Ronald K.L. Collins
University of Washington,
School of Law
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.
—The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution
Welcome to FIRE’s First Amendment Library, the first and only one of its kind in the nation.
The basic idea underlying the library is to enhance the public’s understanding of the 45 words set out above and to do so in impartial, historical, analytical, practical, and accessible ways.
More specifically, the purpose of the library is to provide practitioners and professors, lawmakers and executive officials, judges and journalists, and students of all kinds core information about the First Amendment and its five freedoms (religion, speech, press, assembly and petition). To that end, the library will contain, among other things, the following:
- An ever-expanding database of Supreme Court cases dealing with First Amendment issues. Currently, this database contains over 900 cases, and new cases from each term will be added as they occur.
- A collection of historical and jurisprudential documents, academic articles, and law review articles about the First Amendment and related issues.
- Break-out pages for each broad category of the five freedoms protected under the First Amendment that highlight influential Supreme Court decisions, historical and jurisprudential documents, and other materials that inform and educate readers about the topic.
- Interactive timelines highlighting landmark events in the history of free speech and First Amendment rights.
- Educational resources for use in primary through secondary education, including the development of a First Amendment encyclopedia aimed at the layperson.
Our hope is that the library will generate more interest in and respect for the First Amendment. In that regard, the library is an evolving resource, replete with updates and expansions. The initial launch is a modest sample of will come in the months and years to come—numerous new categories and sub-categories will be added.
In what follows, the reader can, among other things, learn something about the history leading up to and following the adoption of the First Amendment. Beyond the Supreme Court’s opinions concerning that guarantee, there is also the story of the lawyers who argued the cases and the clients they represented. All of that and more are but a click away.
Self-government, it must be remembered, depends on self-knowledge, on our ability to understand the latitude and limits of our freedoms. That is, the success of our collective experiment in freedom is linked to our knowledge of that freedom and how we use it. In that respect, the First Amendment is one of the cornerstones of constitutional government in America, and for good reason. Take away those five freedoms and everything else implodes—if only because they are vital to our form of government.
So take heed. Read. Learn. Think. Judge . . . and then share it all with your fellow citizens, both in conversation and practice. Freedom, after all, is what we make it.
This library has been some two decades in the making. Thanks to the generous efforts of Paul McMasters (a stalwart defender of robust liberty) the library first appeared years ago on the Newseum’s First Amendment Center website. Ken Paulson, David L. Hudson, Jr., Sam Chaltain, Brian Buchanan, and Gene Policinski all helped with the library in those years.
The online library would have been lost to time had it not been for the encouragement, insight, and can-do support of FIRE’s president Greg Lukianoff and the generous support of the Stanton Foundation. Additionally, Jackie Farmer and Robert Shibley gave much of their time and attention to breathing new and expanded life into the library.
I would be remiss if I did not thank those on our Advisory Board for all of their help and support, both past and to come.
Finally, thanks go out to my Dean, Kellye Testy of the University of Washington School of Law. Like Greg, Kellye is a let’s-make-it-happen kind of person—the very kind of person that gives life to my life’s dreams.
The First Amendment Library Board of Advisors