“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.”
The final right protected by the First Amendment is the freedom to petition the government. The Founding Fathers believed it was necessary for people to have the right to make requests of the government directly.
Freedom to Petition
This section in the First Amendment is also known as the Petition Clause. This clause protects Americans’ right to make requests of government bodies or state officials using any legal methods available. This includes collecting signatures, writing letters and emails, giving testimony, filing lawsuits, peaceful protests, and others.
The concept of petitioning the government originated in England in 1215. It was written in the Magna Carta, which was drafted by the people to limit the powers of the king and his government. It allowed the people to make requests of the king through his 25 barons. The right to petition was later adopted in the English Declaration of Rights in 1689, a document that listed the wrongs committed by King James II, and all the rights of common citizens. This declaration was designed to allow the citizenry to address the government without fear of imprisonment.
Why Do We Need this Right?
Not only does the Petition Clause allow citizens to speak against injustice and wrongdoing, it also gives them the power to affect change. Americans have used this right to push the government in the direction they wanted. The Women’s Suffrage movement involved female activists lobbying the state for the right to vote in elections. During the Civil Rights movement, people of all races called on the government to strike down the Jim Crow laws that turned black Americans into second-class citizens.
Americans have the right to call on their representatives, senators, and any other elected leader in the country. The Petition Clause reminds us that the government’s role is to serve the people, not the other way around.