John Vile is a professor of political science and the dean of the University Honors College at Middle Tennessee State University. Vile is a scholar of the U.S. constitutional amending process and a prolific author, writing numerous books, essays, chapters and reviews on the constitution and related topics. He was one of the three original editors for the two-volume Encyclopedia of The First Amendment, published in 2009 and which is now part of The First Amendment Encyclopedia website at MTSU.

Vile is a graduate of the College of William and Mary and earned his doctorate in government from the University of Virginia. He has served as chair of the Department of Social Sciences at McNeese State University and chair of the Department of Political Science at MTSU before becoming dean in the Honors College.

Among his books:

  • “The Drama of Presidential Inaugurations and Inaugural Addresses from Washington through to Biden” (2023)
  • “Prayer in Public Life” (2022)
  • “America’s National Anthem: ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ in U.S. History, Culture, and Law” (2021)
  • “The Liberty Bell and Its Legacy: An Encyclopedia of an American Icon in U.S. History and Culture” (2020)
  • “Great American Lawyers: An Encyclopedia” (2020)
  • “The Declaration of Independence: America’s First Founding Document in U.S. History and Culture” (2018)
  • “American Immigration and Citizenship: A Documentary History” (2016)
  • “The Jacksonian and Antebellum Eras: Documents Decoded” (2016)
  • “Encyclopedia of Constitutional Amendments, Proposed Amendments, and Amending Issues, 1789-2015, 4th edition” two volumes. (2015)
  • “Encyclopedia of the Fourth Amendment” (2012)
  • “Proposed Amendments to the U.S. Constitution 1787-2001, Vol. IV Supplement 2001-2010.” (2011)
  • “Essential Supreme Court Decisions: Summaries of Leading Cases in U.S. Constitutional Law” (2010)
  • “James Madison: Philosopher, Founder, and Statesman” (2008) (editor)
  • “A Companion to the United States Constitution and its Amendments (4th Edition)” (2006) (editor)
  • “Great American Lawyers: An Encyclopedia” two volumes, (2001)
  • “Constitutional Change in the United States: A Comparative Study of the Role of Constitutional Amendments, Judicial Interpretations, and Legislative and Executive Actions” (1994)
  • “The Theory and Practice of Constitutional Change in America: A Collection of Original Source Materials” (1994) (editor)
  • “Rewriting the United States Constitution: An Examination of Proposals from Reconstruction to Present” (1991)

More Articles from this Author


Aitken Bible

The Aitken Bible, which was adopted in 2024 as one of Tennessee's 10 official state books, is associated with a challenge to the idea of separation of church and state.The Aitken Bible, a King James Version, was printed in 1792 by Robert Aitken when the Revolutionary War had disrupted the import of Bibles used in the colonies. Aitken unsuccessfully sought Congress to to help fund the printing.

Drummond v. Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board (Okla. Supreme Court) (2024)

The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that the state constitution barring funding of religious entities bars the state from allowing a Catholic school to become a state charter school. The ruling in the case, Drummond v. Oklahoma Virtual Charter School Board, also explored how the action would violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

Murthy v. Missouri (2024)

The Supreme Court in Murthy v. Missouri dismissed claims that the federal government likely violated the First Amendment by pressuring social media companies to censor content. The Court concluded the lower courts had erred in extending standing to the parties who had not established an adequate case or injury.

Preferred Pronouns

Whether a government school or office can force employees to use a person's preferred gender pronouns has not reached the Supreme Court. Lower courts have been muddled on the issue, with some recognizing religious rights of employees, such as teachers, who have refused to use a student's preferred pronouns.

Gonzalez v. Trevino (2024)

One way of suppressing speech is to arrest individuals who have expressed unpopular views. In Gonzalez v. Trevino, the Supreme Court remanded a case to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to see whether this had happened when a city councilwoman was arrested for having a petition in her folder for the removal of the mayor.

