The Five First Amendment Freedoms

This week (July 4) we celebrate the birth in 1776 of America, a nation that, as Abe Lincoln aptly put it four-score and seven years later, was “conceived in liberty.”  That liberty is chiefly guaranteed by our Bill of Rights, whose most important guarantee, the First Amendment, protects freedom of speech, religion, assembly, the press … and the freedom of all Americans “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Yet according to 1 for All, a national nonpartisan organization working to increase awareness of our First Amendment freedoms, surveys indicate very few Americans are aware that the First Amendment protects five freedoms, not just the famous four.  Perhaps this ignorance is because today petitioning government for “a redress of grievances” is better known as “lobbying,” which is a dirty word in politics.

And yet lobbying, for all of its perception problems, many justified, is a critical function in a free society—today more than ever.  In a country of 300 million Americans, countless interest groups—essentially public and private associations of like-minded citizens—will always arise, all seeking government support in promulgating their views and protecting their interests.   Since all 300 million Americans can’t individually petition the government they hire petitioners—lobbyists—to represent them.

Put that way, the more lobbyists the better because they allow more different groups, small as well as large, modest as well as wealthy, to have their voices heard and their views known to the government.  That is what the Founders intended when they put the freedom to petition in the First Amendment.

Better explaining the Founders’ intent when they created the First Amendment is why 1 for All launched a campaign on July 1 to remind Americans that the First Amendment serves everyone, regardless of faith, race, gender, political leanings or even income bracket.

It is truly one amendment for all, so 1 for All is providing teaching materials on the First Amendment to the nation’s schools; it is supporting educational events on America’s campuses; it is even recruiting members of the arts, the media, sports, and politics to spread the word—everyone from Brian Williams of NBC News, to rap star LL Cool J—even me (I’m an unpaid participant).

All of that information, including teaching tools, campus programs, media resources and “how-to” guides, can be found on 1 for All’s interactive web site, www.1forAll.us, which even encourages Americans, students especially, to submit photos, videos, songs and stories that reflect the value of freedom in America.

As our nation celebrates its birthday on the 4th of July, we should remember the many freedoms that make this celebration so worthwhile—freedoms that also help explain why this year’s birthday is our 234th.