The American Bills of Rights dates back to 1789, when James Madison proposed that the constitution should be amended to include the various Bills of Rights. It is noted that these Bills of Rights had been initially influenced by George Mason in 1776 through the Virginia Declaration Rights, as well as the English political documents, such as the Magna Carts of 1215 (Labunski, 2006). Despite the fact that there were other two articles which were proposed into the Bills of Rights, that is, the article dealing with the appointment of the U.S representatives, as well as the article which limited the ability of the of Congress to affect the increment of the salaries of its members. The second article was, however, amended later to fit into the Bills of Rights and was referred as the 27th Amendment. It should be noted that the American Bills of rights remain to be a pivotal tool used for both the American law, as well as the government. It is an elemental symbol of the freedoms and culture of the nation as a whole (Brant, 1965).
In this research topic, the chosen Bills of right implicate the first Amendment which stipulates the freedom of participation in any religion, freedom of speech and the right of assembly and petition. It can be perceived clearly that this Bill of Right comprises of three clauses on the same Bill. In summation, the Bill stipulates that;
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free will thereby, that is, to say, the infringement from the freedom of speech, or the press or the right of the American citizens to allow peaceful assembly of the people and that which reflects upon the government petition from the purpose of equalizing the grievances of its own people” (Rutland, 1955).
For the purpose of expounding on this Bill of rights, it will be wise to break it down into the various clauses which were put together to form it altogether. These clauses include the clause about religion, the clause about petition, and finally, the clause which talks about right to assembly. It should be noted that these clauses are the most popular clauses because they are all comprised of freedoms to the citizens at large. These clauses are discussed in detail as follows,
The Freedom of Religion Clause
This is a clause which is stipulated in the first amendment and reads that “the congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” (Rutland, 1955). This clause was formulated with a clear implication for restricting the respective government bodies from endorsing or rather providing any form of support to any religion whatsoever. It is noted that the clause prohibits the aspect of religion over that of non-conformity to religion at all. According to the clause, part of the Bill of rights, indicates that the state shall in no way be allowed to set up a state church or pass any legislative laws whose intention is to, in isolation, assist a certain religion or force people directly to either attending or not attending any form of churches whatsoever. The legislative body is also expected not to exercise any form of punishments to people who are believed to be associated with certain beliefs, or in that matter disbelief which can drive an individual to attending or not attending those specific churches, as well as provide any form of government support, either in form of waiving taxes or in form of participation by the religious institutions in government-related activities. For instance, there is a case which was filed in Atlanta, Georgia involving the state and the Baptist churches. The state noted that the Baptist church, which was once the sole sponsor of various activities in the community, was in the verge of facing the collapse. The state perceived the need of assisting it out by providing the stadium, upon which a fundraising was to be held. Normally, it would costs a taxpayer almost $12000 to rent the stadium for a day, but then the state decided to offer it for free to Baptist Church. It was later determined that the activity was a breach into the freedom of law, as it was perceived that the state was involving or rather supporting the specific church over the others.
According to the law, in order for the freedom of religion to be infringed, then it must have failed the three-part Lemon tests, whose tests demand for the comprehension of the three factors which have been infringed. This test is formulated to comprehend whether the law, which was established by the legislature, is linked to any form of secularity, and when it is found out that the law has connections with the secular groupings then it will be considered as having passed the infringement tests, and thus, considered to be a violation. The tests is also made to demand whether the effect brought as a result of enacting the law is in any way affecting the religion positively or negatively in that matter. When it is found out that the law which has been enacted has violated this demands then it is pointed out that the legislation law effected the establishment cum religion clause as a whole. The third aspect for which the law demands to comprehend before finding out whether there has been a violation involved is when it gets proof of entanglement of government with religion.
The Freedom of Assembly Clause
This clause part of the first amendment reads like “the congress shall make no law which is aimed at refuting in any way the right of the people in there peaceful assembles” (Rutland, 1955), this particular clause is sometimes referred to as the freedom of Association Clause and aims to protect the American citizens from any form of violence, when they are assembled in the peaceful gatherings altogether.
The origin of this clause dates back to the pre-colonial era of the American history, whereby the authorities of that time limited citizens from holding any forms of gathering, since it was feared that those gatherings were meant to overthrow the authorities of the time. The British army perceived the need to restrict the population of the colonialists from growing, and went further to advocate for the right to assemble only when the gatherings were peaceful in nature. It was established that when the people were infringed from assembling jointly, then there was no other way for which they could achieve their goals whatsoever. Nowadays, this clause is extensively used by the civil right groups who are in dire need of affecting the positive societal change altogether. Other groups who are remarkably noted of utilizing this particular clause to the latter are the women demagoguery groups, the labor unions, as well as the religious institutions gatherings whose aim is to rally against an infringement brought forth to them by the relevant authorities as a whole. The restriction which is put forth to oversee the freedom of Assembly relates to the infringement of the clause, which comprise factors, such as marching and protesting, as the government only allows it when it is executed in terms of the speech. Any other form of assembly is prohibited by the government, unless stated otherwise in the laws. The courts have allowed the government to exercise its mandate of protecting its citizens, especially when it is understood that the assembly will cause factors, such as noise, congestion or destruction to private or public property at large. The methodologies deployed by the government in containing this clause are affected by implicating curfews to the groups which are considered violent, and also by preventing them from keeping down the traffic of the day, thus, affecting the activities of the economy. It should be noted that the court uses the law established by the legislation dubbed the “strict scrutiny”, in order to effectively judge the cases, whose involvement rests with the assembly clauses. These cases are usually filed by the government, and when it is found out that the same government is incapable of indicating the infringement of the law by the defendant, at a much larger concern then the aforementioned law will be termed as unconstitutional and void. Notably, it would be wise to indicate that the government is bound to restriction of these clauses, when it is known for a fact that gatherings put forth are in one way or another illegal, or in some other cases against the true establishment of the law altogether.
The Freedom of Petition Clause
This part of the first amendment stipulates that “the congress shall make no law which will work against the right bestowed upon the people to petition the Government for redress of grievances for whatsoever reasons put forth”. It should be noted that these petitions were brought about to allow the American citizens to compel the government to reconsider over there issues without fear that the same government will in any way punish them. This clause takes its roots from the pre-colonial fathers who grieved over King George III to reconsider their issues through the parliament of the time. In the American context, this petition was formulated and adapted because of the colonialists who were perceived to be very stringent in their deeds, especially on matters concerning taxes and land. It is noted that when they pleaded with the King to lower the taxes or at least consult them when imposing those taxes, the King would in fact increase the amount of tax levied to them, so that they could in turn fear him as the King. It was then established that the very first Congress formed under the new dispensation allowed for Americans to seek grievances from their Governments without the fear that they were going to be punished or victimized in that matter. While the petition continues to develop amongst its citizens, some of these citizens, as well as public analysts have argued that it is with reverence that the Freedom of petition clause is to take its own effects, since it is not the duty of the government to respond to them at whatsoever costs, while others have refuted the statement stipulating that it will be completely irrelevant for the government to respond, since it is not its duty to compel people into demanding for these petitions altogether.
All in all, the three clauses are perceived to be the constituents of the very first amendment. In the United Sates, there is no doubt that the first amendment is far the most popular amendment, since it contains some of the very familiar phrases concerning politics of the day.