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Learning objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Identify the liberties and rights guaranteed by the first four amendments to the Constitution
  • Explain why in practice these rights and liberties are limited
  • Explain why interpreting some amendments has been controversial

We can broadly divide the provisions of the Bill of Rights    into three categories. The First, Second, Third, and Fourth Amendments protect basic individual freedoms; the Fourth (partly), Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth protect people suspected or accused of criminal activity; and the Ninth and Tenth, are consistent with the framers’ view that the Bill of Rights is not necessarily an exhaustive list of all the rights people have and guarantees a role for state as well as federal government ( [link] ).

A Venn Diagram labeled “Categories of Rights and Protections”. The top circle of the diagram is labeled “Criminal”, the circle on the left is labeled “Procedural”, and the circle on the right is labeled “Individual Freedoms”. The values “Fifth Amendment” and “Sixth Amendment” are shown in the center of the diagram where all three circles overlap. The values “Fourth Amendment” and “Tenth Amendment” are shown in the circle on the left labeled “Procedural”. The values “First Amendment”, “Seventh Amendment”, and “Eighth Amendment” are shown at the bottom of the diagram where the circles labeled “Procedural” and “Individual Freedoms” overlap. The values “Second Amendment”, “Third Amendment”, and “Ninth Amendment” are shown in the circle on the right labeled “Individual Freedoms”.

The First Amendment protects the right to freedom of religious conscience and practice and the right to free expression, particularly of political and social beliefs. The Second Amendment—perhaps the most controversial today—protects the right to defend yourself in your home or other property, as well as the collective right to protect the community as part of the militia. The Third Amendment prohibits the government from commandeering people’s homes to house soldiers, particularly in peacetime. Finally, the Fourth Amendment prevents the government from searching our persons or property or taking evidence without a warrant issued by a judge, with certain exceptions.

The first amendment

The First Amendment is perhaps the most famous provision of the Bill of Rights; it is arguably also the most extensive, because it guarantees both religious freedoms and the right to express your views in public. Specifically, the First Amendment says:

“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.”

Given the broad scope of this amendment, it is helpful to break it into its two major parts.

The first portion deals with religious freedom. However, it actually protects two related sorts of freedom: first, it protects people from having a set of religious beliefs imposed on them by the government, and second, it protects people from having their own religious beliefs restricted by government authorities.

The establishment clause

The first of these two freedoms is known as the establishment clause    . Congress is prohibited from creating or promoting a state-sponsored religion (this now includes the states too). When the United States was founded, most countries around the world had an established church or religion, an officially sponsored set of religious beliefs and values. In Europe, bitter wars were fought between and within states, often because the established church of one territory was in conflict with that of another; wars and civil strife were common, particularly between states with Protestant and Catholic churches that had differing interpretations of Christianity. Even today, the legacy of these wars remains, most notably in Ireland, which has been divided between a mostly Catholic south and a largely Protestant north for nearly a century.

Questions & Answers

What is government mean?
Benedict Reply
compare and contrast a federalist system of govt to a confederate system
Jewles Reply
how does one separate from State or government
Joni Reply
I do Not understand well, so if the abachis want. To seperate, acording to this declaration every one shoud Support them
Ich Reply
what is liberty
Luna Reply
You feel free and you decide and do and achieve the right for you
was the Bill of rights a necessary addtion to the constitution?
noor Reply
So, if I'm clear a member of the Congress CANNOT live in the state they represent?
Jeremy Reply
what is government
Seth Reply
why is today's government so corrupt?
Julius Reply
what type of government does American practice?
Joshua Reply
what type of government does American practice
Representative Democracy
Democratic Republic
what is communalism
Yarhere Reply
suppression of the people and their rights.
Help me understand this please. Looks ok please 🙏 🙏 please
debbie Reply
which political party has had the most sucess
Damion Reply
In what ways can the media change the way a citizen thinks about government?
Justin Reply
subliminal messages through the converged technological devices. and sourced profiles
Which of the following is not an agent of political socialization?
Vanessa Reply

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Source:  OpenStax, American government. OpenStax CNX. Dec 05, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11995/1.15
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