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. – Constitution of the United States, Amendment I
Americans exercise their First Amendment rights every day through a variety of forums. As historians of the mass media, we may be most concerned with the rights of a free press, but the amendment covers the rights of all Americans to exercise their respective religions, speak, assemble, and petition.
Very frequently, these rights are questioned. Should hate speech be protected? What about the rights of non-citizens on American soil? Can the government curtail those rights in times of crisis? What actually constitutes a violation of the First Amendment?
This year, we celebrate the 100th anniversary of a pivotal year in First Amendment history, when the Supreme Court decided upon several cases related to the World War I-era Espionage Act. The decisions in those famous cases helped shape our understanding of the First Amendment from a legal standpoint.
In recognition of that important year a century ago, the Journalism History website will publish seventeen essays exploring various First Amendment issues throughout history. These essays will shed light on important moments in the evolution of free expression and provide historical context for the First Amendment issues we face today.
The original call for essays indicated that one essay would be published each month of 2019, but the response was so overwhelming and many of the submissions so excellent that some months will have two essays. Following is the schedule of essays to appear. As each essay is posted, it will be linked on this page to provide a table of contents for future reference.