting and turning of words and arguments as to the intent of the framers. The issue stems from the interpretation of the wording “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion”. Some people say that this means that no laws will be made that respects any religion over another, while others argue that the intent of the framers was to prohibit the government from establishing laws that set up one religious point of view as the official religion such as they experienced in England.
Regardless of what position people take, the Supreme Court has ruled that there shall be no law that respects one religion over another. This decision affirmed the idea of separation of church and state. In response to this ruling, it has become illegal to display the Ten Commandments in public buildings because this is considered the foundation on which Christianity and Judaism was founded. According to the Supreme Court this display violates the First Amendment rights of those citizens who are not Christians or Jews to have no official religion.
Christians argue that while they believe that the Ten Commandments were given to the people by God as a way to self govern themselves according to His will, they also believe that these are good rules for anyone to follow regardless of their religious position and that by removing these laws of God from publicly owned property, it violates the Christians right to freedom of worship. The second amendment to the Constitution is commonly known as the right for citizens to keep and bear arms.
Again the argument becomes what is written versus what was intended. The wording says that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”. Taken literally this means that all American’s have the right to own and use firearms for whatever purpose they choose. When viewed from the intent of the authors, and inference from the context, it seems that this amendment was intended for the security of the land. This view aised many questions even among its supporters. It has been debated if this means that as long as you own a firearm for protection it is within the law, or does this mean that the government can not specify what kind of weapon and/or the uses of that weapon. This issue is at the forefront of the Assault Weapons Ban. Laws were passed to ban certain types of weapons that the government deemed as unnecessary or impractical for self defense.
The opponents of this law argued that it was a violation of the literal interpretation of the amendment. The law passed into its “sunset” phase without being renewed making it legal to own weapons that were previously considered to be assault suited weapons. People who favor gun control believe that this has caused a serious risk to the security of the citizens, while people who are gun owners believe that it is their right by law to own these guns and that the ban was unconstitutional.
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Topic: The First and Second Amendment
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