This is a First Amendment chronology compiled as part of The First Amendment Encyclopedia and includes key dates and events related to the development of the principles of individual liberties contained in the First Amendment -- covering freedom of speech and religion, separation of church and state, a free press and rights to assemble and petition the government.
The Roman emperor Constantine extends toleration of religions to Christianity.
King John of England signs the Magna Carta, which becomes the basis for many future claims of civil liberties.
Martin Luther, a German monk, posts his Ninety-five Theses, thus ushering in the Protestant Reformation.
The Anabaptist Schleitheim Confession, in Switzerland, argues for greater separation of church and state.
The Act of Supremacy declares the Church of England independent from Rome.
Colonization begins in Virginia, which will establish the Anglican Church.
The first African Americans are brought to Jamestown, Virginia, as slaves.
The Pilgrims land at Massachusetts.
England abolishes the notorious Star Chamber, which prosecuted individuals for libeling the king.
The English Parliament establishes a restrictive printing ordinance.
John Milton anonymously publishes the Areopagitica, a pamphlet opposing England's restrictive printing ordinance.
The first known use of the phrase “free exercise” appears in America in a document written by Lord Baltimore in an attempt to ensure such freedom for Roman Catholics settling in Maryland.
John Bunyan, who later would write Pilgrim’s Progress, begins twelve years of intermittent imprisonment in England for his preaching.
Rhode Island’s charter provides for “liberty of conscience.”
William Penn publishes The Great Case of Liberty of Conscience.
William Penn and William Mead are tried in England for street preaching.
The British Test Act restricts public offices to Anglicans.
James II of England issues a Declaration of Indulgence protecting the rights of Catholics and Protestant dissenters to worship.
The Glorious Revolution deposes James II in favor of William and Mary. The Toleration Act ends British persecution of Protestant dissenters but does not disestablish the Anglican Church.
The English Bill of Rights recognizes the rights of Protestants to worship.
John Locke's "Letter on Toleration" is published in England.
The Salem Witch Trials take place in New England.
John Locke publishes The Reasonableness of Christianity.
The trial of Peter Zenger in New York introduces truth as a defense in libel cases.
Elisha Williams pleads for liberty of conscience in religious affairs.
James Madison is born.
Jonathan Edwards, an important clergyman during the Great Awakening, dies.
John Wilkes begins publishing the North Briton, which will lead to his expulsion from the British Parliament.
England imposes the Stamp Act on the American colonies.
The Quebec Act offends Protestants in the thirteen American colonies.
The Quebec Act offends Protestants in the thirteen American colonies.
Virginia adopts a Declaration of Rights; James Madison insists that the law must go beyond mere "tolderation."
The Second Continental Congress adopts the Declaration of Independence.
Congress proposes the Articles of Confederation.
The Articles of Confederation, which vests primary power in the states, is ratified.
James Madison writes the "Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments."
Virginia adopts its Statute for Religious Freedom, disestablishing the Anglican Church.
The Constitutional Convention meets in Philadelphia and submits a constitution to the states for ratification. It includes a provision against test oaths for federal officeholders and allows individual to affirm rather than to swear oaths, but makes no specific mention of God.
The Northwest Ordinance indicates Congress's desire to provide public education in the American territories.
Most of the thirteen states hold conventions to ratify the Constitution; Anti-Federalists object to the absence of a bill of rights.
George Washington becomes the first president of the United States.
James Madison proposes a bill of rights in the first Congress.
John Jay is confirmed as the first chief justice of the United States.
Congress adopts the Copyright Act.
The states ratify ten of the twelve amendments proposed as the Bill of Rights.
Thomas Paine publishes The Age of Reason.
Madison writes the Virginia Report challenging the Sedition Act.
John Adams appoints John Marshall as chief justice of the United States.
Thomas Jefferson is elected president and pardons individuals convicted under the Sedition Act.
Tunis Wortman publishes A Treastise Concerning Political Enquiry and the Liberty of the Press.
Thomas Jefferson refers to "the wall of separation" between church and state in a letter to the Danbury Baptists.
