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First Amendment

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Emily Costa
February 23, 2018

“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.”

Our First Amendment is the most known and perhaps most recited. It is used frequently as a platform for individuals to express their identity. The founders themselves repeat the word “people” many times throughout the Constitution, as well as throughout the Amendments. Most notably, on a day in March of 1789, they wrote the precursor, “in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution,” and thus the Amendments were written. The word “people” may not be present, but it is there. The people are the overseers of the institution and the Amendments are theirs, to protect against oppression.

If our goal as Americans is to follow and abide by this document, then analyzing the word choice of the founders is important. The Constitution was written as a code, like Hammurabi’s, as something to live by.  The goal was to organize society, empower the individual and avoid the pitfalls of the monarchial system. The First Amendment not only gives us a clear future context, but it also tells us where the founders came from, when they wrote it. As new Americans in 1789, they had just witnessed an oppressive regime usurp their freedoms. The British restricted their speech, newspapers and right to protest as a method of control. In comparison with the words of the First Amendments, the protections aim to guarantee this could never happen again.

As of late, it has occurred to me that there are new oppressors who mean to take control of us. While the First Amendment was written for the individual, corporations and marketing experts have usurped our right and manipulated us, usually to turn a quick profit.

When you live with someone who suffers from addiction, there is always a third in your living space. The third may be hidden, in a jacket, a back cabinet or a closet. but they are always there. I used to be married. Now, for years I have not been married. When we met, I was twenty and he was thirty. He had a lot of back pain and was given a lot of Oxycontin. The disease that is opioid addition was something I knew nothing about in 2009. I didn’t understand the moodiness and depression. I didn’t know why his eyes went so glossy or why he always needed to meet a friend. I also didn’t know that detoxing would be so painful. Or that it would take weeks of sweating, vomiting and sleepless nights. For years I lived in paranoia. Is he high? Is he going to get high? Is he clean? Part of our relationship was me learning about addiction for myself. I found out what to ask and what not to ask. There were many fights, and many lies. Although we cared for each other, our paths were ultimately meant to go different ways.

Although personal, this is one very costly example of those usurping our right to speak freely and using it as their own. The Opioid Crisis, as it is now called, was started methodically. There were great droves of pharmaceutical representatives visiting doctor’s offices all around the country in the early 2000’s. As they made their rounds promoting opioids many doctors asked, are these additive? Will my patients become dependent? They were trained to say no. They were trained to downplay the addictiveness and the similarities of these drugs to heroin.

We, the individual, are supposed to have our Amendments as protections. They should not be a marketing tool used to threaten and rob us of our lives. Why should corporations be able speak freely, when they know their words are lies?

Time has gone on now, but as the years go by, I look back on my ex-husband’s addiction. It spanned longer than our relationship and usurped a piece of him and his own life. It changed me as well. I don’t trust doctors when they say a medication is safe because I’m not sure who told them. My relationship now is much healthier, but my own additions are hard to break. I have to consciously try not to check pockets or read pill bottles. I must try to trust again. As a new America in 1789, that’s what the founders were doing. They were trying to trust the words they put on paper would protect individuals for generations to come. One read of our precious document reveals many truths. Some may try to avoid them however, so they can manipulate us and use us. Let us be very clear though, the purpose was not to protect oppressors but to empower ordinary people.


Author: Emily Costa is a Master’s in Public Administration Candidate at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island. While pursuing an Undergraduate Degree from Rhode Island College in History, she became highly concerned with issues of social inequity and their intersection with Public Policy. [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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