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How the Government Is (or Is Not) Upholding Our First Amendment Rights

Sarah Kramer
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How the Government Is (or Is Not) Upholding Our First Amendment Rights

Did you know that only six in 10 Americans can name any of the five rights protected by the First Amendment? A University of Pennsylvania poll published this disheartening statistic earlier this year.

It seems only appropriate then that today – on Bill of Rights Day – we pause to recall what the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution 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” (emphasis added).

As a legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith, Alliance Defending Freedom often works on cases involving religious freedom, free speech, and freedom of conscience. In fact, ADF attorneys recently argued before the U.S. Supreme Court to defend the right of Colorado cake artist Jack Phillips to live and work according to his faith.

The outcome of Jack’s case could impact all of our religious and expressive freedom.

Thankfully, the federal government recognized that important First Amendment rights are at stake in that case, and the U.S. Solicitor General argued before the Supreme Court on Jack’s behalf. Not to mention that earlier this year, President Trump signed an executive order upholding religious freedom, and the U.S. Department of Justice issued guidance that helps ensure the federal government will not discriminate against people and organizations of faith for peacefully living consistently with their beliefs.

Although the federal government has made great strides to protect our fundamental liberties, the same cannot be said of other government actors at the state and local levels.

You need only look at the stories of people like farmers Steve and Bridget Tennes, whose family farm was banned from the East Lansing Farmer’s Market simply because they dared to state their Catholic beliefs about marriage in response to a question on Facebook.

Or read the story of Georgia Gwinnett College student Chike Uzuegbunam. The officials at his college claimed that his speech – his preaching of the Gospel – could be classified as “disorderly conduct.” To make matters worse, lawyers for the college argued that his speech constitutes “fighting words,” a category of speech not protected by the First Amendment. That baseless argument would permit college officials—or any government officials—to ban people from presenting the Gospel anywhere at any time.

Or consider the cases of creative professionals across the country who have been told that they must use their artistic talents to celebrate events that violate their beliefs. Or churches who have been told that they must remain silent on issues of biblical sexuality and that they must open their sex-specific facilities to members of the opposite sex.

Across the country, laws are being passed that threaten our freedoms. Often, they come in the form of laws that add sexual orientation and gender identity as new protected classifications under the law. Those laws give the government the power to override basic freedoms of conscience, religion, and speech. 

ADF is working to ensure that every level of government respects freedom and promotes justice for all Americans. By preserving the right of all people to peacefully live according to their beliefs—by preserving the rights guaranteed to us in the First Amendment—we can work toward building a truly tolerant society.


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Sarah Kramer
Sarah Kramer
Digital Content Specialist
Sarah worked as an investigative reporter before joining the Alliance Defending Freedom team.