The First Amendment, Annotated

Congress

"Congress" is defined in Article I, Section I of the Constitution as consisting of "a Senate and House of Representatives." Note that the word is "Congress," not "Government" or "States," nor the Executive or Judicial Branches, which have no lawmaking authority.

Shall

Not "should"- there is no option here.

Make

Create.

No

The word here is "no", not "some." The word "no" means "not at all" or "not even one". For example, if a baseball player says "I had no hits last night", this means that he had not even one hit last night - 0 hits.

Law . . .

A "law" is a writing by a Constitutionally-authorized legislative body (whether Federal, State, or municipal) that describes a) conduct to be forbidden or mandated (as precisely as possible), and b) the penalty or reward for engaging in the conduct to be enforced by a Constitutionally-authorized Executive branch (with monitoring by a Constitutionally-authorized Judicial branch). Sometimes the "law" is called by a different name, such as a "statute", "rule", "regulation", "code", or "ordinance". At the Federal level, the procedure for making a law is defined by the Constitution, and the output of the legislative process is specifically referred to as a "law". If a bill has not been signed "into law" by the President, it is not a "law", and therefore has no legal force. Since Congress is not empowered to legislate in certain areas by the Constitution, "laws" in these areas signed by the President are not laws in fact.

Abridging the

"Abridging" means to diminish or limit. The word "abridging" is not preceded by "significantly" or "unreasonably", indicating that any abridgement is forbidden, no matter how slight or reasonable.

Freedom of

"Freedom" is the power (combined with the right) of a person to engage in a particular form of conduct.

Speech

See press below.

Or of the

Not "and".

Press . . .

The forms of conduct protected by the First Amendment. These terms are not defined in the Constitution, and are, unlike the previous terms, susceptible to interpretation due to their ambiguous content. If these terms are interpreted too narrowly, the Amendment would basically be useless: for example, Congress could pass a law allowing you to speak and publish materials on a printing press, with you in a sealed room and no contact with the outside world. Luckily, there is a broad societal consensus that these words should be seen broadly. The commonly accepted meaning of the terms today is communication of information via any media, whether book, comic book, newspaper, radio, television, CB radio, walkie talkie, braille, sign language, passing out leaflets, or just talking. "Speech" information may be seen as that information which is received through the sense of hearing, and "press" information may be seen as that information which is received through the sense of sight or touch (as in Braille).


At least, that's what it's supposed to mean . . .