First Amendment

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an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1791 as part of the Bill of Rights, prohibiting Congress from interfering with freedom of religion, speech, assembly, or petition.
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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What is the First Amendment?

The First Amendment is an amendment to the US Constitution that forbids Congress from making any law that discriminates against any religion or that restricts freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to assemble, or the right to protest.

The Constitution of the United States is the document that serves as the  fundamental law of the country. An amendment is a change to something. An amendment to the Constitution is any text added to the original document since its ratification in 1788. The Constitution has been amended 27 times in American history.

The entire text of the First Amendment reads:

“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.”

The First Amendment has one detail that many Americans get wrong or misunderstand. This amendment only protects your freedom of speech from being restricted by the government or an organization funded by the government. Private businesses, such as Twitter, Wal-Mart, and the Walt Disney Company, can and often do restrict your speech or expression if they believe it could harm their business.

Why is First Amendment important?

The First Amendment is one of 10 amendments included in the Bill of Rights, a set of 10 amendments added to the Constitution almost immediately after that document was put into law. On December 15, 1791, the Bill of Rights was ratified by the required three-fourths of the state legislatures and added to the Constitution.

In general, Americans are free to say or do almost anything they want without fear of being censored or punished by the government. There are exceptions, however. For example, illegal speech is not allowed. This includes credible seditious or treasonous speech or credible threats against another person. Similarly, speech or actions that could cause harm to other people are also not protected.

Many Americans consider the First Amendment to be one of the most important amendments. Thanks to the First Amendment, Americans are free to express themselves and their opinions without fearing that the government will punish them. The First Amendment also allows citizens to freely protest against and criticize the government, which is crucial to ensuring a free and just democracy.

Did you know ... ?

The First Amendment, along with the rest of the Bill of Rights, was written by James Madison. Madison would go on to be the fourth president of the United States and today is considered one of the Founding Fathers.

What are real-life examples of First Amendment?

The First Amendment forbids the government from preventing peaceful protests such as this one held in June 2020:

Americans love the First Amendment, although many mistakenly believe it protects their speech from being restricted by private companies.

Quiz yourself!

True or False?

According to the First Amendment, the US government cannot make a law that establishes Christianity as the national religion.

How to use First Amendment in a sentence

Cultural definitions for First Amendment (1 of 2)

First Amendment

The first article of the Bill of Rights. It forbids Congress from tampering with the freedoms of religion, speech, assembly, and the press.

Cultural definitions for First Amendment (2 of 2)

First Amendment

An amendment to the United States Constitution guaranteeing the rights of free expression and action that are fundamental to democratic government. These rights include freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and freedom of speech. The government is empowered, however, to restrict these freedoms if expression threatens to be destructive. Argument over the extent of First Amendment freedoms has often reached the Supreme Court. (See clear and present danger, libel, and obscenity.)

notes for First Amendment

The First Amendment begins the Bill of Rights.
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.