What does the First Amendment say, and how does it affect you as a writer? These are the questions I will be answering in my monthly posts in 2014.
Let’s start with the actual language:
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.
Not all scholars agree on the number of protections in the First Amendment. Personally, I count six, divided this way:
Congress shall make no law (1) respecting an establishment of religion, or (2) prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or (3) abridging the freedom of speech or (4) of the press; or (5) the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and (6) to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Do you notice something strange about the way the amendment begins? It says “Congress shall make no law.” So why do the courts apply it to states and schools and other governmental entities? I’ll answer that question in next month’s post.
This month I’ll end with a bit of historical trivia that even Supreme Court justices get wrong. Did you know that the First Amendment was really the third? Congress sent twelve amendments to the states for ratification, but the first two didn’t pass.
So the third became the first.
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Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer. Her most recent book, Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal (KP/PK Publishing 2013) is available from Amazon.com and other retailers. Kathryn is also the author of In God We Trust: How the Supreme Court’s First Amendment Decisions Affect Organized Religion (FaithWalk Publishing 2006) and numerous articles. You can learn more about Kathryn at www.kathrynpagecamp.com.