The First Amendment to the US Constitution is a document vital to the regulation of the life of its citizens and the functioning of the country’s governmental bodies (Stone et al. 21). Despite its significance, the initiative has been subject to frequent criticism. Although critics of The First Amendment state that it no longer reflects the current character of the American society, the Amendment remains crucial to the functioning of the State, as, having undergone certain revisions to concur with the societal changes, it promotes universal values and secures the rights of the majority of US citizens. The purpose of this paper is to provide argumentation as to the First Amendment’s relevancy in modern American society.
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The First Amendment is an addition to the Bill of Rights aimed at the unification of the American Nation. It provides citizens with a common and comprehensible understanding of the notions of freedom, solidarity, and individual expression. These liberties are the fundamental conditions for the integrity of the State. As per the document, the people have the right to profess any religious belief of their choice, the state cannot prohibit its citizens from exercising their worldview, and the freedom of speech and press cannot be abridged as well (Stone et al. 21). Moreover, due to this initiative, residents have the right to a free, peaceful assembly and may solicit rectification of their grievances from the Government. The Amendment acts towards a common understanding of the issues the society faces as well, a notion of vital importance in a self-governing society.
The need to halt the religious oppression perpetrated in the former colonies was the catalyst for the incentive. As per the new legislation, the officials could interfere only when the religious acts were overt in their disturbance of peace and public order. Additionally, no religion could be seen as favored, or aided by the government. In this way, the government did not pursue the European example of the establishment of a state church, a concept directly tied to the notion of monarchy. Therefore, religious freedom can be considered a cornerstone of the American version of democracy as well. It is worth noting, that DeHirolami defines the “relationship of liberty of speech and religion in producing a healthy, integrated civil and political community” as instrumental (1471).
Despite the centralized nature of the federal government, the Amendment ensured democratic governance via the protection of the citizens’ freedoms. It is worth noting, that Tushnet et al. identify freedom of expression as “ a means of promoting a healthy, transparent, and effective democratic system of governance” (34). As the notion of democracy presupposes a particular communication between the government and its citizens, the document ensured that there would be no infringement on the citizens’ corresponding rights. The Amendment, thus, conceded to the people of America the right to maintain their essential moral liberties of expression, conscience, and thought, and the modern US society could be considered its direct legacy.
The severe criticism aimed at the Amendment arises from the experts’ belief that the initiative is frequently subjected to absolute interpretation. In particular, they maintain that certain controversial forms of expression are protected by the Amendment as belonging to the general categories discussed in it (Gaida 70). It is worth noting that the courts frequently rule to the contrary (Gajda 71).
In addition, since the document was introduced, new social and media phenomena have emerged in the US that are not explicitly covered in the Amendment. The advances in the field of media have affected the understanding of the freedom of the press. Debate persists as to the interpretation of the character of such forms of art as instrumental music and avant-garde art performances with regards to the notion of freedom of expression as well. With the new information technologies, the line between public and private has become increasingly blurred. Moreover, in the new century, the debate on the First Amendment’s applicability frequently centers on the use of social media to promote views of extremism and hate speech.
Therefore, these emergent forms of communication, among them Internet blogs and other user-generated content, frequently lead to crucial discussions regarding the freedom of speech and its effects on personal privacy. It has been alleged, that the Amendment could be and had frequently been interpreted in a convenient for one side of the legal case manner, which resulted in an abuse of rights. In a number of controversial rulings, its protection of the freedom of speech was extended in a context argued to cause outrage, offense, and emotional harm (Gaida 69).
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Despite the number of arguments that purport the Amendment’s irrelevance in the context of contemporary American society, one must stress that these are often concerned with the subjective side of the issue. Considering the notion of individual expression, arbitrary values are often brought into the discussion, which results in inconsistencies of definitions. Subjective reasoning, therefore, forms a large part of the First Amendment discourse. Individuals espouse personal interests, while the document strives for neutrality (Stone et al. 73).
The document has undergone a number of revisions so that it would concur with the current American realia (Stone et al. 101). It must be noted, that rapid technological changes contrast with the measured progress of the law. Therefore, the newest revisions inevitably fall short of the demands of a certain part of the society with regard to the document. Presently, the Amendment protects the rights of the majority of the American population, therefore ensuring their freedom of expression without persecution. According to Tushnet, one can avoid underinclusion by seeing the Amendment’s boundaries as coextensive “not with words per se, but with the expression of ideas” (4).
Incentives for further changes exist, aiming at the document’s relativity to the current issues. The withdrawal of the Amendment, on the other hand, would undermine the remaining fundamentals of American society. The First Amendment’s relevance, therefore, lies beyond transient or volatile movements, as freedom of speech and belief are central to the liberty of the Nation.
It can be concluded, that the First Amendment is a document concerned with the protection of specific individual rights and universal values of the US population. Although the Amendment guarantees fundamental rights and freedoms, thus securing the American democracy, the document has been judged as outdated and unindicative of the changes in contemporary society. Nevertheless, the subjective nature of the critics’ arguments has been duly noted, as has been the speed of changes in the modern field of information technology. With further revisions, the Amendment is certain to become representative of modern American realia; nonetheless, it should not be considered inapposite as of now, as therein manifest the essential values, beliefs, and freedoms of the US population.
DeGirolami, Marc O. “Virtue, Freedom, and the First Amendment.” Notre Dame Law Review, vol. 91, no.4, 2015, pp. 1465-1516, Web.
Gajda, Amy. The First Amendment Bubble: How Privacy and Paparazzi Threaten a Free Press. Harvard University Press, 2015.
Stone, Geoffrey R. et al. The First Amendment. 5th ed. Wolters Kluwer Law & Business, 2016.
Tushnet, Mark V., Alan K. Chen, and Joseph Blocher. Free Speech Beyond Words: The Surprising Reach of the First Amendment. NYU Press, 2017.