Chief Justice John Marshall's opinion in Marbury v. Madison justifies judicial review of congressional legislation.
In People v. Croswell, the New York supreme court reviews a libel conviction of Harry Croswell, whom Alexander Hamilton defended on the basis of the truth of Croswell's accusations.
The New York supreme court upholds a blasphemy conviction in People v. Ruggles, arguing that U.S. law incorporates British common law principles.
In overturning a conviction, the Supreme Court in United States v. Hudson and Goodwin affirms that there is no federal common law of libel.
In People v. Phillips, a New York court issues what is believed to be the first free exercise case upholding the priest-penitent privilege.
In Commonwealth v. Sharpless, the Pennsylvania supreme court upholds the first known obscenity conviction in the United States.
In Terrett v. Taylor, the Supreme Court rules that a state’s incorporation of religious bodies is permissible and that such incorporation subsequently serves as protection for land that they own.
In Anderson v. Dunn, the Supreme Court makes its first explicit references to the First Amendment freedoms of speech and press.
Following English precedents, the Massachusetts supreme court decides in Commonwealth v. Blanding that an individual can be guilty of libel even for statements that are truthful.
Congress debates the constitutionality of gag rules suppressing anti-slavery petitions.
Congress adopts a law limiting the power of judges to issue contempt of court rulings after James H. Peck, a judge on the U.S. district court in Missouri, is thought to have abused the power by imprisoning an individual who criticized one of his opinions.
John Bannister Gibson, a Pennsylvania supreme court justice decides, in Phillips et al. (Simon’s Executors) v. Gratz, that a court did not have to postpone its proceedings for a Jewish defendant who refused to appear on his Sabbath.
The Supreme Court decides in Barron v. Baltimore that the provisions of the Bill of Rights do not apply to the states.
Massachusetts amends its constitution to become the last state to disestablish an official religion.
The Supreme Court of Massachusetts upholds the last known blasphemy conviction in the United States in Commonwealth v. Kneeland.
Justice Joseph Story, while upholding a will that limited Christian teaching, affirms that Christianity is part of the common law in Vidal v. Girard's Executors.
In Permoli v. New Orleans, the Supreme Court affirms that the free exercise clause of the First Amendment does not apply to the states.
In Baker v. Nachtrieb, the Supreme Court sustains an agreement between the leader and a former member of the Harmony Society.
In Scott v. Sandford, the Supreme Court rules that black people in the United States are not and cannot be U.S. citizens and that laws forbidding slavery in the territories are unconstitutional.
John Stuart Mill publishes On Liberty.
In Commonwealth v. Cooke, a Massachusetts court rules against the state's prosecution of a teacher who had beaten a public school child who refused to repeat the King James Version of the Lord's Prayer and the Ten Commandments.
Abraham Lincoln is elected president.
The Civil War begins.
Congress authorizes the addition of the phrase "In God We Trust" to U.S. coins.
The Civil War ends.
The Thirteenth Amendment is ratified, ending slavery.
The Fourteenth Amendment, which extends citizenship and guarantees all citizens due process of law, is ratified.
In Board of Education of the City of Cincinnati v. Minor, the Ohio supreme court rules that a school board can repeal a regulation requiring that public schools hold opening exercises consisting of Bible reading and singing.
In Watson v. Jones, the Supreme Court establishes principles that continue to dominate resolution of internal religious disputes.
Congress adopts the Comstock Act, designed to limit the distribution of obscenity.
The Supreme Court gives a limited reading to the Fourteenth Amendment in the Slaughterhouse Cases.
President Ulysses S. Grant proposes what becomes known as the Blaine Amendment, limiting aid to parochial schools.
In United States v. Cruikshank, the Supreme Court affirms that freedom of assembly is a natural right but also states that the First Amendment offers protection only against deprivation by the national government.
Reconstruction ends in the South.
In Ex parte Curtis, the Supreme Court upholds the constitutionality of an 1876 act that prohibits U.S. government officials from requesting or receiving money from other government employees for political purposes.
