What is the First Amendment?

What is the First Amendment?

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.

— First Amendment to the United States

Your five First Amendment freedoms are: 

1. Freedom of religion: you have the freedom to think about, imagine, or believe in anything you choose. 

2. Freedom of speech: you have the freedom to speak about anything you choose. 

3. Freedom of the press: the press has the freedom to publish anyone’s stories, thoughts, or ideas in newspapers, on TV, on the radio, online, and more!

4. Freedom of assembly: you have the freedom to gather together with other people in peaceful groups.

5. Freedom of petition: you have the freedom to officially bring your concerns to the government by collecting signatures from other people who agree with you.

The Founders bequeathed us a Constitution that lives on today. The First Amendment is a vital part of the Constitution, and of the charge that has been a challenge offered to every citizen, administration, and congress since 1787: work to form a more perfect Union. The First Amendment freedoms are tools to do just that: we see those freedoms in practice in news headlines almost every day.

It is discouraging to note, then, that in a 2019 Freedom Forum survey of adult Americans1, almost a third of 1,000 adults interviewed could not name a single freedom included in the First Amendment. And of those who could, only 65% knew that Freedom of Speech was one of those five freedoms. Only 29% could name Freedom of Religion, 4% Freedom of Petition. Only one of a thousand could name all of the five freedoms.

If, in the words of famed First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams, “The First Amendment is the soul of our democracy,” these polling results show that there is still much work to do to encourage people to understand the full scope of our freedoms so they can live them out confidently, knowledgeably, and effectively in daily life. This is the purpose of the First Amendment Museum.

But unlike your high school history class, or most other civics-oriented museums you’ll visit, we’re not interested in presenting visitors with a timeline of supreme court cases or a blow-by-blow of First Amendment history.  We want to inspire people to Live their Freedoms  – to experience the five freedoms in their own lives.  And that doesn’t mean we’re building a boot camp for aspiring activists.  We want people to realize how they are using their First Amendment freedoms every day without even knowing it, to understand those freedoms, where they came from, and how they work, and to inspire them to exercise their freedoms intentionally and effectively.    

State of the First Amendment Survey