Reflections of the First Amendment

Reflections of the First Amendment
Reflections of the First Amendment
University of Phoenix
HIS/301- The United States Constitution


Reflections of the First Amendment
The First Amendment, also called the Great Amendment, is in many ways the cornerstone of America?s free, open, and tolerant society. The First Amendment is the basis of a democracy that values individual liberty. The amendment protects the freedom of religion, press, speech, assembly, and petition. It guarantees that Americans can share the information they need for a strong public debate on the issues, and to act on the issues. The five freedoms specifically protected in the First Amendment are not mutually exclusive, so there has been considerable overlap in real-life cases.
Freedom of Religion
The First Amendment guarantees that the government will not prefer one religion over another. It also guarantees that the government will not prefer religion in general over nonreligion or the lack of religion. The protections for religion in the First Amendment are two-sided. The Establishment Clause says, ?Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion?while the Exercise Clause says, ?or prohibiting the free exercise thereof .The Establishment Clause is considered absolute; the government cannot prohibit anyone from establishing or following their own religion.
In one of the first religion cases to come before the Supreme Court, a Utah man asked the justices to overturn a federal law prohibiting polygamy; he said having more than one wife was part of his Mormon religion. The court held up the polygamy law, reasoning that religion was not a license for extreme behavior (The Christian Monitor).
The Supreme Court had seen a raise in First Amendment cases in the mid-twentieth century, many of them involving Jehovah?s Witnesses appealing against local laws aimed at keeping them from practicing the ?witness? part of their faith by going door-to-door and handing out leaflets. One law that was overturned required them to have permits, and another let authorities charge them with littering for leaving their leaflets around town. (NewsMax.com Wires2002)
School Prayer
In 1962, the Supreme Court ruled that the New York Board of Regents violated the First Amendment by requiring a prayer, written to be non-denominational, to be recited in public schools. The following year, the court ruled that public schools cannot require daily Bible readings or recitations, including the Lord?s Prayer (FindLaw 2011).
A 1985 Supreme Court case overturned an Alabama law allowing schools to have a one-minute of silence at the start of the school day; it might have permissible if the minute of silence was for nonreligious purposes. Subsequent cases have held that invocations at public school graduation ceremonies are unconstitutional, even if attendance is voluntary and the students vote to have an opening prayer, and so are student-initiated prayers before public-school football games (FindLaw, 2011).
Religious Displays
A religion-oriented display, such as the manger scene at Christmas, is not necessarily a violation of church and state. The Supreme Court has held that it is, depending on whether it seems to be presented to benefit or promote a particular view of religion, or whether it is part of a more secular display to celebrate the season. A manger scene in a county courthouse has been held unconstitutional, for example, while a Christmas tree and a menorah have been allowed. Similarly, displays of religious symbols such as the Ten Commandments may or may not violate the First Amendment. The court pointed out the distinction, by a pair of five to four rulings, in two cases in 2005. The cases were distinguished by a single swing vote, Justice David Souter. Souter said a Ten Commandments monument in a Texas park at the state capitol in Austin was all right because there were other nonreligious symbols of law and justice in the park. On the other hand, he said Ten Commandment plaques placed in Kentucky courthouses appeared to be religious symbols because they stand alone, rather than as a part of a larger secular display (Marus 2005, Associated Baptist Press).
One of the most highly publicized cases involving religious symbols began in 2001, when Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore installed a large monument in the state judicial building. The ACLU and others filed a suit, claiming the monument violated the separation of church and state, and the federal courts ordered the monument moved. Moore refused, and was removed from office along with his monument. He appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court,