As a teacher of English for 33 years, I have often lectured on the importance of precise language accurately conveying the true and intended meaning. It is too bad that simple lesson did not inform James Madison when he penned the Bill of Rights.

Let’s start with Amendment One, pictured in full above, only a few words, but not without opportunities for abuse and mis-interpretation.

The First Amendment and the Bill of Rights were written to address the objections raised by Anti-Federalist’s, adding guarantees of personal freedom and rights and placing clear limitations on government’s power. Bravo! As a believer in, and a defender of, judiciously applied personal freedom, I think we should all approve those Constitutional directives, up to a point.

Take the first clause! What Madison hoped to convey is that government should not interfere with any individual’s freedoms of religion. What Madison failed to foresee and failed to exclude by his wording is the right of any religion to impose itself on others at the point of a gun. Murderous religious fanaticism cannot be and should not be constitutionally protected, but all peaceful religious observations and practices should be.

The word peaceably does usefully appear in the last clause which guarantees the right to assemble and petition the government. I concur as long as peacefulness and inclusivity are integral parts of those proceedings. What we don’t want is knuckleheaded rioting, no matter which side of the aisle makes the mistake of violently taking matters into their own hands.

I have saved the middle clause for last. We have been struggling with the intended meaning lately. The middle clause is meant to protect free speech and free press, both worthy of protection when they are not abused; but we do not want to constitutionally protect the right to lies and prevarications. Many individuals on the web are spreading divisive and harmful lies. Some prominent political figures, such as Alex Jones and Donald Trump, are lying massively to improve their ratings and increase their income or in a vain attempt to hold onto power. These people hide behind the First Amendment. Lies must not be protected speech! Prevarication and pollution of the public discourse must be stopped!

I propose minor but significant changes to the wording of the First Amendment as follows:

Congress shall make no law impeding the peaceful establishment of any religion or prohibiting the free and peaceful exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom to speak the truth in public or the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Stay tuned next week for a discussion of some much-needed wording changes to the Second Amendment.