The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America: A Short Lesson
What it 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.
What it means:
The government can’t make any laws that establish state religion or that make any religious practices illegal. They also can’t make laws that prevent people from saying what they want, in conversation or in published media. People are allowed to gather peacefully and to tell the government that something that they’re doing is wrong. The key things to remember here are the government and the passing of laws. Sure, you can say whatever you want. The government won’t take issue with it. The first amendment doesn’t protect you from other private citizens, however. This leads to part three of this lesson.
What lots of people (especially hardcore conservatives) think it says:
You can say whatever ignorant, hateful, or patently untrue things that cross your mind, and no other person is allowed to disagree with you, whether they’re doing so politely or telling you to shut the fuck up. If anyone does this, you have the right to whine and cry about “freedom of speech” because “this is America” and your “right to say that” is guaranteed by this amendment.
You see the difference. 95-99.99999% of things that you hear of as “first amendment issues” are totally not (I think of the scene from The Big Lebowski where The Dude and Walter are in the diner and Walter is asked to please quiet down or leave). What the first amendment guarantees is that men in suits won’t show up at your house and take you to prison for speaking out against the government.
If you’re going to hide behind the Constitution, do us all a favor and read the goddamn thing, and understand what the fuck it means! Please!