First Amendment

Cox, Archibald
November 1986
Society;Nov/Dec86, Vol. 24 Issue 1, p8
Academic Journal
This article focuses on the history and development of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The amendment today protects the overlapping realms of the spirit -- of belief, emotion, and reason -- and of political activity against intrusion by government. The amendment directly forbids federal violation of the individual's religious liberty, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and associated political liberties. The amendment indirectly forbids state violation because it is held to be incorporated into the Fourteenth Amendment's restrictions upon the powers of the states. The body of law presently defining First Amendment liberties has been shaped not so much by the words or intent of the original sponsors as by the actors and events of much later history. The story is one of the continual expansion of individual freedom of expression, of the freedom of the press, and, until 1980, of widening separation of church and state. The Constitutional Convention of 1787 saw no need to include guarantees of religious liberty, freedom of speech, or other human rights. Most of the Framers believed in some such rights but supposed that the powers proposed for the new federal government were so severely limited by specific enumeration as to leave scant opportunity for either Congress or president to threaten individual liberty. The threats would come from state law and state governments. For protection against these, the Framers looked to the constitutions of the individual states.


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