The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday comes from the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States: “Congress shall make no law respecting … the right of the people peaceably to assemble….” This clause in the Constitution gives the people the absolute right to assemble peaceably without interference by the government.
“One of the foremost complaints of the American colonies against King George III was that `assemblies have been frequently dissolved, contrary to the rights of the people, when they attempted to deliberate on grievances.’ It further complained that their `petitions to the Crown for redress have been repeatedly treated with contempt by his Majesty’s Minister of State.’
“This provision has not been easy to preserve even in the United States. During the debate of highly inflammatory issues, the tendency of government officials is to look with grave suspicion upon various assemblies and sometimes ignore petitions which run contrary to current administrative policy. President Van Buren’s administration was marked by a struggle to prevent the receipt and consideration by Congress of numerous petitions for the abolition of slavery. Senator John C. Calhoun even declared such petitions to be `a violation of the Constitution!’
“Difficult cases have arisen in connection with the enforcement of sedition laws. For example, it is a violation of the law to assemble for the purpose of conspiring to commit a crime or to use violence in overthrowing constituted authority. However, a peaceable assembly for lawful discussion cannot be made a crime.” (See W. Cleon Skousen in The Making of America – The Substance and Meaning of the Constitution, p. 689.)
David Bernstein of The Heritage Foundation explained, “Under modern Supreme Court jurisprudence, the right to petition and the right of peaceable assembly have been almost completely collapsed into freedom of speech. Yet an analysis of the text and background of the First Amendment suggests that the petition and assembly rights have independent scope.” (See The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, p. 316.)