Flying Flag Upside Down

Flags are important symbols and can evoke strong emotions depending on the context.  Flying a U.S. flag upside down as a form of protest has existed for at least 50 years.  Legal precedents related to flag display   Although flags representing nations are probably the most common, flags may also symbolize other causes. For example, […]

Baumgartner v. United States

One case that is sometimes overlooked in discussions of the First Amendment is that of Baumgartner v. United States. The primary issue at stake had to do with whether a naturalized citizen who lived in Kansas City, Missouri, could lose his citizenship for falsely renouncing allegiance to Germany upon naturalization.      Part of the […]

Robertson v. Baldwin

Today it is taken for granted that the U.S. Supreme Court will apply the guarantees of the First Amendment and other provisions within the federal Bill of Rights to the states via the due process clause of the 14th Amendment (1868), but this development did not occur until the 20th century.     Moreover, even […]

Sparhawk v. Union Passenger Railway Co. (Penn. S.C. 1867)

Before the adoption of the 14th Amendment in 1868, courts made decisions regarding matters related to the First Amendment and other amendments within the federal bill of rights based on their own laws and constitutions. One notable case involved trains running through Philadelphia on Sundays, where plaintiffs sought to enjoin them from doing so, citing violation of local laws about noise nuisances.

In re. Frazer (Mich. S.C., 1886)

Although it is common to associate worship with churches, religious experiences often spill out of such establishments into the public square. Revival meetings that led to the Great Awakenings and that stirred revivals on the American frontier were often raucous affairs, the latter often held out of doors, and sometimes featuring simultaneous speakers. Even today, […]

Harrison v. St. Mark’s Church (1877)

Although Philadelphia is the home of the Liberty Bell and served as the site of sometimes raucous celebrations of the U.S. centennial in 1876, it also became a site for disputes over the degree to which a city could regulate the ringing of church bells. Early uses of bells In early America, at a time […]

Firing of Jehovah’s Witnesses for Failure to Support WWII Participation

In part because of the efforts of Hayden Covington, one of its former attorneys, Jehovah’s Witnesses were one of the one of the most effective litigators of First Amendment issues in the 20th century.     Their aggressive door-to-door witnessing often brought them into conflict with local licensing and permit laws. Their pacifism, and their […]

William Bollan

William Bollan, a British-educated lawyer, spent much of his adult life serving as Massachusetts agent to London. He had arrived in Massachusetts in about 1740. He married the daughter of its governor and later became the colony’s advocate-general. Bollan was often caught up in controversy as the relationship between Massachusetts and Britain deteriorated as the […]

Compulsory Voting

Although the United States has prohibited denying the vote to African Americans (15th Amendment, 1870), women (19th Amendment, 1920), and individuals who are 18 years or older (26th Amendment, 1971), commentators often decry low voting participation rates, particularly in nonpresidential election years. One proposal that has surfaced from time to time is that of compulsory […]

Melville Fuller

Melville Fuller served as the eighth chief justice of the Supreme Court. The Fuller Court is best known for upholding rights of big businesses, but it did consider cases that involved the First Amendment, including upholding a law restricting the U.S. mail from carrying certain advertisements and a citation against a Colorado newspaper publisher who had criticized a decision by the state's Supreme Court. (Portrait of Fuller, public domain)

Edward Douglass White

Edward Douglass White (1845-1921), the ninth chief justice for the Supreme Court, was born in Louisiana where his father had served as a state governor. His father died when White was only three years old.      White became a lawyer, fought during the Civil War for the Confederacy, and was captured by Union forces. […]

Salmon Chase

As the sixth chief justice of the United States, Salmon Chase sought for an interpretation to apply the Bill of Rights protections, including First Amendment protections, against actions by states.

Roger B. Taney

Roger B. Taney, the fifth chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, is most known for the Dred Scott decision. In that ruling, Taney wrote that slaves were not citizens under the U.S. Constitution and the egalitarian language of the Declaration of Independence did not include Black people. Taney served 28 years on the court and died while the Civil War was ongoing.

Morrison Waite

Morrison Waite, the seventh chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, participated in several cases in the late 19th century interpreting the First Amendment, including a landmark case in which Waite authored the opinion upholding a law prohibiting polygamy against a free exercise of religion challenge.

