What is Freedom?

Freedom is the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint, and the absence of a despotic government.

Here are the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution: “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.”

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American flag flying high.
Credit: © Rael Daruszka |

Freedom of the press prohibits the government from interfering with the printing and distribution of information or opinions. It can be limited by libel and copyright laws, and it doesn’t include the act of news gathering.

Freedom of assembly, sometimes used interchangeably with the freedom of association, is the individual right to come together and collectively express, promote, pursue and defend common interests. The right to freedom of association is recognized as a human right, a political freedom and a civil liberty. This freedom can be limited by laws that protect public safety.

Freedom of expression includes freedom of speech, of the press, of association, of assembly and petition. This freedom doesn’t extend to expression that defames, causes panic, creates fighting words, incites people to crime, creates sedition, or is obscene.

Freedom of speech is the right of people to express their opinions publicly without governmental interference. The right doesn’t extend to hate speech, advertising, child pornography, and a few other instances.  

Freedom of religion is the freedom of an individual or community, in public or private, to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance. This right extends to any religious belief, but not in the practice of all religious activities (for example, ones that involve breaking other laws).


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Katherine Harmon Courage

Katherine Harmon

Katherine Harmon Courage is an award-winning freelance journalist and contributing editor for Scientific American. She has written for The New York Times, Wired, Gourmet, Popular Science, Prevention, and others, covering everything from breaking science news to features about food. She is the author of the book Octopus! The Most Mysterious Creature In the Sea, and her work was featured in The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2013. She graduated from Vassar College with an honor's degree in English and earned a master's degree from the University of Missouri's School of Journalism. She lives in Colorado, where she also competes in marathons and triathlons. Follow her on Twitter @KHCourage, and read more on her website
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