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United States Bill of Rights Series: Part Two

This is part two in our Bill of Rights education series. Check out the introduction here!

The First Amendment: Rights on Rights on Rights

Amendment 1: 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.

Do you enjoy being able to speak your mind freely and practice whatever religion you like? People in America often take these rights for granted, but these rights exist today only because of the 1st Amendment.

America is the freest and most prosperous country in the world. You may ask, “What is it that makes America different?” America is a country where citizens can practice their faith and speak and gather freely without government intervention.

A set of nesting dollsHave you ever seen a set of nesting dolls? They are the perfect illustration of the beauty of the 1st Amendment. Picture the 1st Amendment as the largest doll in the set. When you begin to take the set apart, you see that there are multiple rights inside this certain Amendment that most people don’t even know exist. These freedoms guaranteed under the 1st Amendment are critical and must be preserved at all costs.

Let’s break down each of the five rights that are outlined in the 1st Amendment of the Bill of Rights:

  • The 1st Amendment protects the free exercise of religion. If you are a Muslim, Christian, Atheist, or any other religion, you can freely practice your beliefs in America. The founders did not believe that religion should be disconnected from politics, but they barred the establishment of a national church. Liberties can only be kept if Americans remain a good and moral people.
  • Freedom of Speech is one of the most important rights in our Constitution. It allows Americans to speak their opinions without fear of punishment or regulation. This means not only does the 1st Amendment protect speech that is widely accepted, but it also protects speech that isn’t popular. Freedom of speech would be meaningless if it only protected speech that all of us liked.
  • We have heard a lot about “fake news” lately, but what if that fake news was coming from your government? For that reason, we have a free and independent press. The is meant to press search for truth and promote virtue and unity. The press is also intended to serve as a check on the government and to help advance American principles.
  • The 1st Amendment also protects the right for people to assemble peacefully and guarantees the right for people to petition or protest an issue. So, when you see people in the streets picketing with signs about a certain issue, they are only allowed to do so because of the 1st Amendment.

The Second Amendment: Self-defense or Suppression?

Amendment 2: A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Imagine a situation where the government is the only group allowed to own guns — and then it turns on its own people. This is the exact reason why the 2nd Amendment exists.

Founding Fathers paintingThe Founders knew that if a government grew too large, it could use its military to overpower the citizenry. If you look at former tyrannical regimes, you will discover that the citizens living under that type of government were not allowed to own guns. Consequently, the Founders enabled Americans to protect themselves by giving them the right to keep and bear arms.

Some may argue that the 2nd Amendment doesn’t apply to the individual, but that idea is incorrect. America was founded on the idea that rights, at the fundamental level, belong to individuals, not the State.

The 2nd Amendment is vital to our Constitution. The right for you to own a gun is a right that protects you, your family, and your country, and it must be defended. The controversy surrounding such a large topic always comes down to the grammar that our Founding Fathers used to pen this amendment.

Let’s break down some of the areas in question:

  • We first need to focus on the phrase, the right of the people. Note that the people are the only ones whose right is secured here, not a state government.
  • One area of the 2nd Amendment that comes under scrutiny is “A well-regulated militia”. If you study the vernacular during the Founding Era, you will find that well-regulated, meant well-functioning. The patriots who formed militia groups to resist British rule, including George Washington, described their groups as “well-regulated militia.”  What makes more sense? That Washington’s neighborhood militia was granted the Royal Seal of Approval by the Crown, or that his militia was properly trained in the practice of arms?  As for militia, back in the 1700s, it meant all able-bodied men. George Mason said that the militia, “consist now of the whole people.” The Constitution gave Congress the power both to raise and support a national army and to organize “the militia.” The army had to be raised because it didn’t naturally exist in society, but the militia on the other hand, only had to be organized, because it was a pre-existing concept.

In the late 1700s, the term, free State, wasn’t used to mean an individual state such as New York or New Jersey. Rather, it meant free country. A nation free of despotism. A free state is what the framers wanted America to be. They saw an armed citizenry as a hedge against tyranny. Citizens who own weapons can protect themselves, prevent tyrannical leaders from seizing power, and protect the nation from foreign enemies.

Quest For Knowledge — Family Discussion Questions

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Reading this with your family? We encourage you to talk about these discussion questions together to reflect on what you’ve learned about our rights as Americans.

Then feel free to share your responses with us on our social media via Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram — and let us know what else you’d like to learn about.

  • What does the 1st Amendment protect?
  • What five rights are outlined in the 1st Amendment?
  • Which of those five rights is most important to you?
  • What does the 2nd Amendment protect?
  • Why was the 2nd Amendment created?
  • What is your favorite part about living in a free country?
  • How do you exercise your rights in our country?
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