Liberty Poles

One important form of symbolic speech and protest in the United States that began before the Revolutionary War and continued long after the adoption of the First Amendment was the erection of liberty poles.      Such poles have some association with Liberty Trees, like the elm near the Boston Commons where Patriots gathered in […]

James Wilson

James Wilson (1742-1798), who was born in Scotland and emigrated to the United States at the age of 23, studied law under John Dickinson, and went on to become one of the leading attorneys in Pennsylvania.      One of America's founders, he was appointed as one of the early Supreme Court justices by George […]

Samuel Chase

Samuel Chase (1741-1811) was an important American founder and U.S. Supreme Court justice from Maryland. He is the only Supreme Court justice to have been impeached, though not convicted. The House of Representatives had impeached him for his partisanship during sedition trials over which he presided.     After reading law, Chase established a legal […]

Seven Bishops Case and the Right to Petition

The right to petition the government for a redress of grievances is one of the less litigated provisions of the First Amendment, but it remains important.     The right has roots in the English Bill of Rights of 1689, which was adopted after William and Mary ascended to the throne after James II had […]

John Jay

Although he served as the first chief justice of the United States, John Jay (1745-1829) has been largely overshadowed by John Marshall, who served as the fourth chief. Although it does not appear that the Supreme Court voided any laws under the First Amendment while Jay was on the Supreme Court, he played a significant […]

Oliver Ellsworth

Oliver Ellsworth (1745-1807) was the third chief justice of the United States. He was appointed by President George Washington and served from 1796 to 1800.     Ellsworth, from Connecticut, attended Yale and the College of New Jersey (today’s Princeton) and read law before becoming an attorney. He served as a member of the Continental […]

John Rutledge

John Rutledge was appointed as an inaugural member of the Supreme Court by President George Washington. He was a strong defender of free speech.

James Burgh

James Burgh, an 18th century British political theorist, advocated for broader protections of speech than was recognized by British law at the time.

David Hume

David Hume (1711-1776) was a prominent Scottish historian and philosopher who was well known to the American Founders. Part of the Scottish common sense school of philosophy, Hume put great emphasis on experience and scientific methods and was skeptical of speculative philosophy and the fanaticism that he associated with political and religious ideologies. Hume praised […]

Baron de Montesquieu

The philosophy of John Locke and other Englishmen is most associated with the American Founding and its emphasis on rights that are embodied in the Declaration of Independence, the First Amendment, and other provisions of the Bill of Rights. But one of the framers’ most quoted philosophers was Charles Louis de Secondat De Montesquieu of […]

Spiro T. Agnew

Many vice presidents of the United States stay in the background and out of the limelight, but not unlike what he had done for President Dwight Eisenhower, President Richard M. Nixon’s vice president, Spiro T. Agnew, often played the role of an attack dog, mobilizing support for the president with his rhetoric.       […]

Rutherford B. Hayes

Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio, a former Whig who became a Republican, served a single term in the presidential office from 1877 to 1881. He followed Ulysses S. Grant and was succeeded by James A. Garfield.     A graduate of Harvard Law School, Hayes had risen to the rank of brigadier general in the […]

Martin Van Buren

Martin Van Buren (1782-1862) was born and raised in New York. Although he was the first president who was born as a U.S. citizen, he is the only president who grew up speaking a language (Dutch) other than English.     He studied law, set up a practice with his half-brother and spent much of […]

William Henry Harrison

William Henry Harrison (1773-1841) was the first representative of the Whig Party to be elected as president and served the shortest time of any U.S. president after dying of natural causes 31 days after his inauguration.     Born to an aristocratic family in Virginia (his father, Benjamin Harrison, had signed the Declaration of Independence), […]

Millard Fillmore

Millard Fillmore (1800-1874) was the last member of the Whig Party to serve as a U.S. president, which he did from 1850 to 1853.     Born in New York, Fillmore, who had arisen from humble circumstances. He did not attend college, but had become a lawyer and became interested in politics. He served as […]

John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy (1917-1962) was the youngest man ever elected to the U.S. presidency.     Born in Massachusetts to a father who had served as an ambassador to Great Britain, Kennedy earned an undergraduate degree from Harvard University, served as a lieutenant in charge of a torpedo boat in World War II, and entered […]

