Next Sunday marks the 200th anniversary of the ratification of the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution. These guarantees of individual rights were deemed a necessary promise in 1789 when states were debating whether to ratify the Constitution itself. Upon ratification of the Constitution, the first Congress promptly wrote 12 amendments and sent them to the states. The first two amendments, dealing with apportionment of House seats and congressional salaries, were rejected. The others were adopted on Dec. 15, 1791, 810 days after submission, and became the familiar Bill of Rights. We will comment on these daily here over the next week.
We start with the First, of course, and not because it is so important to journalism. The need for protection of a free press from government control is so obvious -- and has been discussed in these columns so many times -- that today we will note only the other great protections of the amendment. The First forbids laws giving any religion government sanction and forbids prohibitions of the free exercise of all religious beliefs. It also forbids abridging freedom of speech, the right of people to assemble "peaceably" and to petition government for a redress of grievances .