ARTICLE I (aka, the First Amendment to the US Constitution.)
“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.”
This being the most important of natural rights, according to our forefathers, it only made good sense to place it at the forefront of all other rights to be protected by this new constitution. These natural rights being the right to freely speak or express one’s self, to freely assemble, to govern and express your personal religious beliefs without retribution, to freely publish, and to bring about grievances against the government. There is an acronym that aids in your memory of these rights of paramount importance and it is as follows:
Grievances, Religion, Assembly, Speech, Press OR GRASP
The rights of greatest importance, which is impossible as all rights are of equal importance but perhaps in priority, are the rights of religion and speech. Religion will probably trump only because it was for religious persecution that the people left England to set up house in the New World. So, let us begin with religion.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” This is known as the Establishment Clause it is the provision that our Congress will make no law thereby creating a state sponsored religion, nor any law to respect a specific religion. Thomas Jefferson in his second inaugural address, 1805, in which he declared to the whole country, “In matters of religion, I have considered its free exercise is placed by the Constitution independent of the powers of the general [i.e., federal] government.” In other words, Jefferson’s wall metaphor in his 1802 letter was referring to the First Amendment’s prohibition of federal interference with the authority of the states in religious matters. It was a wall to prevent federal trespass. On the issue of religion, as with other matters, Thomas Jefferson emerges as a believer in what might be called states’ rights. This was the meaning of the “wall of separation” metaphor, it was a limitation upon the general or Federal government.
We must discuss the case of Everson v. Board of Education (1947). Everson believed that the New Jersey law was misapplying the “wall of separation” by reimbursing the cost of transportation for children to schools other than public schools since most of the private schools in NJ during the 1940s were run by the Roman Catholic Church, it begged the question concerning the Establishment Clause. It was upheld as a public service. However, it appears that Justice Hugo Black, who wrote the majority opinion, was both factually and historically incorrect in his assessment of the situation. He stated that the First Amendment prohibited states from having an establishment of religion; where in reality, Jefferson stated that it was the Federal government was prohibited from trespassing upon the rights of the states in matters such as these.
This is how the US Constitution is RE-INTERPRETTED over the course of time and permits the government to trample upon the rights that are otherwise protected. Now, of course, in my opinion, it truly matters not whether the Bill of Rights existed or not, nor does it matter how someone else interprets your exercise of your God given rights. Those rights are yours and are not negotiable, you can opt to lay down and suspend your rights anytime you desire and then pick them pack up again!
Now to move right along, “…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.” This is called the Free Exercise Clause, a protected right preventing the government’s intrusion upon your endowed rights given by God, not by Government! This was the great thing way back when, they wrote the laws and declarations so the people could understand them; unlike today where each law or amendment to the constitution is written so ambiguously that it must be interpreted by the courts…so, sad! Notice the free exercise clause where it can be stated emphatically that “Congress shall make no law…prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom…” which means by making any law that violates, prohibits, or abridges your expressed, or unexpressed, freedoms is both unlawful and unconstitutional…in my opinion.
The Declaration of Independence declared to the world that “Every individual is sovereign over his own person with natural inalienable rights.” But as time slips away from us all, our rights and liberties are slowly being shaven and chiseled away. One question must be asked and answered by every free man: Where will you draw the line in the sand? How many of your endowed, inalienable rights are you willing to give up? What are you willing to do to protect your rights, your liberties, and your country? What are you willing to do to reclaim your country from your rogue & tyrannical government? Run for office and perhaps tip the balance of power? What are you willing to do?
One Story Behind the First Amendment
How religious freedoms and the First Amendment came to pass: Edward Bushnell and three fellow JURORS learned this lesson well. They refused to bow to the court. They believed in the absolute power of the JURY, though their eight companions cowered to the court. The four JURORS spent nine weeks of torture in prison, often without food and water, soaked with urine, smeared with feces, barely able to stand, and even threatened with fines, yet they would not give in to the judge. Edward Bushnell said, “My liberty is not for sale,” though he had great wealth and commanded an international shipping enterprise. These “bumble heads”, so the court thought, proved the power of the people was stronger than any power of government. They emerged total victors.
The year was 1670, and the case Bushnell sat on was that of William Penn, who was on trial for violation of a “Conventicle Act.” This was an elaborate Act which made the Church of England the only legal church. The Act was struck down by their not guilty vote. Freedom of Religion was established and became part of the English Bill of Rights and later it became the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In addition, the Right to peaceful assembly was founded, Freedom of Speech, and also habeas corpus. Had Bushnell and his colleagues yielded to the guilty verdict sought by the judge and prosecutor, William Penn most likely would have been executed as he clearly broke the law.
The first such writ of habeas corpus ever issued by the Court of Common Pleas was issued to free Edward Bushnell. Later this trial gave birth to the concept of Freedom of the press. There would have been no Liberty Bell, no Independence Hall, no city of Philadelphia, and no state called Pennsylvania, for young William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, and leader of the Quakers, was on trial for his life. His alleged crime was preaching and teaching a different view of the Bible than that of the Church of England. This appears innocent today, but then, one could be executed for such actions. He believed in freedom of religion, freedom of speech and the right to peaceful assembly. He had broken to government’s law, but he had injured no one. The four heroic JURORS knew that only when actual injury to someone’s person or property takes place is there a real crime. No law is broken when no injury can be shown. Thus there can be no loss or termination of rights unless actual damage is proven
The trial made such an impact the every colony but one established the jury as the first liberty to maintain all other liberties. It was felt that the liberties of people could never be wholly lost as long as the jury remained strong and independent, and that unjust laws and statutes could not stand when confronted by conscientious JURORS. JURORS today face an avalanche of imposter laws. JURORS not only still have the power and the RIGHT, but also the DUTY, to nullify bad laws by voting “not guilty.” At first glance it appears that it is almost unfair, the power JURORS have over government, but necessary when considering the historical track record of oppression that governments have wielded over private citizens.
See also: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5
Alexander Hamilton, J. J. (1788). THE FEDERALIST PAPERS.
Butler, J. (n.d.). THE BEST OF CARL MILLER. Retrieved January 15, 2013, from MY PRIVATE AUDIO: http://www.myprivateaudio.com/CARLTEXT.pdf; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1s-zHrNPfkQ (PARTS 1, 2, & 3)
Geiger, R. (2008, June 4). Background on the First Amendment. Retrieved March 5, 2013, from Oklahoma State University School of Media & Strategic Communications: http://journalism.okstate.edu/faculty/jsenat/foioklahoma/educationlessons/Background_on_First_Amendment.pdf
Lockhart, W. B., Kamisar, Y., & Choper, J. H. (1970). THE AMERICAN CONSTITUTION Cases and Materials. St. Paul: West Publishing.
McElroy, J. H. (2011, April 9). Understanding the First Amendment’s Religion Clauses. Retrieved March 5, 2013, from First Principles ISI Web Journal: http://www.firstprinciplesjournal.com/articles.aspx?article=1485
Know Your Constitution – Carl Miller Parts 1 – 3 (abt. 1980). [Motion Picture].