Gerald R. Ford

Gerald R. Ford (1913-2006) is the only individual who has served as U.S. president without being elected to that office as either president or vice-president.     Born in Omaha, Nebraska, and raised in Grand Rapids Michigan, Ford earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Michigan, where he played on the school’s football team. […]

Jimmy Carter

James (Jimmy) Earl Carter, Jr. defeated Gerald Ford in the presidential election of 1976 and served in that office from 1977 to 1981. Born in Plains, Georgia, in 1924, he earned his undergraduate degree at the U.S. Naval Academy.     After serving in the Navy, he returned to Plains to manage a peanut farm. […]

George W. Bush

George W. Bush, who was born in 1946, served as U.S. president from 2001 to 2009. The son of George H. W. Bush, he was born and raised in Texas, and earned his undergraduate degree from Yale University and his master’s of business administration from Harvard.     He spent some time as a pilot […]

Joe Biden

Joseph R. Biden Jr. was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 1942. He earned an undergraduate degree at the University of Delaware and a law degree from Syracuse University, and has spent most of his life as an elected official.     He served as a U.S. senator from Delaware from 1973 to 2009 and as […]

Barack Obama

Barack Hussein Obama was born in Hawaii in 1961 to an American mother and a Kenyan father.  He earned a bachelor’s degree from Columbia and a law degree from Harvard University, where he served as president of the law review.     After working as a civil rights attorney and teaching at the University of […]

William Jefferson (Bill) Clinton

William Jefferson Clinton, who was born in 1946, served two terms as U.S. president from 1993 to 2001.     Born in Hope, Arkansas, Clinton attended Georgetown University, was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, and earned his law degree at Yale, where he met and later married Hillary Rodham. After becoming a law professor at […]

George H. W. Bush

George Herbert Walker Bush (1924-2018), who was the son of a U.S. senator from Connecticut, served from 1989 to 1993 as president of the United States. He previously served for eight years as vice president under Ronald Reagan with whom he had unsuccessfully vied for the 1980 Republican nomination.      Bush was born in […]

Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) served for two terms as U.S. president from 1981 to 1989. Born in Illinois, Reagan graduated from Eureka College. He spent his early working life as a radio announcer and film actor, serving from 1947 to 1952 as president of the Screen Actors Guild.     He was governor of California from […]

Lyndon B. Johnson

Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908-1973) was one of the most activist presidents of the 20th century. Born and raised in Texas, Johnson attended Southwest Texas State College and, after a brief time of teaching and military service, spent most of his life in elective office.     He served as a member of the U.S. House […]

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) was born in Texas, raised in Kansas, and educated at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He served most of his life in the military and, as Supreme Allied Commander, supervised the invasion of France at D-Day during World War II.     After a stint as chief of staff […]

Harry S. Truman

Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) was born and raised in Missouri, spent about a year at Spalding’s Commercial College (a business college in Kansas City) without getting a degree, served in the U.S. Army during World War I, and returned to Missouri where he served as a haberdasher and farmer. He then became involved in politics […]

Kalven Report

Amid a politically tumultuous period, the University of Chicago in 1967 issued the Kalven Report, which laid down guidelines for a university in making pronouncements about controversial political issues. The report was named after the chair of the committee that developed it, Harry Kalven Jr., a noted First Amendment scholar and law professor.     […]

Albert Einstein

Few if any scientific figures are better known, or have had a greater impact on modern science, than Albert Einstein, a theoretical physicist who was born in Germany in 1879 and died in the United States in 1955.     Einstein was best known for his theory of relativity and for the idea, for which […]

Blassingame v. Trump (D.C. Circuit Court)

On Dec. 1, 2023, U.S. courts issued two opinions that left Donald Trump in continuing legal jeopardy for actions that he took while serving as president.  Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan, the chief judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, ruled that Trump did not have immunity in civil suits […]

Disputes over Church Property

When states began disestablishing churches, there were sometimes disputes as to whether former established churches should be able to keep properties for which their governments had previously collected taxes. As a general rule, they were able to do so, as illustrated by the case of Terrett v. Taylor (1815) in Virginia, which relied chiefly on […]