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10 Rights the First Amendment Absolutely Does Not Grant


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The Right to an Answer from the Government
An illustration of England's King John signing the Magna Carta in 1215. The document was the first ever signed by a king of England to protect the rights of his subjects. © Heritage Images/Corbis
An illustration of England's King John signing the Magna Carta in 1215. The document was the first ever signed by a king of England to protect the rights of his subjects. © Heritage Images/Corbis

Hidden among the more prominent rights guaranteed by the First Amendment is the right to "petition the government for a redress of grievances." Despite its low profile, the right to petition has a long and honored pedigree dating back to the Magna Carta in 1215 [source: Bernstein]. The right and ability to complain to government officials is a critical function of a representative democracy. Whether or not that official actually listens, well, that's another story.

To comply with the First Amendment right to petition, government entities and agencies must provide a way to contact them. Every government office, including the White House, has e-mail addresses and phone numbers to submit comments and questions. But nothing in the First Amendment — or anywhere else in the Constitution — requires that the government answer those requests or even read them [source: First Amendment Center]. Instead, a democratic system relies on the voters to remove officials who are unresponsive to public opinion.


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