The United States Constitution has always been a tricky sort of document. From the very beginning of the fledgling democracy, states — or colonies — as they were referred to way back then, were reluctant to adopt the document as-is.
This led to a unique addendum to the Constitution called The Bill of Rights. These first 10 amendments to the Constitution tell the American public what sort of rights and liberties they can expect to receive from their government, which incidentally is made up of themselves, according to the Constitution.
The very first amendment in the Bill of Rights is quite short and to the point. It reads:
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.
As it relates to the press, the amendment guarantees that the government does not have the power or authority to censor, silence, nationalize or hinder this crazy idea of a free press or of free speech.
Historically, this has not been terribly popular with politicians, who prefer — as in other countries — to only allow information and opinions that agree with the ruling party to be expressed or published. The first amendment prohibits such actions and sets the press up as a de facto check and balance to the government.
The very good news about the first amendment is that it allows information to flow to the masses without being run through the filter of government first.
The very bad news is that the information doesn’t have to be factual in nature. Want to create a cable news channel or newspaper that only reports conspiracy theories and fallacies, go right ahead! May the First be with you.
Still, the founding fathers were wise in their beliefs that a free press with the ability to serve as a watchdog on the government and to present new facts and a forum for public opinion was vital to the health of a democracy and worth the risk that there may be a few loonies publishing some drivel every now and then.
Photo by euthman