Hayek on the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution

I believe that the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution is wonderful. The first of the 10 amendments (which together are known as the Bill of Rights) the full text reads–

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.[1]

I find the phrasing simply beautiful — concise and to the point. In a discussion with James Buchanan in 1978, Friedrich Hayek said–

I think the phrase ought to read, “Congress should make no law authorizing government to take any discriminatory measures of coercion.”  I think this would make all the other rights unnecessary and create the sort of conditions which I want to see.

That’s brilliantly put. The government must be even-handed. It must be prohibited from discriminating among citizens. That is missing in India. The lack of that prohibition is the root cause of practically all of India’s ills.

NOTES:

[1] For a good introduction to the 1st Amendment, see Cornell Law School’s explanation, the overview of which I quote below:

First Amendment: An Overview
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression from government interference. It prohibits any laws that establish a national religion, impede the free exercise of religion, abridge the freedom of speech, infringe upon the freedom of the press, interfere with the right to peaceably assemble, or prohibit citizens from petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances. It was adopted into the Bill of Rights in 1791. The Supreme Court interprets the extent of the protection afforded to these rights. The First Amendment has been interpreted by the Court as applying to the entire federal government even though it is only expressly applicable to Congress. Furthermore, the Court has interpreted the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as protecting the rights in the First Amendment from interference by state governments.

 

Author: Atanu Dey

Economist.

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