“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.” – First Amendment to the United States Constitution
Is there anything more important to our society than the First Amendment? I doubt it. In order to create a society of excellence in the sciences and arts, a society must be able to express itself freely. Imagine a society where one can not say what one wants to say, or protest. Imagine that John Lennon’s song, “Give Peace a Chance” was never allowed to be sung. The Vietnam War protests were perhaps the pinnacle of our first amendment rights. Those protests tested our country, and, regardless of what your opinion of that war was, that was a movement that was the identity of a decade of our country. Without the freedom of speech, our nation would lose its identity. What about artists? Musical and visual artists would certainly not journey into this nation if they were not allowed to say what they want to say. Would we want a nation (like the USSR) that banned the Beatles? Is that what we want to be known for?
Freedom of the Press. Without that, I could not write this blog. In fact, in some countries, what I am writing right now could be considered illegal. Is that the society that we, as Americans, want? I should hope not. We often hear how the press is “biased” or “unfair” and that may be true. But, that is their right, it is up to us the people to make up our own minds. The press can say what they want to say, and they can endorse the candidates they want to endorse. I, for one, am proud that we have people in the media that care enough about our nation to make their opinions known.
As far as freedom of religion, I am a Roman Catholic, and in many places Catholics were presecuted. Christians have been fed to lions, people have been martyred for their faith. I am glad that we have a nation where Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Agnostics, Atheists, or anyone else can have the peace of mind that our government will not persecute them based on their beliefs. Imagine not having the right to go to Church. Imagine having to have church in the basement of a friend’s house because the country does not allow you to worship freely. It ain’t a pretty sight. To be sure, religious differences cause tension from time to time. But would we not rather have a little tension than no freedom?
The right of people to assemble peacefully is integral to our society. Martin Luther King Jr. was permitted to speak publically, and he called attention to the problem of racism in our country, and, thankfully, we now have a society that includes people of many races, and does not exclude people due to ethnic background. We have the right to disagree with our elected officials. We have the right to send them home, and place the people we want in charge of our country. We are this nation. We are America. We are free peoples living together. At times there may be struggles, at times, such as now, we may have two very different political parties and ideologies, but the important thing is that we are allowed to have this debate, to have these ideas. Sure, at times tempers may flare, and we may have some rough days, but would we really have it any other way?