“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.”
I believe in the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. When we think of it, most of us think of “freedom of speech”, but the First Amendment actually grants us five basic freedoms: freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom to petition the government. For me, as for most of us, the third doesn’t apply directly, though we rely on it; and most of us use the first to believe as we please, or not at all. Do we use the other three first-amendment rights as we should?
I believe that it’s critical, in a free society, not only to have these freedoms, but to use all five. I make it a point to do so, as often as is appropriate. I speak freely, writing political and social commentary in my own “blog” on the world wide web, and making comments in the blogs of others. I petition my senators and congressional representative, regularly sending them my views on current issues and on upcoming legislation, and urging them to take action as I would like to see it taken. I’ve exercised my freedom to assemble by having participated in several marches protesting the war in Iraq and other actions and policies of the presidential administration.
When I was growing up, in the 1960s, my father taught me the ideals that form our country’s foundation. He taught me about the equality of all people, and about the rights and freedoms that we all have. He taught me about the McCarthy era that had just passed, and used it as an example to show how easily those rights and freedoms can be undermined if we’re not careful. In those days of civil rights marches and protests against another war, he taught me to speak out for what I believe in, that each of us does have a voice in our society, and that the society is strongest when it hears from all of us.
It would be easier to sit back – to complain or not, as I might choose, but to refrain from participating. It would be easier to let others speak out, petition, and assemble. But I believe each of us must take advantage of these rights, to let it be known that we take them seriously and to play a role in our governmental process. And I fear that failure to exercise them would make it easier for them to be taken away. So I do my part, proud to claim these rights we were guaranteed at the founding of our country.
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