When the framers of the Constitution gathered in Philadelphia during the hot summer of 1787, their main objective was to describe how the government of the United States was to be organized and function. Time was short and the work was hard.

The freedoms which the colonists held so dear were nowhere to be contained in that document. It took James Madison and his congressional cohorts two more years to construct what we commonly call the “Bill of Rights.” Here are the fateful words of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or the right of the people to peacefully assemble, and to petition the Government for redress of grievances.”

It’s worth noting that Madison and company seem to suggest that the people already had these rights and the First Amendment simply prohibited Congress (and other lesser legislative bodies) from enacting laws (or ordinances) to infringe on those rights. Those fundamental rights are shared by all persons regardless of age, race, sex, national origin, or social condition.

Fast forward to today where diverse groups are assembling, largely on college campuses, exercising their First Amendment rights. If not adversely impacting the fundamental rights of others or violating laws or societal norms, those assemblies are allowed and protected by the First Amendment.

The First Amendment’s provisions are intended to encourage a free, open, and hopefully constructive discussion of participant views. Some may be uncomfortable to see and listen to persons exercising their rights in a way challenging the status quo. There is a path, narrow at times to follow, recognizing rights and freedoms. It’s when you deviate and become more concerned to impose your view rather than discuss your position that you abandon the freedoms of the First Amendment.

It may be easier to give lip service to freedom rather than practice its tenets. The “land of the free” only remains if we respect the rights of all people.

F. Gerard Nault

Windsor

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