The First Amendment guarantees our rights to freedom of religion, speech, assembly and association, as well as freedom of the press and our right to petition the government for redress.
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.
The framers of the Constitution were men of faith. They had inherited the legacy of the earliest settlers — the Puritans, who crossed the ocean to find a place to exercise their religion freely, without the political repression they’d faced in England because they did not follow the doctrine of the official church. That’s what the “establishment” clause is meant to remind us of — the government will not establish an official religion or prevent others from worshipping as they choose.
And so, we see that the framers’ ideas regarding freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are bound up in the idea of freedom of religion. After all, according to the Founders, we are born with inalienable rights — life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The government does not grant these rights — they are given to us by God. The government can only take them away — or promise, as the Constitution does, to protect what was granted by our Creator.
Freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are protected by the Constitution as checks against tyranny. We are empowered to speak out. And for the framers, tyranny was not simply a political problem but also a spiritual one. Taking from man what was granted to him by God is a definition of evil.
The First Amendment not only acknowledges man’s God-given right to exercise his religion and express himself freely, it also empowers citizens in the ongoing struggle against the onset of tyranny. To be free, Americans must stand in eternal vigilance on the side of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.