Updated: Jul 21, 2020
As seen recently in the news and first-hand all over the world, protests have arisen as part of the Black Lives Matter Movement. As people discuss the current events, it has brought up several questions about limits on our 1st Amendment rights.
Knowing your rights is a crucial part of being an American citizen, as you should always express your rights to the fullest extent. Today we will look at all of the 1st Amendment rights that we all are entitled to, what limits we have on those rights, and how they apply in current situations.
What the 1st Amendment Actually Says
As stated directly from the Congress' website, the first amendment states, “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 means we are entitled to freedoms of speech, press, petition, religion, and assembly.
More specifically, each freedom has limitations on its abilities to protect citizens’ rights, but they mostly cover our necessary rights. The First Amendment right to freedom of speech includes the free exercise clause and the establishment clause. The free exercise clause states that anyone may choose to practice any religion that they please, but it is not required by any means. The establishment clause states that no religion can be established as ‘right’. As for freedom of speech, this means that nobody can arrest or charge you for standing up for what you believe in and speaking freely, with a few exceptions, mentioned in the next section. The other three freedoms are relatively straight forward. Freedom of the press means that almost all news or content can be published publicly. The rights to petition and assembly solidify the right to fight for what you believe in.
What Limitations Lie in the 1st Amendment
While we do have these freedoms, there are some things not allowed under the freedoms. Freedom of speech is limited by slander, libel, obscenity, classified information, some types of hate speech, and a few other categories. Freedom of religion isn’t strictly limited, as we have seen cases like Wisconsin v. Yoder prove throughout history that personal religion is justified. Freedom of the press has limitations mainly based on certain companies’ policies (community guidelines). The government, does not restrict the press very often. In cases like New York Times Co v. US, the Supreme Court has proven that the Constitution favors free press. While these freedoms may not always apply to social movements and the actions taken during social movements, it is still important to know about the extent of your freedoms.
Now for what you really clicked on this article for… limitations on assembly and petitioning the government. We as residents of the U.S. have the right to peacefully protest the government, as long as we do not become violent or destructive. Additionally, we can petition the government for change when there are issues. In fact, the Declaration of Independence encourages us to overthrow the government when it is unfit.
How To Apply Our Rights To Current Social Movements
You can go to the protests and fight for your rights. We are entitled to assemble. No one can tell you that you can’t peacefully protest, not the police, not the military, not even the president. You have the right to protest. Another proper use of your 1st Amendment rights is signing petitions and using your voice on social media to spread awareness. Despite the efforts of President Trump to set limits on social media, you are allowed to post anything that exercises your freedom of speech to support what you believe in.
What you cannot legally do is destroy property or steal during said protests because this is no longer peaceful protesting but criminal acts. In spite of what the news may say, everything other than violations of property in protests are legal. So, if you find something you want to fight for, like the justice system corrections that the BLM movement fights for, go tell the world that and use your voice to stand up for your beliefs.
You have the right to protest by law. You also have the right to use your freedom of speech verbally and online to express your opinions. The BLM movement is a great example of 1st Amendment rights in action, as it represents both the do’s and don'ts of speech, assembly, and petition.