The First Amendment For Dummies

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Raymond Grezel, pastor of the Rockville Church of the Nazarene near Vernon, Connecticut, the town where the Connecticut Valley Atheists erected their "Imagine No Religion" display, is a little confused about what the First Amendment is. According to him, it was apparently written specifically to protect the wilting-flower Christians in his church from being offended by all those nasty, unpopular opinions that they don't like.

[link] ...he didn't have a problem with the all-inclusive policy allowing the sign, but had hoped it would have been more appropriate.

"If you're going to allow everyone to have free speech or a display, then they should have to show a compelling reason ... without allowing inflammatory comments that ultimately harm others," Grezel said.

Hmnn. Interesting. He says, "If you're going to allow..." as if freedom of speech and expression is something that is voted on by the town council or something. As if it was not a right - the first and foremost right - already guaranteed to every American citizen by the First Amendment to the Constitution. So, Pastor Grezel thinks that us dirty atheists should have to show "a compelling reason" to exercise our civil right of freedom of expression as enumerated in the First Amendment, that our speech should be "appropriate", not "inflammatory", or "harm others".

Well, golly gee, Pastor. I had no idea that the First Amendment had all those very specific requirements that you just pulled out of your ass.

U. S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan seems to disagree with the good Pastor:

If there is a bedrock principle of the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable. - Texas vs. Johnson, 1989

In regards to Pastor Ray's delicate sensibilities and indignant squealing about the massive injustice of a group of atheists having the unmitigated gall to demand that they be afforded actual civil rights like the freedom of expression and speech, just like us regular decent people, I have to agree with General Colin Powell:

Free speech is intended to protect the controversial and even outrageous word; and not just comforting platitudes too mundane to need protection.

In other words, get used to it. It's called being an American. You still want to be one of those, don't you?

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Anonymous User's picture


I am writing a paper and i am having trouble taking the first amendment and re-wording it in different simple words... specifically this part...

"right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Any suggestions I am fully open to... I am also very pressed for time so the sooner someone can help out it would be greatly appreciated!
The Desperate

Brent Rasmussen's picture


This part of the 1st amendment is our individual and collective right - as guaranteed by our Constitution - to criticize the government without fear of prosecution. It also guarantees our right to:

  • Get together with like-minded people, unions, political organizations, and activist groups.
  • Protest, peacefully, any time we wish for the government to listen to our complaints.
  • The right of petition also provides freedom to circulate documents for people to sign in order to demonstrate mass support for complaints against the government. This is why you see people in the mall asking you to "sign this petition". They are asking you to support a group complaint that they want the government to address.

So, basically, a good way to re-phrase it would be:

"The rights of assembly, petition, and association."

Don't forget the "...shall not be infringed" part though. That is the important part! Also, keep in mind that these rights devolve down to the states via the 14th amendment.

Cool, huh? :)

Hope this helps a bit!

littlehorn's picture

Milo -> A country is only

Milo -> A country is only people who organize themselves. You should try publicly speaking up for freedom of speech like Brent does. After all, your opponents' theory is pretty easy to dismantle.

Milo Johnson's picture

"You still want to be one of those, don't you?"

I used to be certain of it. These days, it's getting more embarrassing and more shameful every moment. If our country is going to demolish its own reputation by intentionally violating the very principles upon which it was founded, I have a hard time feeling any further allegiance to it. That's one of the most heartbreaking thoughts that has ever crossed my mind.

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