Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

The Constitution: The First Amendment

January 1, 2014 by NCC Staff


wethepeople348The First Amendment might be the best known part of the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution that were ratified in 1791. James Madison championed the Bill of Rights in 1789 and the amendment we now know as the First Amendment was actually the third amendment presented to the states for ratification. Since then, the First Amendment has been the subject of many court cases.
Original Text Explanation (from U.S. Senate and Library of Congress)*
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. The first ten amendments comprise the Bill of Rights. The first amendment protects religious freedom by prohibiting the establishment of an official or exclusive church or sect. Free speech and free press are protected, although they can be limited for reasons of defamation, obscenity, and certain forms of state censorship, especially during wartime. The freedom of assembly and petition also covers marching, picketing and pamphleteering.

Key Supreme Court and Legal Cases


Reynolds v. United States

The Late Corporation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter–Day Saints v. United States

Lemon v. Kurtzman

Marsh v. Chambers

Abington School District v. Schempp

Lee v. Weisman

Allegheny County v. Greater Pittsburgh ACLU

Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah

Walz v. Tax Comm’n

Niemotko v. Maryland


New York Times Co. v. Sullivan

Patterson v. Colorado

Gitlow v. New York

Brandenburg v. Ohio

CBS v. Democratic Nat’l Comm

Branzburg v. Hayes|

Dennis v. United States

United States v. Carolene Products Co.

Buckley v. Valeo

*The above table was prepared by the Office of the Secretary of the Senate with the assistance of the Library of Congress, providing the original text of each clause of the Constitution with an accompanying explanation of its meaning and how that meaning has changed over time. Source: U.S. Senate, Library Of Congress


Sign up for our email newsletter