Photo Credit: Courtesy of Jimmy Emerson, DVM
By Adam Griffin; Staff Member (Vol. 16)
North Carolina’s First Amendment
Before the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, and before the Supreme Court doctrine of incorporation was created to impose the protections of the First Amendment against the State Governments, most State Constitutions had sister provisions that protected core First Amendment liberties. The existence of these provisions was a principal reason that the Federalist Framers of the Constitution argued against the need for a Federal Bill of Rights. So long as the States recognized these fundamental freedoms in their constitutions, and the people remained conscious of the natural existence of these rights, they would be protected by the structural limits on government and the censorial check on excesses of power imposed by an active, informed, and alert citizenry.
The North Carolina Constitution and Declaration of Rights provided such First Amendment protections for its citizens in separate clauses of its fundamental charter. The freedom of the press, the freedom of assembly and petition, the freedom of conscience, and the free exercise of religion, and prohibition on an establishment of religion were all rights protected in North Carolina’s original 1776 Constitution. Surprisingly to modern eyes, the original North Carolina State Constitution did not include an express provision protecting the freedom of speech.