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S e c t i o n O n e
Free expression in America and the events of September 11
Land of the Free
America is often thought to be a country that promises unrestricted free expres-
sion to its citizens. However, that really isn't the case. The specifics of America's
free speech provisions are confusing to many people, including U.S. citizens.
America's principles of free expression are based upon forty-five words in the
First Amendment of the Unites States Constitution , which read:
"Congress shall make no law representing 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."
The foundations of American law pertaining to personal freedom those that
define free expression, freedom of religion and the press, as well as rights regard-
ing free assembly, copyright, and open access to government, are found in that
one statement.
The United States Constitution , like those of many countries, is meant to serve
as a contract of sorts between the government and the governed. It is the first and
primary law, a guide for all other federal, state, and local legislation, as well as the
ultimate authority on what defines American jurisprudence. However, when
looking at the First Amendment 's promise of free expression, what trips up most
people is the first five words of the amendment: "Congress shall make no
In other words, that means that the government may not suppress or unfairly
stifle free expression. However, the converse is true as well that any entity other
than the government can lawfully suppress and censor the expression of others.
That means any person, business, media outlet, political group, or ad hoc gather-
ing of people can undertake actions that directly or indirectly ban, suppress, or
control access to the ideas and expressions of others. While ethical and moral
considerations may be in play, the action's legality is not.