(ConservativeHub.com) – Many Americans revere First Amendment protections as the most cherished by the Founding Fathers. After all, it does appear first on the Bill of Rights. However, the story of how it came to be first is a piece of forgotten history for many.
Long story short, the lack of a bill of rights became a sticking point when it came time for the states to ratify the US Constitution. It was eventually ratified and signed on September 17, 1787, but not before the states proposed 200+ amendments during their ratification conventions.
In 1789, James Madison, a representative in the First Federal Congress, whittled the count down to 17 proposed amendments, and the House passed them over to the Senate. Eventually, the House and Senate passed a final version of a bill of rights containing 12 amendments.
The states ratified amendments 3 through 12 with Virginia casting the final vote on December 15, 1791. The original first amendment was never ratified, and the second amendment wasn’t passed until 1992 as the 27th Amendment.
In the absence of the original first and second amendments, the remainder moved up two slots each, and the original third amendment became the First, and so forth.
The First Amendment’s Five Protections
Although it’s only one article in the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment provides six protections.
Commonly referred to as clauses, the First Amendment includes:
- The establishment clause, barring the “establishment” of a national religion;
- Free exercise clause, preventing the prohibition of the “free exercise” of one’s religion of choice;
- Free speech clause, protecting against the restriction of “freedom of speech;”
- Free press clause, protecting the freedom of the “press;”
- Assembly clause, granting people the right to “peaceably” assemble; and the
- Petition clause, giving people the right to “petition” the government to correct any alleged or perceived grievance the people might have against it.
Although the First Amendment was not originally intended to be number one in the Bill of Rights, it protects some of the most fundamental rights we enjoy as Americans living in an open democracy.
Perhaps Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson put it best in 1943 when he compared the First Amendment to a “fixed star in our constitutional constellation” protecting citizens from the arbitrary control from officials, “high or petty.”
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