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Supreme Court Decisions on First Amendment

Abstract

“Bill of Rights “is the first ten amendments made to the American constitution. However, the First Amendment is considered to be the most pivotal. The First Amendment to American constitution guarantees the rights to freedom of religion, speech etc. However, Supreme Court has expanded the meaning of First Amendment by holding that no one is above the law and even the American government should obey the law in the famous Miranda’s case. This research essay analyses the First Amendment and how Supreme Court decisions have added more interpretations to the First Amendment’s Bill of Rights in detail.

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American constitution is not inscribed in stone. Through “amendments”, the American constitution can be either amended or new additions can be added to it. As of date, American constitution has been amended by 27 times.

According to USCIS, the constitution is the highest law of the land which connotes:

  • It is the founding stone of the government
  • Characterizes the government authority
  • Safeguards the fundamental rights of all Americans.

“Bill of Rights “is the first ten amendments made to the American constitution. However, the First Amendment is considered to be the most pivotal. The First Amendment says the following:

“American Congress shall not legislate any law revering an organization of religion, or restraining the free espousal thereof; curtailing the freedom of press or of the speech; or the privilege of its subjects peacefully to gather and to sue against American government for a redressal of any of their personal grievances.

Thus the First Amendment to American constitution guarantees the rights to freedom of:

  • Religion
  • Speech
  • No one is above the law
  • American government should obey the law
  • Everyone has the duty to adhere the law. ( Bray,2008 ,p.162)

Religious freedom is one of the fundamental civil rights conferred under the First Amendment to the constitution of the United States.. The First Amendment is regarded as a mile stone in establishing religious tolerance as a constitutional right in U.S as Congress is barred from establishing a religion and it should not prohibit free excise of religion. This has now referred the “establishment” clause as and the “free –exercise clause “. The establishment clause obliges it as unconstitutional for the secular courts and States to intervene in the matters of religious divisions. Further “the free-excise” clause warrants that Congress should not interfere in the people’s right to practice their own religion. Though religious freedom is regarded as an important right under American constitution, it should not supersede the duty to respect the civil law. This forms a scenario wherein the “national interest” can be regarded above that of any specific religion. However, under certain scenarios, the practice of religious ideas can be limited. In certain cases, “compelling interest test” has been initiated. As such, serious abuses, jeopardizing paramount concerns, offer situation for permissible limitation. For instance, Mormons claim that polygamy is permissible under their religious laws whereas it is forbidden in American law. In Lemon v. Kurtzman1, the Court earlier decided that Pennsylvania’s law permitting state money to pay the salaries of parochial school teachers and permitting state money to purchase text books for parochial school books infringed the Establishment Clause. The Court concurred that salaries and textbooks did not have a religious perspective but issued a three part test (famously known as the Lemon test) to conclude if there is a infringement of the Establishment Clause or not by substituting the standard set in Abington v. Schemp.

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Following are the three test parameters or otherwise known as lemon test:

  1. The policy or law must have a secular purpose.
  2. The policy or law must not interfere with religion.
  3. The policy or law must not create unwarranted government embarrassing situation with religion.

The Court decided that a statute or law must adhere all three parts to be lawful. From 1985 until the case of Agostini v. Felton in 1997, the Courts time and again viewed that any government funding to parochial institutions, even if it were for secular purpose had led the “government” to an entanglement.

In Agostini.v.Felton2 case, Supreme Court decision has repealed Aguilar v. Felton by mentioning that it does not infringe the Establishment Clause to offer federal remedial education programs to parochial school students.

In Aguilar v. Felton, Supreme Court have recognized that fundamental of the Establishment Clause is “the intention to thwart, as far as possible, the interruption of either state or church into the precincts of the other as laid down in ” Lemon v. Kurtz man. Thus , the Court concluded that in spite of the well-meant pains taken by the City of New York, the program was declared unconstitutional due to the character of the aid, to the organization receiving the aid, and to the constitutional values that they incriminate – that neither the State nor Federal Government shall encourage or obstruct a specific faith or faith normally through the advancement of financial aids or through the too much embarrassing situation of church and state in the administration of those financial aids.(Zirkel,Richardson &Goldberg,2001,p.50). However, in 1997, the Supreme Court overruled its Aguliar v. Felton decision. Justice O’Connor held that the case law decisions since 1985 dictate that Aguliar v. Felton is no more good law. Thus, the Supreme Court ruled that the City of New York Public schools may now offer Title I instruction and services in parochial schools and it will no longer be regarded as an impermissible state-church embarrassment. (Jacob & Hartshome p.36).

In Agostini v. Felton, Supreme Court was of the view that when federal fund is used to offer curative and auxiliary education to underprivileged children on an impartial basis and this can not be construed against the spirits of the Establishment Clause. This is mainly because such education program was conducted by government employees with adequate safeguards. Hence, Supreme Court was of the view that the proposition “Shared Time “program was no more held to be valid. (Zirkel, Richardson & Goldberg, 2001, p.57).

