Reflections on the First Amendment Paper

Reflections on the First Amendment Paper Ephraim Iivula HIS/301 May 29, 2011 Kenneth Johnston University of Phoenix Reflections on the First Amendment According to the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. Consequently, citizens from different occupations often file legal challenges for court adjudication on perceived injustice. This paper focuses on numerous momentous cases related to three of the provisions of the First Amendment, namely freedom of speech, press, and religion. The cases as enumerated shortly represent such examples, in which citizens challenge social norms and seek for Supreme Court hearing or interpretation. In addition, the paper evaluates the rights and responsibilities that the Constitution gives American citizens.

Notable First Amendment Court Cases John D. Ashcroft, Attorney General, et al. v. Free Speech Coalition, et al. (2002) The right to freedom of speech came under scrutiny in the case of John D. Ashcroft, Attorney General, et al. versus Free Speech Coalition, et al. in 2002. In this case, the U. S. Supreme Court affirmed the Ninth Circuit’s judgment against the plaintiff’s broader definition of pornography in enacting the Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996. This broader definition, the court finds it in contravention with the First Amendment.

The Ninth Circuit reasoned that the definition of banning any depiction of pornographic materials, including films that Congress adds on the Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 was overboard and as such violated the First Amendment. Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote: “First Amendment freedoms are most in danger when the government seeks to control thought or to justify its laws for that impermissible end. The right to think is the beginning of freedom, and speech must be protected from the government because speech is the beginning of thought. FCC . v. Pacifica Foundation, (1978) This case put to test the First Amendment protections extended to a radio station’s daytime broadcast. At the center of the case was comedian George Carlin’s “Seven Filthy Words” monologue. “The Supreme Court held that Section 326 of the Telecommunications Act, which prohibits the FCC from censoring broadcasts over radio or television, does not limit the FCC’s authority to sanction radio or television stations broadcasting material that is obscene, indecent, or profane.

Though the censorship ban under Section 326 precludes editing proposed broadcasts in advance, the ban does not deny the FCC the power to review the content of completed broadcasts. ” In addition, the Supreme Court pronounced that, “broadcast materials have limited First Amendment protection because of the uniquely pervasive presence that radio and television occupy in the lives of people and the unique ability of children to access radio and television broadcasts. ” Sherbert v. Verner et al. , members of South Carolina Employment Security Commission,(1963)

In this case, Adell Sherbert applied to the Employment Security Commission for unemployment benefits following her dismissal from work after she refused to work on Saturdays, something forbidden by her Seventh-day Adventist faith. However, the Employment Security Commission denied her unemployment benefits stating that she lost her employment because of misconduct and therefore ineligible for benefits. On appeal, the Supreme Court of the United States contended that Sherbert’s dismissal “violates the guarantee of religious freedom contained in the First Amendment. As such, withholding Sherbert’s benefit was unlawful and therefore in breach of the religious freedom under the First Amendment. Reasons for the Supreme Court Hearing and Interpretation of Each Case In the case of John D. Ashcroft, Attorney General, et al. versus Free Speech Coalition, et al. (2002), the Supreme Court upheld the judgment because the expanded definition of the Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 contravenes the provision under the First Amendment.

Consequently, the appellant feared that leaving that expanded definition unchallenged in the Supreme Court curtails freedom of speech as enshrined in the Constitution. The Supreme Court interpretation became necessary as the Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 led to the plaintiff’s misinterpretation of the regulation or deliberate distortion thereof to advance unlawful ends. Instead, the merit of the Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 bans unethical materials depicting children and not just about any pornographic material.

In the case of FCC versus Pacifica Foundation, (1978), the Supreme Court hearing became necessary to offer clarity on Section 326 of the Telecommunications Act regarding its limitations and the FCC jurisdiction. The appellant assumes Section 326 of the Telecommunications Act prevents FCC the authority to review the content of completed broadcasts. However, the Supreme Court manifested that FCC could still sanction a station broadcasting obscene, indecent, or profane materials. In the case of Sherbert against Verner et al. , members of South Carolina Employment Security Commission, et al. 1963), Sherbert’s employer denied her unemployment benefits because she refused to work on Saturdays. She claimed that this effectively impeded the free exercise of her religion. The Supreme Court found that denying Shebert’s unemployment benefits, was an unconstitutional burden on the free exercise of her religion. The Supreme Court interpretation became necessary, as the First Amendment does not intend to govern the mere beliefs or opinions of people. Interference with religious practices may transpire when there is a compelling interest in refusing to accommodate religiously motivated conduct.