In Late Corporation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints v. United States, the Supreme Court upholds the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887, which repealed the charter of Mormons and seized their property for educational purposes.
The Supreme Court in In re Rapier upholds a conviction prohibiting use of the U.S. mail for advertising lotteries of sending lottery tickets.
The Free Speech League is organized.
The Supreme Court in Halter v. Nebraska upholds a conviction for printing an American flag on a beer bottle.
The Supreme Court in Patterson v. Colorado upholds a contempt citation against the publisher of a newspaper that had printed articles and a cartoon criticizing a Colorado court in a pending case.
The Tillman Act forbids some campaign contributions.
The Wireless Ship Act addresses the emerging technology of radio.
In United States v. Press Publishing Co., the Supreme Court overturns a libel conviction against individuals who had alleged that Theodore Roosevelt, while president, had profited from the sales of the Panama Canal.
The Birth of a Nation, a controversial movie, stirs renewed interest in the Ku Klux Klan.
The Bolshevik faction of the Communist Party seizes power in Russia.
Congress adopts the Espionage Act.
The United States enters World War I.
Congress adopts another Espionage Act.
In Meyer v. Nebraska, the Supreme Court voids a state law prohibiting the teaching of modern languages to children in public schools.
In Gitlow v. New York, the Supreme Court rules that freedom of speech applies to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment.
The “Scopes monkey trial,” a landmark case involving the teaching of evolution in public schools, takes place in a Tennessee criminal court.
In Pierce v. Society of Sisters, the Supreme Court upholds the right of parents to send children to parochial schools.
The Corrupt Practices Act attempts to regulate campaign contributions.
The Supreme Court in Cochran v. Board of Education upholds the right of Louisiana state officials to provide secular textbooks to children in parochial schools.
Congress enacts the Communications Act.
In Grosjean v. American Press Co., the Supreme Court strikes down a Louisiana law that disproportionately burdened some newspapers through taxation.
Justice Benjamin N. Cardozo affirms the doctrine of selective incorporation in Palko v. Connecticut.
Justice Harlan Fiske Stone, in his Carolene Products footnote four, advances a "double standard" that gives increased protection for provisions of the Bill of Rights.
The Supreme Court in Cantwell v. Connecticut relies on the free exercise clause to allow door-to-door solicitation by Jehovah's Witnesses.
The Smith Act makes it a crime to avocate the violent overthrow of the government.
In Murdock v. Pennsylvania, the Supreme Court invalidates a license tax imposed on Jehovah's Witnesses going door to door.
The Supreme Court in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette overturns Minersville School District v. Gobitis, which had required compulsory flag salutes in public schools.
In Everson v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court refers to the separation of church and state while allowing for the provision of state bus transportion of students to parochial schools. This decision completes the process of "incorporation" of rights within the First Amendment.
In Illinois ex rel. McCollum v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court finds that the religious provision of instruction on public school grounds violates the establishment clause.
The Federal Communications Commission promulgates the fairness doctrine.
North Korea invades South Korea, fueling concerns about the spread of international communism. The United States enters the conflict under the auspices of the United Nations.
Congress adopts the Subversive Activities Control Act, or the McCarran Act.
The "Hollywood Ten" begin to serve one-year prison terms for contempts after having refused on First and Fifth Amendment grounds to answer questions about their alleged communist affiliations before Congress.
In Burstyn v. Wilson, the Supreme Court overrules a state supreme court decision that had attempted to censure a movie for blasphemy.
In Zorach v. Clauson, the Supreme Court upholds a "released time" program for religious instruction for public school children that had taken place off the school campus.
Earl Warren becomes chief justice of the United States.
In NAACP v. Alabama, the Supreme Court finds a right of association within the First Amendment through which it protects membership lists against state investigation.
The Supreme Court rules in Barenblatt v. United States that Congress can require witnesses to testify as to their past associations.
The Supreme Court in Torcaso v. Watkins strikes down a state law prohibiting individuals from becoming notaries public unless that have professed faith in God.
