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.
Welcome to the first of a new monthly series here on Lawyers & Liquor, which we’re calling “Free Speech Friday.” I’m your host, the Boozy Barrister. Over the next however long it takes us, we’re gonna take one Friday a month to discuss legal issues of free speech and constitutional law here, both areas that I, as a shitty shit lawyer in Shitadelphia, Shitsylvania am not overly familiar with. So, this will be a learning experience for both of us, as Boozy pursues edification and then, like the loving momma bird that I am, promptly turns to vomit up the knowledge into your eagerly cheeping mouths.
Yes, I know, that’s probably someone’s fetish. Put it back in your pants, Pete. We got law to talk about.
More specifically, we have one specific law to talk about, being the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. You can see the whole fucking text of the thing above, one sentence that lasts 45 words and has caused more goddamn trouble to the courts than anything else. One sentence that has been used to guarantee the rights of everyone from activists marching for racial equality to assholes picketing funerals. 45 words that have been interpreted to allow folks to spout 14 words in city center when they seek to do so. Often contentious, and always loud, the First Amendment is, as author and Huffington Post journalist Naomi Wolf said, “designed to allow for disruption of business as usual. It is not a quiet and subdued amendment or right.”
In other words, it is the right to be fucking loud and, in general, do so without fear of restriction from the government. But how, exactly, did we come about gaining that right, written into the very foundational documents of our nation’s history? And why?
That’s what we’re talking about today on Free Speech Friday: the birth of the First Amendment and the why of why we have it. So sit back, grab some popcorn, and let’s get going with an impromptu legal history lesson.