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By The Free Speech Center, published on July 4, 2024

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Graphic by Leslie Haines

Before you eat that first hot dog, take a moment to think about why July 4 is a holiday.

It’s called Independence Day, of course, because it’s the date of the Declaration of Independence. And let’s take a quick look at one aspect of the Declaration that ended up in the First Amendment – the vital importance of a people’s right “to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Consider a short passage in the text of the Declaration, where, after listing a host of grievances against King George III and the British government, the Declaration says:

“In every stage of these oppressions, we have petitioned for redress, in the most humble terms. Our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”

As noted in our First Amendment Encyclopedia article on the Declaration of Independence, “The Declaration’s indictments against King George III show a vigorous exercise of freedom of speech and press; further, by using the document to express frustration with rebuffs received to previous petitions to the king, the founders paved the way for later recognition of the right of petition, which is contained within the First Amendment.”

So happy Fourth of July to all. May we remember that our declared independence, and the freedoms eventually declared in our Constitution and Bill of Rights, came at a high price – and must continually be defended.

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