PERSPECTIVE: First Amendment Day is a reminder we get to have a say

First Five by the Freedom Forum Institute

Sep 16, 2021

Freedom Forum

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Sept. 17 is Constitution Day and Sept. 25 is First Amendment Day.

Constitution Day marks the date in 1787 that delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the document they had spent months negotiating. Now, it celebrates the unique system of checks and balances the framers established as our form of government.

On Sept. 25 just two years later, Congress approved 12 amendments — including the 10 that became the Bill of Rights and its First Amendment. The five freedoms we celebrate on First Amendment Day protect the fundamental ways we participate in society and in democracy:

  • Praying and worship — or not — in accordance with our own beliefs;
  • Speaking our minds, even — and especially — when we disagree;
  • Publishing news, opinions, ideas and information, including to hold those in power accountable; 
  • Gathering peacefully together to amplify our voices; 
  • Bringing problems to government representatives and suggesting solutions.

The First Amendment’s freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition are part of our everyday lives. But it’s not every day we stop to think about how or why.

When we do, many Americans have questions and concerns about how these freedoms work in practice. 

We may be afraid to speak our minds in a divisive and sometimes punishing social media world. 

We may not know how forcefully we can raise our voices, or when we’ve gone too far

We may be unsure of the way forward when our deepest held beliefs conflict with or diverge from those of others in our communities.

As Americans, we have passionate — and different — views about challenges like those our society is facing. There aren’t easy answers.

Constitution Day reminds us that democracy is about figuring out, through our system of checks and balances, how to coexist when we aren’t all the same and don’t all agree.

First Amendment Day is a reminder that democracy is a participatory process. We get to have a say.

It took time to codify these founding principles. In fact, it took two more years after they were sent to the states for the 10 amendments we now know as the Bill of Rights to be ratified on Dec. 15, 1791.

The authors of the Constitution and Bill of Rights established and modeled a process for being part of something bigger than themselves, despite their deep differences. 

They also recognized the importance of having a lasting reminder of the values that guided their work to form a new union: the First Amendment.

Today, if we take the time to understand and defend these essential freedoms, they can continue to guide us in our nation’s ongoing work of becoming a “more perfect union” for us all.

That’s just what you’re doing when you speak up, write down or shout out what you believe, on Sept. 17, Constitution Day, the 25th, First Amendment Day, or any day.

Karen Hansen is the Freedom Forum's content managing editor. You can reach Karen at