The 45 words of the 1st Amendment to the Constitution of the United States are the essence of the strength of the United States.Â Â I say this because the rights contained there allow us to build our country by a tempering process analogous to turning iron into steel by pounding the impurities out of the iron.
Whenever any of our thousands of religious, ethnic, national, social, political and many other interest groups comes up with a bad idea, these Freedoms allow the other groups to beat it out of the system by vigorous debate.Â Whenever a good idea comes from any group, we all adopt it quickly, which often assures that such ideas will be adopted around the world.
Our tempering process often takes time! Â We are still living with the consequences of slavery, a bad idea introduced in North America from the founding of the American Colonies and abolished nearly 150 years ago.Â Â Â Starbucks is a good idea adopted the world over.
There are five 1st Amendment rights.Â We Americans believe these are the most fundamental civil rights applying to all human beings.Â Our friends in the Egyptian Revolution 2.0 would do well to insist that above all other provisions, these rights be honored and included in the bedrock of their new national Constitution.Â Here is the text of the 1st Amendmentâ€”what I call our 45 sacred words:
â€œCongress 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.â€
We are proud of our accomplishments as a nation, many of which would have been impossible without our Bill of Rights.Â But we need to remember that 1st Amendment history tells us that these words have come to us only through centuries of struggle, that never ends.Â Today we think we have a clear idea of the meaning of these words, but it has not always been so.Â We have fought and continued to fight over their meaning down to the present dayâ€”albeit our fights have been in the U.S. Supreme Court, which only decides matters of Constitutionality.
Benjamin Franklin, one of the archetypal leaders of the American Revolution and the wise old man among our Founding Fathers, is said to have commented â€œto a French correspondent in 1788 that the formation of the new government had been like a game of dice, with many players of diverse prejudices and interests unable to make any uncontested moves.â€
In these difficult political maneuvers, the Federalists, who were promoting our national government over the powers of individual sovereign states, could only win ratification of the Constitution of the United States itself with a promise that they would support the adoption of a â€œBill of Rightsâ€ protecting the rights of individual citizens.
Our rights were embodied in the 1st 10 Amendments of the Constitution.Â Though rights had been discussed from the beginning of the American experience, and debated in the earliest sessions of our Congress, we continue to mold their meaning to this very day.Â They were submitted to the states for ratification on September 25, 1789, only 5 months after George Washington took office.Â Despite the insistence that they be adopted, the vigorous debate meant our Bill of Rights was not finally ratified until December 15, 1791.
James Madison, another Founding Father, writing at the end of his life in a letter never sent, declared that no government can be perfect, and “that which is the least imperfect is therefore the best government.”
We wish our Egyptian friends the best in the development of their new Constitution.Â As a nation, we know how difficult the task is.Â It is rare, today, to suggest further amendments to our fundamental document.Â We could not even pass an â€œEqual Rights Amendmentâ€ (ERA) guaranteeing equal rights to women, who represent over 50% of our voting population.Â While we continue to try to pass the ERA, the ratification of the most recent version to be approved in Congress died without ratification in 1979.
Every year our Supreme Court decides about 7,500 cases, all of which turn on the meaning of the U.S. Constitution.Â The Court only hears 75-85 of these cases, with its decision not to hear the others amounting to a decision to support the next lower courtâ€™s decisions.Â As a result of the political difficulties of amending our Constitution after the fact, we rely on those 7,500 U.S. Supreme Court cases per year to continue to mold and tailor its meaning to our modern needs.
The United States Congress, our legislative branch of government, passes laws of various flavors, depending upon the political winds that blow hot and cold from one election season to the next.Â Congress often tries to bend the basic meaning of the U.S. Constitution to its own political will.Â This is another form of molding of our Constitution, which sometimes wins and sometimes loses when new legislation is tested before our Supreme Court.Â Given the necessity of developing a Constitution that does not weigh down the nation it represents, it is essential to build a document with such mechanisms for pliability.
These are our fundamental Freedoms:Â 1) religion; 2) speech; 3) press; 4) assembly; and 5) petition government for a redress of our grievances.Â The people of Egypt, Muslims and Christians alike, stood up for and demanded these rights during their Revolution 2.0 of January and February 2011.Â We Americans urge Egyptians to demand these rights be embodied in the very basis and essence of their new Constitution.
Skip Conover is an International Executive, Author, and Artist.Â He has written a novel, a published current affairs book, and a published journal.Â Â Â He turned his long time interest in Jungian Archetype into the Archetype in Actionâ„¢ Organization.