The effect of the Supreme Court decision on American citizens The effect of the Supreme Court judgment in the case of John D. Ashcroft, Attorney General, et al. v. Free Speech Coalition, et al. (2002), is that pornography is lawful. As evident today, there is an increase in the pornography industry as there is no legal basis to ban the practice. The Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 however remains within the confines of its mandate that of protecting children, and as a result many cyber-violators have faced prosecution after its enactment. The judgment on FCC v.

Pacifica Foundation, (1978) has a profound effect on day-to-day radio and television broadcasting. For example, producers particularly of television programs provide parental guidance to prevent children accesses to explicit programs but yet satisfy the viewing needs of matured viewers. This same practice finds resonance in the music and movie industry. This further promotes good social etiquette, ethics, and public decency. The extent to which the Constitution protect the right of privacy The United States Constitution fully express privacy right.

However, under the Fourth Amendment, the right to privacy is inherent. As such, law enforcement agents may not search properties without appropriate search warrants. In some cases, national security supersedes privacy protection, and this happens particularly in the wake the Patriot Act. “The Patriot Act drove a stake through the heart of the Bill of Rights, violating at least six of the ten original amendments–the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Amendments–and possibly the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, as well. ” J. W. Whitehead May 16, 2011.

The Patriot Act after its enactment in response to the 9/11 terrorist attack has come under fire from many citizens claiming that its roving wiretaps system violates citizen rights to privacy. Even as government through the Department of Homeland Security defends the Patriot Act provisions citing national security, many citizens continue to express dissatisfaction with the process. Whitehead May 16, 2011, contends that “roving wiretaps” provision allows the FBI to wiretap phones in multiple homes without the target’s name or even phone number–merely the possibility that a suspect “might” use the phone is enough to justify the wiretap.

He further observed that “lone wolf” provision allows intelligence gathering of people not suspected of belonging to a foreign government or known terrorist organization. Moreover, Section 215 allows court-approved seizure of records and property in antiterrorism operations. In light of the above concerns, the extent to which the Constitution protects privacy right is negligible as Congress twists the legislative arm regardless of public displeasure. Screening citizens based on race, ethnicity, religious belief and justified as a means to protect the nation, have drawn reservations as it targets innocent people and groups regularly.

Such investigations compromise and invade citizens’ privacy by law enforcement and as such expose the Constitutional privacy protection. Conclusion “The First Amendment of the Constitution prohibits laws that restrict personal freedom” Patterson, T. E. (2009, p. 6). The United States Constitution particularly the First Amendment ensured the protection of citizens’ rights. However, this protection is often under constant infringements. Some contraventions happen because of ignorance to the First Amendment and others for the sake of national security.

As the Patriot Act shows, privacy right is not absolute particularly when national security is at stake. With reference to the above-mentioned cases, one can see that the provisions under the First Amendment receive many legal challenges. The Supreme Court interpretation and various hearings ensured that citizens freely exercise their opinions and believes. References American Library Association: Notable First Amendment court cases: Retrieved from http://www. ala. org/ala/aboutala/offices/oif/firstamendment/courtcases/courtcases. fm John W. Whitehead , May 16, 2011, Renewing the Patriot Act: Who Will Protect Us from Our Government? , Retrieved from http://www. rutherford. org/articles_db/commentary. asp? record_id=711 Patterson, T. E. (2009). The American democracy (9th ed. ). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill. Sherbert v. Verner et al. , Members of South Carolina Employment Security Commission, et al. (1963): Retrieved from http://www. yale. edu/lawweb/avalon/curiae/html/374-398/001. htm U. S. National Archives and Records Administration, First Amendment: Retrieved from