The pulpit and the printing press : historical sources and current interpretations of the First Amendment
Lund, Susan Nelson
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The First Amendment to the United States Constitution is both fundamental to the unique American personality and of endless fascination to scholars. However, most scholarly examinations of the First Amendment are incomplete, for their authors choose to examine either the free speech and press clauses or the religion clauses, and fail to consider the interrelationship between these fundamental freedoms. This study examines the historical sources of the American concepts of freedom of belief and freedom of expression, traces the development of these freedoms in colonial and early American history, and considers the diverse body of Supreme Court cases in the twentieth century that were or could have been argued on either free speech or free exercise grounds. The evidence suggests that free exercise of religion, that is, freedom of belief, is the fundamental freedom from which other First Amendment freedoms have grown, and that free exercise claims have frequently won concessions from the high court which are not granted to non-religious petitioners. Although the current court may be seen as less sympathetic to certain free exercise claims, and although the speech clause as currently interpreted is so strong as to stand unaided most of the time, the historical pattern and theoretical importance of religious liberty suggests that this seminal liberty is an important precursor of general First Amendment rights.