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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
Michael Reply
is the system to govern a state or community
what is government
what 2 important issues went unresolved in the constitution?
Queenie Reply
the 1957 Ghana constitution
Ahorlu Reply
The framers of the Constitution designed the Senate to filter the output of the sometimes hasty House. Do you think this was a wise idea? Why or why not?
Emily Reply
what is freedom?
syed Reply
what is political eqaulity
what is federalism?
Maria Reply
federalism Federalism is a system of government in which entities such as states or provinces share power with a national government. The United States government functions according to the principles of federalism.
how is power dispered in American federalism?
Savannah Reply
how is power dispersed in American federalism?
what three factors molds nations, state, relations today
what three factors mold national,state relations today
In which areas do you think peoples rights and liberties are at risk of government intrusion?
camille Reply
whenever......new government
Marjan Reply
clearly,who was meant to be in charge of this new government?
What is and who is required to file a foreign agent registration statement form
David Reply
Anything on the Mayflower Compact
deborah Reply
What do you really mean by the final draft of articles
Eliza Reply
According to pluralist theory of government
Rachel Reply
Pluralist theory stating what?
What is government mean?
Benedict Reply
compare and contrast a federalist system of govt to a confederate system
Jewles 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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