Under to right to speech, Beilan v. Board of Public Education3 is the best case law in which a public school teacher declined to answer the questions raised by his superintendent about his involvement in communist affiliations and activities. When the superintendent pressured and explained that the main object of the inquiry was to find out about his suitability to teach and if he still refuses to reply, he might be expelled from the school. Board of education conducted an enquiry where the teacher’s political associations , beliefs and loyalty were not at issue , it found that the teacher’s refusal to reply the superintendent’s queries tantamount to “incompetence” which is an opt ground for discharge under state law and finally , the teacher was discharged. It was contended by the teacher that the board’s decision was unconstitutional and against the freedom of rights of speech, association or belief granted under the first amendment.

It was held that the board of education’s decision to discharge the teacher for non-cooperating with the enquiry conducted by the superintendent concerning his suitability to teach in accordance with the Constitution.

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The main basis of the decision was footed on the reasoning that the school board may constitutionally examine into an employee’s suitability to teach and such inquiry need not necessarily be restricted to the teacher’s in-school activity alone. Supreme Court held that such enquiry is not in violation on the teacher’s First Amendment rights of freedom of speech, association or belief. (Zirkel, Richardson & Goldberg, 2001, p.93).

Again under the right to speech, in Cohen v. California4 , Cohen was arrested for wearing a jacket which contained the words “Fuck the Draft” in a Los Angeles court premises. Subsequently, he was convicted for infringing a California law restraining any individual from “disturbing the peach— by offensive demeanor. The Supreme Court was to come to a conclusion whether Cohen’s demeanor was punishable since it fell under the one of the “immunities “to free speech safeguarded by the First Amendment. Supreme Court found that though Cohen’s expletive was “offensive” but it held that his speech was nonetheless safeguarded by the First Amendment. It was either an “vulgarism “or a “provocation to a prohibited action. “ Further, it could not be considered as “fighting words” for it had not be directed against someone who was supposedly to strike back or at someone who could not avoid the message. Thus, a conviction is only possible by state’s inclination to decorum in the public place. However, Supreme Court declined to permit the stat such wide power holding that no objective differentiation could be established between a vulgar and a non-vulgar speech. Supreme Court opined that one main’s vulgarity is another man’s lyric words which are frequently selected as much for their emotive as their cognitive force. Thus, Cohen’s case has become a landmark case as it has expanded the constitutional foundation for safeguarding provocative and probably offensive speeches. (Hall, 2001, p.59).

Under the First Amendment rule that no one is above the law and even the American government should obey the law was well established in Miranda’s case. In Miranda case, Supreme court of USA held that Miranda was never informed any of his right to have a counsel during police interrogation and was never informed by police about his right to not to be forced to incriminate himself. Further, the accused is having a right to remain silent and refuse to reply any questions posed during an interrogation. If an accused is not capable of engaging an attorney, then government should have the responsibility to appoint a counsel to safeguard his rights. Thus, these rights are now known as’ Miranda Rights. Americans should aware that they are having rights against police misconduct or misinformation and relief is available to them under the Miranda Warning Bloom, 27, the exclusionary rule and the right to remain silent. The exclusionary rule protects one from unreasonable seizures without warrant. As per this rule, any evidence that has been obtained illegally can not be legally applied to a case and is designed to punish and penalize law enforcing officials if they violate it.

The right to remain silence is based on the principle that an individual has no obligation to prove innocence and the onerous lies on the government to prove the guilty. The Miranda Warning Bloom, 27 relates case law Miranda v.Arizona where it was held police could not use the vocal evidence given by the plaintiff, Miranda because the plaintiff had not given his rights.

Conclusion

Thus, the important change in Supreme Court’s post-Aguilar Establishment Clause law authorizes petitioners to avail relief under Rule 60 [b] [5]. Agostini v. Felton decision will have a constructive effect on Title I services for both private and public schools as it abolishes the legal requirement for expensive and frequently less educationally effective substitute arrangements for effecting Title I services to underprivileged students of private schools. Likewise, in Beilan v. Board of Public Education, it was held that a teacher cannot avail the freedom of speech guaranteed under First Amendment if such teacher does not have fitness to teach. Further, Cohen’s case has become a milestone case as it has amplified the constitutional foundation for safeguarding offensive and probably insulting speeches. Under Miranda Rights, Americans should aware that they are having rights against police misconduct or misinformation and relief is available to them under the Miranda Warning Bloom, 27, the exclusionary rule and the right to remain silent.

It is to be noted that though the First Amendment has provided some salient bill of rights like freedom of speech, right to practice religion and government can be restrained if it exceeds its authorities, Supreme Court has applied its jurisprudence to expand the meaning of bill of rights as in the cases of Beilan v. Board of Public Education and Cohen.

References

  1. Bray, Ilona M. (2008). Becoming a U.S. Citizen. New York: Nolo.
  2. Burgan Michael. Miranda v. Arizona. (2006). The Rights of the Accused. New York: Compass Point Books.
  3. Hall Kermit L. (2001). The Oxford Guide to United States Supreme Court Decisions. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  4. Jacob Susan & Hartshome Trimothy S. (2003). Ethics and Law for School Psychologists. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
  5. . Zirkel Perry Alan, Richardson Sharon Nalbone and Goldberg Steven Selig. A Digest of Supreme Court Decisions Affecting Education. Bloomington: PHI Delta Kappa Educational Foundation

Footnotes

  1. 403 U.S. 62 (1971)
  2. 521 U.S. 203 (1997)
  3. 357 U.S.399 (1958).
  4. 403 U.S.15 (1971)

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