Why the First Amendment is America in a nutshell

The ability to say what we want, when we want, is an important part of American democracy.

Monica Duffy Toft: So I’ve been asked to choose an amendment that I think is important and valuable, and so I think: the First Amendment. 

And it’s not only because it’s the First Amendment, it’s what it says. 

And it 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.” 

And I think from the Constitution this sets up the rest of the Constitution about what it means to be an American citizen and the value of our individual liberties because it sets us apart. As individuals we have the right to speech, we have the right to association, we have the right to religion, we can think, we can act, we can associate freely. 

And as a scholar of international relations, when you poll people around the world and they ask, “What is it that you think is most important about the United States that you think sets the United States apart,” more often than not people point to the First Amendment and to the freedom of speech, the freedom of assembly, the freedom of religion as first and foremost what makes the United States special—that we privilege individuals as citizens, and our Constitution protects that. 

We need to keep that in mind as citizens, and I have to tell you around the world people acknowledge that and respect that about the United States. 

I really have a hard time with this this idea of freedom of assembly and freedom of speech regardless of the nature of that speech. 

I mean there are exceptions to that, about whether it promulgates violence or potentially promulgates violence, and I tend to come down on the liberal side, that people should have freedom of speech—and that as defender of the First Amendment of the Constitution that then you need to redouble your efforts to make sure that, if you fear that this is going to lead to violence, conflict, that you redouble your efforts and have police and you make arrests and you say “you’ve overstepped your boundaries.” 

So I tend to be somebody who says, “Let them assemble, let them have their freedom of speech, and redouble your efforts and take measures to ensure that that can happen.”

The ability to say whatever we want about whomever we want is a big deal, which is why free speech is the cornerstone of American democracy. But what if that free speech incites hate or violence? Bring it on, says Monica Duffy Toft, Professor of International Politics at Tufts University. After all, you can't throw out the whole idea of free speech just because you don't agree with what someone is saying — that's the whole point of the First Amendment of the Constitution. Even if it's hate speech, the idea that it can happen is more important to uphold than the words themselves. Toft posits to "Let them assemble, let them have their freedom of speech, and redouble your efforts and take measures to ensure that that can happen." For more information, visit charleskochfoundation.org.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

10 books to check out from Jordan Peterson's 'Great Books' list

The Canadian professor has an extensive collection posted on his site.

Jordan Peterson with Carl Jung and the cover art of Jaak Panksepp's 'Affective Neuroscience' (Image: Chris Williamson/Getty Images/Big Think)
Personal Growth
  • Peterson's Great Books list features classics by Orwell, Jung, Huxley, and Dostoevsky.
  • Categories include literature, neuroscience, religion, and systems analysis.
  • Having recently left Patreon for "freedom of speech" reasons, Peterson is taking direct donations through Paypal (and Bitcoin).
Keep reading Show less

Radical theory says our universe sits on an inflating bubble in an extra dimension

Cosmologists propose a groundbreaking model of the universe using string theory.

Getty Images/Suvendu Giri
Surprising Science
  • A new paper uses string theory to propose a new model of the universe.
  • The researchers think our universe may be riding a bubble expanded by dark energy.
  • All matter in the universe may exist in strings that reach into another dimension.
Keep reading Show less

Should you invest in China's stock market? Know this one thing first.

Despite incredible economic growth, it is not necessarily an investor's paradise.

Videos
  • China's stock market is just 27 years old. It's economy has grown 30x over that time.
  • Imagine if you had invested early and gotten in on the ground floor.
  • Actually, you would have lost money. Here's how that's possible.