Adopted in 1791, the First Amendment protects freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press. It also gives those in the United States the right to peacefully protest and petition the government. It was added to the Constitution along with nine other amendments, which together became known as the Bill of Rights.
The First Amendment states:
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.
In essence, the First Amendment protects an individual's religious freedom, the free press, the freedom to peacefully protest, and freedom of speech from interference by the government.
The United States Library of Congress periodically prepares a scholarly document called The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation. Also known as the Constitution Annotated, it provides historical context and analysis of Supreme Court decisions that help to illustrate what the text of the Constitution means for our legal system.
We have organized these annotations and incorporated them into our pages on the Constitution. Use the links below to find out more.
Governmental Encouragement of Religion in Public Schools:
Facially Neutral Laws That Interfere With Religious Practice:
Freedom of Speech: Historical Background
Procedural Matters and Freedom of Speech
Advocacy of Illegal Conduct
Fighting Words, Hostile Audiences and True Threats
Defamation and False Statements
Invasions of Privacy
Public Indecency and Nudity
Government Speech Doctrine
Freedom of Speech and the Role of the Government
Regulation of the Media
Campaign Finance and Electoral Process
Compelled Subsidization Doctrine
Unconstitutional Conditions on Speech
Protests and Marches
Freedom of Association Overview
Freedom of the Press Overview
Protection of Confidential Sources
Right to Access Government Places and Papers
Freedom of Assembly and Petition: Overview