America’s First Amendment Right // Free speech

By | June 19, 2020

You hear a lot in America now about the ‘first amendment right’. People have this right in America. It’s written in legal documents. You hear people shout words such as,

“We are just exercising our first amendment right!”

“The government is violating our first amendment right!”

“You can’t stop us. This is our first amendment right!”

So, what is this ‘first amendment right’? Well, it goes something like this.

“[Government] shall make no law … [denying] the freedom of speech ….. or the right of the people peaceably to assemble … to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

There are many fancy words there, and I underlined two key terms. But what does all this mean in simpler terms? It basically means, as long as you are being peaceful, you have the right to march, protest, shout, and … well, make a nuisance of yourself in public to support your beliefs.

Hmmm. That’s very idealistic, and we do not live in an ideal world. For example, the American government enforced a ‘lockdown’ on society for three months, forcing everyone there to stay at home, and socially distance themselves. This obviously broke the first amendment right – but it was supposedly for the public good (despite the fact that it destroyed the jobs and income of tens of millions of Americans). Eventually some people protested, claiming the lockdown went against the first amendment right. These people were attacked, but now we have this enormous ‘Black Lives Matter’ (BLM) protests, which have totally ignored the lockdown, and have been encouraged by politicians and medical professions to do so, demonstrating an incredible hypocrisy, that sort of makes everyone look stupid. Well, it’s complicated, right?

But what about when the police move in on protestors? Doesn’t that break the first amendment right? The key is the term ‘peaceable/peaceful’. What is peaceful? The video above shows a peaceful protest, and the police simply faced off the protestors, and it all went fine. The protestors even respected the curfew. Wow, that was a nice protest.

But then you see the ‘peaceful protest turns ugly’ videos, or the ones where it’s hard to know exactly what’s going on. Is being ‘threatening’ considered being ‘peaceful’ or ‘non-peaceful’? It’s complicated.

Now let us consider those other words in the first amendment right: ‘freedom of speech’. Does America really have that right now? If anyone criticises the BLM movement or the protests in general, social-media players move into action, employers are contacted, and those who spoke freely are fired from their jobs, ostracised, and destroyed (as evil disgusting racists). There is no ‘freedom of speech’; there is only compelled speech. Yep, it’s complicated.

In the past, when we couldn’t explain something, we said it was caused by God. “How did we get here? Hmmm, God made us!” Today, in the current climate, when we can’t explain racial disparities in America, the BLM people say it is caused by white supremacy and racial oppression. “Why do so many blacks drop out of high school? Hmmm, it must be racism!”

The trouble is, if there is only one allowable explanation, there is no freedom of speech. More importantly, there is no freedom of action, and no one can make a real analysis, truly understand, or ever hope to solve, the original problems.

Yes, the ‘right to protest’ is in the first amendment, but so is ‘freedom of speech’ – and the second part is so important, and we are losing it right now.

It’s complicated, right?

Here are some of the words used in this post.

  • to violate
  • to assemble
  • to petition
  • a redress
  • a grievance
  • to be idealistic
  • hypocrisy
  • a curfew
  • to ostracise
  • to be compelled
  • a disparity
  • supremacy
  • oppression
Author: Andrew

Andrew Guilfoyle Cambridge CELTA, Cambridge DELTA, Cambridge CELTA teacher-trainer, M.Ed