By Jackie Kinney
The U.S. Constitution outlines the powers and duties of the three branches of the federal government and its relationship with the states. This republican form of government allows me to enjoy the special privileges of living in California plus all that is guaranteed from being part of the United States of America.
But when I think about how the U.S. Constitution affects my daily life, I start with the Bill of Rights rather than the structure of government, and I usually do not get beyond the First Amendment.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the rights to freedom of speech and of the press, to peaceably assemble and to petition the government for redress of grievances. These guarantees affect me every day and empower me as a citizen seeking to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Because of the First Amendment, I can speak freely, voice my opinion about issues large and small, and not fear censorship or punishment from government officials who may not like what I say. The free press guarantee enables me to read and learn about events near and far, including news of when oppressive governments around the world shut down the Internet and wireless networks to silence public protest, which makes me appreciate out U.S. Constitution even more.
When I think about other constitutional rights, I find their meaning through the First Amendment. It is the First Amendment that allows me to join a campaign to restrict assault weapons that are linked to gang violence, or to align myself with hunters who object to gun laws.
It is the First Amendment that allows me to express outrage at the National Security Agency’s Surveillance of my phone calls and emails, or to stand up in defense of any government search of private communications that might prevent a terrorist attack.
Because of the First Amendment, I can complain if I am stopped by a police officer solely because of my race, or coerced to confess to a crime I did not commit, or not allowed to call a lawyer after an arrest.
The First Amendment guarantees that a newspaper, or social media, can inform the public if I am tried for a crime in a closed courtroom or without a jury or a defense lawyer, or subjected to cruel treatment in prison.
By exercising free speech rights to debate the issues of the day, I may learn that others also have been subject to discrimination or denied equal opportunity because of gender, race, religious beliefs or sexual orientation, and that together we can do something about it.
Some say that the First Amendment is in a “preferred position,” that it is first among the Bill of Rights for a reason, and I agree. The First Amendment guarantees my right to speak up, to complain to my government about my government, and to use the media to inform others about violations of any of my rights, which might then lead to a peaceful public protest and proposals for change.
For me, the First Amendment gives life to the entire U.S. Constitution.
— Jackie Kinney of Davis is the winner of the adult division of the Davis Constitution Day essay contest.