“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.”
Freedom of assembly typically does not get as much attention as the other rights protected by the First Amendment, but it is just as important for guaranteeing the freedom of the people.
The ability to come together with like-minded people to advocate for important causes is one of the bedrocks of the American political process. Peaceful protest and public discussion are essential in a free society, which is why the Founders believed it necessary to protect this particular liberty.
Freedom to Assemble
The First Amendment prevents the government from interfering with “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” This ensures that Americans cannot use the power of the state to suppress groups whose views they find offensive.
Americans enjoy the ability to use their collective voices to sway public opinion on certain matters. It also allows them to vocally protest the conduct of the government if officials are not living up to their mandates. Many different movements have shaped American politics and culture; this is usually achieved through groups of people assembling to promote a particular message. Black Americans in the Civil Rights era often assembled to stage protests against Jim Crow laws, which enforced racial segregation. Antiwar protesters have formed groups to express their opposition to various military conflicts. Gathering in this way is a commonplace occurrence among in the United States.
The founders included freedom of assembly in the Bill of Rights because, under British rule, people were not generally allowed to gather for political causes. This was because King George III did not want to allow public demonstrations against his rule.
Assembly in America
The right to freedom of assembly also puts Americans in the awkward position of having to defend certain groups whose views are not mainstream. Indeed, this right enables even groups with publically condemned or controversial views to voice their opinions in public. Groups like the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis use this right to hold demonstrations in which they express their racist opinions. Despite the less desirable aspects of assembly in the United States, the freedom to assemble remains one of the most important liberties we have.
The First Amendment’s protections do not mean that governments cannot place regulations on assembly. The state cannot prohibit a public assembly simply because it wishes to prevent it, but it can put limitations on the time and location of an event. The Supreme Court held that restrictions could be placed as long as they “are justified without reference to the content of the regulated speech … are narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest, and … leave open ample alternative channels for communication of the information.”
Most cities require demonstrators to obtain permits before holding protests, rallies, or other such events. In most cases, permits must be obtained in advance. Getting the permit may require information such as the date, time, and nature of the demonstration.
The freedom to assemble is one of the most-used rights in America. It allows us to involve ourselves in causes that are important to us. Like King George, many governments today do not allow their citizens to organize protests and other such demonstrations. In some cases, nations use violence to stop even peaceful assemblies. This is yet another reason Americans should be grateful for the freedoms protected by our Bill of Rights.