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Rights and Freedoms

The First Amendment guarantees five basic freedoms for all American citizens. The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of a religion, or prohibiting the exercise thereof.” This statement guarantees the freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition.

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The freedom of speech gives all American citizens the right to speak their minds and express themselves in any fathomable way. This includes the right to say something through music, clothes, photographs, art and any other forms of expressive communication. The Constitution bars Congress, the federal government or local government support the right of expression freedom. The government has set some rules regulating the freedom of expression. These are known as exceptions to the freedom of speech and expression, the most popular of them are obscenity and child pornography. The First Amendment does not guarantee freedom of expression if the form of expression is considered to be obscene. This leads to the question “what expression is obscene?” Obscene expression includes any content that the regular individual, applying modern community standards, would find appealing to the prurient interest. Obscene expression is banned in the protection of social interest and morality. The Supreme Court requires that the government provides reasonable explanation for violation of the right for free expression and speech when it tries to standardize the substance of the verbal communication. The Supreme Court has also decided to grant some forms of speech given less protection than others. These include commercial speech, defamation, speech harmful to children, and instances with prior restraint.

Freedom of speech is a contentious issue and has to be judged subjectively, because some forms of expression, depending on time, place and manner, may be deemed tortious. For instance, shouting “fire” in a cinema hall that cause panic and struggle may be considered as a crime. The person shouting “fire” was legally protected by the First Amendment to shout anything, but the result of his actions may make him criminally liable. A number of cases have come up in the recent past questioning the application of the freedom of expression. For instance, Bretton Barber, a high school student wore a tee-shirt with a face of former president George Bush and written text ‘International terrorist'. The principal demanded that he removed the T-shirt but Bretton refused and sued the school administration. The obiter dicta in the verdict said that the circumstances in which the tee-shirt was worn would not have resulted in chaos or any disturbance.

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The United States Bill of Rights is the document that contains the ten amendments to the Constitution. These amendments protect the elementary freedoms and rights of all American people. The Bill of Rights were written based on the fundamental American belief that all people were created with inalienable natural rights to life, property, and liberty, and neither the congress nor the federal government hasthe power to repudiate these rights without due process of law. The Bill of Rights contains many rights, but one of the most notable is the Second Amendment, which is the right to bear arms. The United States is one of the few countries in the world that gives its citizens a constitutional right to own a firearm. This right stems from the civil war whereby it is believed that all Americans, at their own discretion may own guns to protect themselves from undemocratic governments. This right has led to spread of firearms in America and has incessantly been blamed for the high level of gun crimes. Another notable amendment in the Bill of Rights is the right to protection against cruel and unusual punishment, right to protection against excessive bails and fines. The right to protection against cruel and unusual punishment has recently come under fire due to rising cases of conduct of federal interrogators. The government has been severely criticized the use of torture against suspected criminals in prisons such as Guatemala.

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The United States Constitution can be amended through various processes. The authority to amend the constitution is derived from Article V of the Constitution. However, the most popular process is whereby a bill passes through both houses of the legislature after winning by a two-thirds majority in both. After the bill has gone through both houses, it goes to the states for ratification. Such amendments do not need to be signed by the president for approval.  As a result of some long-standing amendments, the Supreme Court has set a time limit of seven years for ratification of a bill into law. This period is considered to be reasonable time. The importance of this mode of amendment is that it allows the public to form an opinion about the law. Public debate about the bill takes place before ratification, thus the general public becomes aware of the law. This is the mode of amendment that has been used to make all amendments from the declaration of independence and implementation of the constitution. This method is considered fair by most Americans since it allows public debate and consideration of the bill. Fairness is a virtue held dear by most Americans, and many atrocities and wrongs have been corrected through the amendment process.

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