In Context

Though the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and press, things can become complicated when national security is threatened.

The Bill of Rights is comprised of 10 amendments that protect Americans from government interference, but even today, arguments about the meaning of and protections offered by the First Amendment are the subject of much controversy.

The First Amendment says, "Congress 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."

First Amendment rights get complicated when one party's right interferes with another's, or when exercise of a right such as freedom of speech or of the press might threaten another party's safety or well-being. In the Pentagon Papers case, the government argued that publication of the classified documents threatened national security.

Several historical cases have challenged the balance between First Amendment rights and the security of the nation, including cases related to the promotion of Communism, the restriction of rights of government employees, interference with war efforts and the admission or exclusion of certain non-U.S. citizens.

» First Amendment Center. "About the First Amendment."

» Cornell University Law School. "CRS Annotated Constitution."