The Founding Fathers have outlined the crucial rights that allowed Americans to build a country that became a world leader. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, for example, outlines the boundaries of governmental intervention in the social activities of U.S. citizens. The First Amendment is designed to disallow the government to impose any laws that limit free expressions, such as the freedom of speech, press, religious views, assemblies, and protests (U.S. Const. amend. I.). However, the initial intention of the Framers did not accommodate the tactics of modern politicians and the influence that modern corporations have on publicized content. This essay discusses the initial concerns that led to the creation of the First Amendment, the history of its application, and its future role in the United States.
The intention of the First Amendment, while clearly stated in the text of the Constitution, continues to cause disputes. In order to understand the causes of this inconclusiveness, it is vital to analyze the intention of the Founding Fathers when they composed this amendment. This confusion stems from the unclear definition of freedom of speech and the lack of appliance of this term in the United States in the eighteenth century (Campbell, 2017). The determinate meanings were not included in many governmental documents of the Founding Era and created loose interpretations of the Constitution (Campbell, 2017). The indescriptive nature of the First Amendment can also stem from the libertarian views of that era, which relied heavily on the respect of an individual and the reliance on one’s words (Shanor, 2018). It might be possible that the intention for this was the creation of a long-lasting abstract set of laws, where the meaning can be tailored to future realities.
The role of the First Amendment in the U.S. law landscape has expanded significantly. Yet, the core of the First Amendment stays the same: it protects the distribution of power between society and the government to avoid imposing one’s views upon others (Shanor, 2018). This amendment is often evoked in cases where their social context is being put under scrutiny, and no norms clearly define the output (Shanor, 2018). Throughout the history of the United States, the First Amendment was used to protect expressive freedom from governmental interventions, with the exception of malicious speech that aimed to mislead the public (Campbell, 2017). The First Amendment protects well-defined statements, and any exemptions that were defined throughout history were causing harm to society with no regard to the public good.
Despite this claim, there are issues with the application of the First Amendment in practice. Campbell (2017) argues that “after a century of academic debate, however, the meanings of speech and press freedoms at the Founding remain remarkably hazy” (p. 249). Most lawmakers referred to the historical origins of the Constitution when discussing the doctrine of the First Amendment (Campbell, 2017). It put the expanding complexity of social interactions at risk due to the outdated rationale of the arguments that refer to the First Amendment (Campbell, 2017). The expansion of the First Amendment can be both beneficial and harmful for democratic values, depending on the new boundaries set in regard to the current critical issues with political agendas (Shanor, 2018). Therefore, there is a need for a closer examination of the problems related to the present abuse of loopholes in the First Amendment by both politicians and corporations.
In modern times, it might be necessary to revise the First Amendment in order to take into account the reality of the post-truth era. The term “post-truth” has appeared recently in philosophical discussions regarding the freedom of speech and implies the current tendencies to use false claims and present opinions as facts in political debates (Corner, 2017). One of the most discussed incidents that depict this phenomenon is the Trump campaign. As right-wing politicians and their supporters attempted to promote their party via major media channels, such as CNN, CBS, and others, they have been denied their right to express their opinions on these platforms (Corner, 2017). This issue applies to non-governmental social judgments that lead to censorship and silencing in general and causes harm to silenced individuals and groups, causing inequality (Shanor, 2018). This notion calls for a clear definition of the freedom of speech and press and the establishment of additional clauses that would accommodate the power that modern media corporations have.
In conclusion, for the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to stay true to its initial purpose, it is necessary to expand its reach and protect the freedom of expression of all U.S. citizens. Shanor (2018) states that “the First Amendment’s borders are now in a period of great transformation” (p. 322). The Constitution of the United States, as drafted by the Framers, stays relevant in the face of the ever-changing world. Intentional and unintentional misinformation, along with limits of speech imposed by major media companies, present a threat to the integrity of the rights given by the U.S. Constitution. To combat these societal issues, the boundaries of the First Amendment must be expanded.
Campbell, J. (2017). Natural rights and the First Amendment. The Yale Law Journal, 127, 246-321.
Corner, J. (2017). Fake news, post-truth and media–political change. Media, Culture & Society, 39(7), 1100-1107.
Shanor, A. (2018). First Amendment coverage. New York University Law Review, 93, 318-366.