Protest: First Amendment and the Freedom of Speech

Zimmytws/Getty Images- https://www.history.com/topics/united-states-constitution/first-amendmenthttps://www.history.com/topics/united-states-constitution/first-amendment

Dr. David Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University

First Amendment

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.

In discussing the functions of the First Amendment the Legal Institute states “The First Amendment guarantees freedoms concerning religion, expression, assembly, and the right to petition. It forbids Congress from both promoting one religion over others and also restricting an individual’s religious practices. It guarantees freedom of expression by prohibiting Congress from restricting the press or the rights of individuals to speak freely. It also guarantees the right of citizens to assemble peaceably and to petition their government.”

One of the foundational rights of the American people is the right to peacefully assemble. It is one of the most wonderful things about our American Democracy. It gives American citizens the ability to express their grievances about their government in a peaceful way.

Upon the death of George Floyd by the hand of law enforcement many were surprised at how quickly people took to the streets and how widespread the protests were. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the protests spread from Minnesota to as far as Cincinnati, New York and Chicago. There were protests all over the world, in places like Brazil, Denmark, Germany and New Zealand.        

Another aspect of the protests that surprised people was how some of the protests quickly became violent. Some journalists placed the blame for the violence on law enforcement, stating that they escalated the situation. Of course people quickly resorted to judgment and began blaming people of color for the looting and destruction only to find out that many of the rioters were white. Further, white supremacist were using the protest to sow discord with the black protesters. It is important to again acknowledge that most of the protesters in the US were peaceful. But the overall lesson here is that Americans have the right to protest peacefully. President Trump drew a lot of criticism when he stated that he would send the US military to break up the protests.

It is of the utmost importance that students understand their right to speak their mind and protest peacefully. Below I have provided some lessons and resources to help students understand their first amendment rights as democratic citizens.  

Educational Resources
Lesson Plan: Freedom of Speech in Schools
First Amendment Lesson Plan Activities
Introduction to the First Amendment: My Five Freedoms
New York Times- Freedom of Speech? A Lesson on Understanding the Protections and Limits of the First Amendment
The First Amendment: What’s Fair in a Free Country?
The First Amendment and Our Freedoms
Introduction to the 1st Amendment
Lesson Plan: First Amendment 101

4 Comments

  1. I think it is important to be aware of the first amendment and share this knowledge with others as well. This article greatly defined The Freedom of Expression, and this is just as important as knowing and being aware of the first amendment. This article further explained the protest going on around the world, and the story of George Floyd. Thank you for sharing this knowledge with me.

  2. The first amendment is definitely one of the most important rights of a person. Allot of people abuse the first amendment and do not understand that you can’t really say or do anything if it affects others. I remember when those riots occurred and it was crazy how many people got involved and how quickly its spread around the world.

  3. The First Amendment is, without a doubt, the most essential and powerful of our constitutional amendments. It’s also one of the most difficult to carry out. Despite its inclusion in our Constitution, it is still not a right that all people have. Protests have a vital role in a our country,  everyone’s rapid and impassioned response is amazing to see, especially in the face of such an urgent subject as police brutality and prejudice against black Americans. 

  4. Many people mistake the first amendment as their right to say, post, or do anything they wish without regards to how it will affect others. The protests that occurred shows how if people do not agree with the gathering of people of color, they will be quick to call it a riot.

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