Is the First Amendment still beneficial to society?


Fact Box

  • The First Amendment to the Constitution ensures that Congress “make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting its free exercise. It protects freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and the right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
  • Written in 1791 and part of the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment “covers actions by federal, state, and local governments… [and] also applies to all branches of government, including legislatures, courts, juries, and executive officials and agencies.”
  • The Free Speech Center explains that the First Amendment is for everyone, regardless of age, in the US and requires no US citizenship to be exercised. Further, it is “neither ‘left-wing’ or ‘right-wing.’ It can be used to push for social and political change, or to oppose change.”
  • A 2022 Knight-Ipsos survey revealed that 91% of Americans agree that “protecting free speech is an important part of American democracy.”

Chad (Yes)

The First Amendment to the Constitution still benefits society, maybe more so today than ever, as it is the most important one in protecting our republic and democratic government system. 

A government by the people requires an informed populace. The First Amendment protects the right to a free and fair press (the only industry even mentioned in the Constitution) so that we can know the truth about issues and leaders to protect our other rights.

The First Amendment also gives us freedom of expression to share ideas and debate the ideas we disagree with. This is essential for progress in society; without it, we could revert to feudalism or another dark age.

In places without this freedom, the state controls what types of speech are legal or illegal and can prosecute people for speaking out against them. For Americans, it's not so much the state controlling speech now but instead bands of internet commentators, which is just as dangerous. Any time speech is restricted, thought is also.

Lastly, the First Amendment protects the right to religious freedom, something our country is recognized for and which draws many to it. Without the right to religious freedom, others would be prosecuted in the name of the majority religion.

In today's cancel culture society, the first amendment is more vital than ever, and we cannot let this issue become politicized. This is not about left and right; it's about everyone. 

Too many people are losing their careers, or worse, just based on an opinion or idea. We must understand that those bad ideas can only be beaten by better ideas, not by silencing them. 

Maha (No)

Outdated’ is one of the words Americans have used to describe the First Amendment over the past decade. While the amendment may have made the United States stand out in the past, it doesn’t have the same hold it did back in the day. Especially after the creation and rise of social media.

Constitutional law scholar Tim Wu goes further to call the First Amendment obsolete. He argues that it has become “confined to a narrow and frequently irrelevant role.” When it comes to political speech, speech itself isn’t targeted. Instead, troll armies and reverse censorship indirectly target listeners or undermine speakers.  

Another law scholar, Rebecca Tushnet, believes that the information environment can easily be polluted because the free speech doctrine can’t constrain in relevant ways. 

For instance, the Supreme Court ordered former President Trump to stop blocking Twitter users whose opinions clashed with his. The same didn’t stop him from circulating proven lies

Another issue with the First Amendment is ‘First Amendment Lochnerism,’ which is defined as “striking down economic regulations in the name of the First Amendment, using freedom of speech to prevent regulation of what is a fundamentally economic activity, even though speech is the method of carrying out the economic activity.”

For instance, the FDA can’t prevent prescription drug makers from circulating claims about drugs it hasn’t approved yet. The FDA needs to go beyond showing the lack of scientific evidence and prove that the manufacturer’s claims are false. 

Therefore, it may be time to revisit and update the First Amendment. In fact, 51% of Americans support this to ensure the doctrine reflects current cultural norms.

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