The First Amendment - Freedom of Speech, Religion, and the Press

First Amendment and US Constitution text with legal gavel

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.

Library of Congress Constitution Annotations

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.

Freedom of Religion

Religion Clauses: Historical Background

Financial Assistance to Church-Related Institutions

Tax Exemptions of Religious Property

Governmental Encouragement of Religion in Public Schools:

Access of Religious Groups to Public Property

Are Religious Organizations Exempt From Discrimination Laws?

Are Sunday Closing Laws Constitutional?

Regulation of Religious Solicitation

Can There Be Religious Symbols on Government Property?

Religion in Governmental Observances

Non-Financial Constitutional Issues Concerning Religion: Trump v. Hawaii

Can Churches Participate in Government?

The Relationship Between the First Amendment's Establishment Clause and Free Speech Clause

Facially Neutral Laws That Interfere With Religious Practice:

Laws That Require Government Involvement in Resolving Religious Disputes

Laws That Facially Discriminate Against Religious Practices

Freedom of Expression

Freedom of Speech: Historical Background

Procedural Matters and Freedom of Speech

  • Overbreadth
  • Vagueness
  • Prior Restraints
  • State Action

Advocacy of Illegal Conduct

  • Early Doctrine
  • Movement from Clear and Present Danger Test
  • Current Doctrine

Fighting Words, Hostile Audiences and True Threats

Defamation and False Statements

Invasions of Privacy


Zoning Decisions

Child Pornography

Public Indecency and Nudity

Commercial Speech

Content-Based Regulation

Viewpoint-Based Discrimination

Government-Owned Property

Government Speech Doctrine

Freedom of Speech and the Role of the Government

  • Government as Employer
  • Government as Educator
  • Government as Imprisoner

Regulation of the Media

Campaign Finance and Electoral Process


Legislative Investigations

Compelled Speech

Compelled Subsidization Doctrine

Unconstitutional Conditions on Speech

Symbolic Speech

  • Practice of Symbolic Speech
  • Current Doctrine


Protests and Marches

Freedom of Association

Freedom of Association Overview

Freedom of the Press

Freedom of the Press Overview

Protection of Confidential Sources

Right to Access Government Places and Papers

Freedom of Assembly and Freedom of Petition

Freedom of Assembly and Petition: Overview

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