The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America is part of the Bill of Rights, a document that enumerates freedoms given to all Americans. The amendment was ratified Dec. 15, 1791, and it guarantees the rights of citizens to worship, peaceably assemble and address grievances to the federal government.
The Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment, became law when Virginia ratified the first 10 amendments four years after the U.S. Constitution was ratified. Virginia's approval marked the three-fourths majority needed to approve amendments.
The First Amendment includes the establishment, free exercise, free speech, free press, assembly and petition clauses. Among other concepts, the amendment prohibits government censorship of the media, protects parodies of original works and forbids government-sponsored religion.
James Madison composed the 45-word First Amendment. To honor that distinction, National Freedom of Information Day is celebrated every year on Madison's birthday which is March 16.
The First Amendment did not apply to states' governments until after the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified after the Civil War. The First Amendment applies to federal, state and local governments including all branches of government.
Lawsuits regarding First Amendment rights to freedom of expression have involved rap music, nude dancing, flag burning, tobacco advertising, pornography, hate speech and funeral protests. Despite its vulgar nature, citizens may own obscene material in the privacy of their own home under First Amendment protections.