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Jaycee Poffinbarger

Professor Leigh Ann Moore

English 1301

17 October 2017

America Divided

The First Amendment prohibits the American government from making laws against

Americans freely expressing personal thoughts, religious beliefs, and gathering or petitioning.

The First Amendment is interpreted differently by various people. Factors that need to be

considered include the following: individuals rights, businesss rights, government power,

physical location of expressions of personal beliefs, and religious beliefs. Even though the First

Amendment controversies have been seen throughout American history, these seem to be more

prominent in todays society dividing the country.

Freedom of speech and the right to express personal thoughts are prominent issues

disputed in the U.S today. For example, the NFL some of the players and staff knelt during the

National Anthem. On one side, there is the First Amendment which limits the government

authority to make laws restricting freedom of speech. Then on the other hand, government

entities can express opinions about certain topics, but cannot necessarily act on them. The

government cannot make a law restricting freedom of speech, but business owners have a right to

limit the expression of personal thoughts from its employees. Another example is the

defamation of races and classes of persons that Patrick ONeil writes about in his article, Hate

Speech. He also discusses that if harassing speech does not constitute criminal intent, it cannot

be punished. However, he adds, Even speech that would enjoy First Amendment protection
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against criminal prosecution can be the basis of legal action against an employer who tolerates

such expression on the grounds that the toleration of such expressions creates a hostile work

environment. This can be seen in numerous cases in which an employer allowed harassing

speech, sometimes even of a sexual nature, that created an unsafe and unproductive situation.

The First Amendment allows freedom of speech, but people must be careful not to infringe on

the rights of others.

In the United States, people have a right to freely express their religious beliefs.

According to Fox News, in 2014, the Bathroom Bill that the city of Houston was trying to pass

would have allowed men who identify themselves as women to use public womens restrooms,

showers, and locker rooms. Opponents gathered almost three times the amount of signatures that

were needed to block the bill from making it on the ballot. Some opponents filed a lawsuit

against the city attorneys. The city of Houston then subpoenaed five pastors in the area for their

sermons, speeches, and all communications, regarding same sex marriage, gender identity, or

Mayor Annise Parker (Houstons first openly gay mayor). The subpoenas were issued in

response to some churches actively discussing the non-discrimination ordinance with their

congregation. The churches saw this bill as a threat to vulnerable women and children. The

pastors stated the facts of the Bathroom Bill and told their respective congregations their stances

on the matter. Fox News goes on to write that the executive director of the Texas Pastor Council,

Rev. Dave Welch was among those subpoenaed. Were not afraid of this bully, he said, Were

not intimidated at all. Fox News continued to write that Rev. Welch accused the city of violating

the law and he promised to stand firm in his faith. The article states that the mayor and city

council wanted to publicly humiliate the citys pastors for being biased against the LGBT
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community. The mayor and city council had no comment on the reasons why the pastors were

subpoenaed. Some questioned whether Mayor Parkers motives were to persuade religious

communities into accepting her personal beliefs. In his article Fueling the Terrorists Fire with

the First Amendment, Kyle C. Velte notes, the United States espouses that authentic

religious pluralism is essential for a true democracy governed by the rule of law. Houston

voters showed this by a majority voting no to the Bathroom Bill a majority made up of

various religious backgrounds. Despite Houston City Councils attempt to defame some spiritual

communities, the First Amendment protected religious rights.

Anyone has the right to assemble peaceably and/or petition the government. The people

of the U.S have a right to protest peacefully. Recently, some of the NFL players and staff

kneeled during the National Anthem in protest of police brutality. Not all of America saw it as

that; some saw it as disrespectful to the American flag and military troops. The protests did not

become prominent until President Trump tweeted that the owners of NFL teams should have

their players stand during the National Anthem; and if they do not, the players should be fired or

suspended. People have a right to peacefully protest whether society agrees with it or not. Some

people would think that since some NFL teams are private businesses, the owners should have

the right to either allow or ban protesting by its staff. The other teams that are publicly owned by

share holders, may not have a say in banning public protests. It is stated in the article, Fueling

the Terrorist Fires with the First Amendment, that President Obama stated: I believe that

peace is unstable where citizens are denied the right to speak freely or worship as they please;

choose their own leaders or assemble without fear. (Velte 1110) The First Amendment protects

those rights.
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Americans may not always agree on issues, but one thing they do agree on is the First

Amendment. The rights given to United States citizens under the Constitution are non-

negotiable. The government does not have the authority to prohibit the expression of personal

thoughts, religious beliefs, and peaceable assembly. Americans need to learn to respect that not

everyone has the same views. People are raised differently, have various religious backgrounds,

and have different experiences based on their culture. Each of these shape a persons belief

system. If Americans continue to blame each other instead of trying to respect and understand

one another, America will continue to be divided.


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Works Cited

City of Houston demands pastors turn over sermons. Fox News, FOX News Network,

www.foxnews.com/opinion/2014/10/14/city-houston-demands-pastors-turn-over-sermon

s.html. Accessed 17 Oct 2017

O'Neil, Patrick M. "Hate Speech." Encyclopedia of American Studies, edited by Simon Bronner,

Johns Hopkins University Press, 1st edition, 2016. Credo Reference, http://search.cre

doreference.com/content/entry/jhueas/hate_speech/0. Accessed 09 Oct 2017.

Tingley, Edward. "The Freedom of Divided People: Not "Rights to Religious Life or Expression"

(Or any of the Formulations It Will Prove so Easy to Resist) but the Most Basic Rights in

the Constitution." Issues in Law & Medicine, vol. 31, no. 2, Fall2016, pp. 171-180.

EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?

direct=true&db=lgh&AN=119547634&site=ehost-live. Accessed 09 Oct 2017.

Velte, Kyle C. "Fueling the Terrorist Fires with the First Amendment." Brooklyn Law Review,

vol. 82, no. 3, Spring2017, pp. 1109-1176. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.as

px?direct=true&db=lgh&AN=124362056&site=ehost-live. Accessed 17 Oct 2017.