The First Amendment, as described in the U.S. Constitution, states that Congress shall not make any laws that prohibit the citizen’s free exercise of religion, speech, or the right to peaceably assemble and petition the government. In a dramatically changing United States culture with largely online communities, the First Amendment has remained timeless, although controversial in its application.
As noted above, the First Amendment makes the following three guarantees for the citizens of the United States: freedom of religious practices, freedom of expression, and freedom to peaceably assemble. As the melting pot of the world, these guarantees are critical for a country with widespread diversity in religious beliefs, personal, and political values. Those differences, which are forbidden in many countries, are protected under the First Amendment, which also permits citizens to hold the government accountable through petition for their common interests. Arguably, the First Amendment is the fundamental bedrock of the United States culture because it upholds the democratic process in the lives of the citizens. Not only does it contain many fundamental freedoms for human existence; these iconic ideals embody the American Dream (“U.S. Institutions”, 2017).
The freedoms listed in the First Amendment are written with generality to preserve their permanence; thus, as societal shifts occur, the citizens must decide how the principles apply. For instance, The University of Berkeley is a longstanding symbol of free speech, but it has recently come under fire because student groups have invited contentious speakers to protest in the public spaces, sparking violence and police intervention (Dirks, 2017).
The prevalence of social media and online press also ushers in a new set of controversies, such as the recent slew of cases where high school students were suspended for off-campus Twitter posts that contained profanity or crude jokes against teachers (National Coalition Against Censorship, 2017). Authorities question how far the First Amendment rights extend in these cases, where the exercise of free speech causes disruption in traditionally safe areas, like school campuses. Certainly, the First Amendment is still highly celebrated and protected by the modern U.S. society, but as cultural shifts occur, the extent of these “guarantees” continue to be tested.