Hate Speech, Political Gain, and the First Amendment

In 1789, when the newly created House of Representatives debated the proposed First Amendment to the Bill of Rights, two sentiments were predominant in regard to its clauses on religion: the necessity of impartiality on the part of government, and the protection of the individual. James Madison initially supported a version of the First Amendment that protected “equal rights of conscience,” understood as a right applying to both religion and moral beliefs.  But the House concluded that the Establishment Clause and protection of the individual’s exercise of religious freedom were sufficient. When these are viewed along with their sister clauses guaranteeing freedom of speech, press, assembly, and petitioning, it is clear that all of the amendment’s principles are related to freedom of expression, freedom for any act that involves imbibing or distributing ideas.

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