The first televised presidential debates, between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon, are broadcast.
John F. Kennedy becomes the first Roman Catholic to be elected president of the United States.
In Abington School District v. Schempp, the Supreme Court extends Engel to include devotional Bible reading and recitations of the Lord's Prayer.
In Sherbert v. Verner, the Supreme Court rules that a state must extend unemployment benefits to an individual who loses a job because she will not work on her Sabbath.
In Sheppard v. Maxwell, the Supreme Court overturns a conviction based on excessive media presence in the courtroom.
In Epperson v. Arkansas, the Supreme Court invalidates a state law prohibiting the teaching of evolution in public schools.
Congress adopts the Flag Protection Act.
The Supreme Court in Board of Education v. Allen affirms programs that loan secular textbooks to parochial school students.
In Flast v. Cohen, the Supreme Court opens the door to taxpayer suits involving the establishment clause.
While upholding a congressional law banning the burning of draft cards, the Supreme Court outlines standards for cases mixing speech and conduct in United States v. O’Brien.
In Pickering v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court rules that public employees retain a First Amendment right to speak on issues of public concern.
In Brandenburg v. Ohio, the Supreme Court establishes a standard to determine when the advocacy of illegal conduct crosses the line into unprotected incitement of imminent lawless action.
In Stanley v. Georgia, the Supreme Court strikes down a conviction for viewing pornography in one’s home.
In Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, the Supreme Court rules that public school students in Iowa have a right to wear black armbands to school to protest U.S.involvement in the Vietnam War. The Court establishes a test protective of student-initiated speech. The decision is considered the high-water mark of student First Amendment rights.
In Cohen v. California, the Supreme Court invalidates a breach of the peace conviction for a young man who wore a jacket with a profane message into a California court house. The Court determines that the profane message was not fighting words because the message was not directed at any specific individual. Justice John Marshall Harlan II writes that “one man’s vulgarity is another’s lyric.”
In Lemon v. Kurtzman, the Supreme Court establishes a three-part test to determine when regulations that affect religion violate the establishment clause. Despite criticism, the Lemon test is still used in establishment clause cases.
The Supreme Court in Tilton v. Richardson upholds a provision allowing federal aid for construction at religious colleges and universities in some instances.
Congress adopts the Federal Election Campaign Act.
The Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, upholding the legality of first and second trimester abortions, evokes protest.
The Supreme Court in Miller v. California sets forth a three-part test for obscenity.
In Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., the Supreme Court rules that the standard of “actual malice” does not apply to libel against an attorney.
Congress further revises the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971.
In Federal Communications Commission v. Pacifica Foundation, the Supreme Court upholds some control over vulgar radio broadcasting.
In Zurcher v. Stanford Daily, the Supreme Court upholds the use of a warrant to search a newspaper office.
The Supreme Court in McDaniel v. Paty strikes down Tennessee’s ban on members of the clergy serving in political positions.
Congress adopts the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.
The Moral Majority if formed to promote conservative religious values.
In New York v. Ferber, the Supreme Court allows for regulation of child pornography.
The Attorney General's Commission on Pornography issues its report.
William H. Rehnquist becomes chief justice of the United States.
In Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser, the Supreme Court rules that public school officials can regulate student speech that is vulgar, lewd, or plainly offensive.
In Turner v. Safley, the Supreme Court establishes a rational-basis standard for review of First Amendment claims by prison inmates, a standard that generally defers to prison officials.
In Rankin v. McPherson, the Supreme Court rules that a clerical employee in a constable’s office has a First Amendment right to speak harshly about the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan.
In Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, the Supreme Court rules that public school officials have authority to regulate certain school-sponsored student speech.
In Hustler Magazine v. Falwell, the Supreme Court unanimously rules that evangelist Jerry Falwell cannot recover monetary damages from pornography publisher Larry Flynt for intentional infliction of emotional distress resulting from a cartoon parody.
Congress enacts the Child Pornography Restoration and Penalties Enhancement Act.
The Supreme Court in Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith upholds a state law affecting religious practice without requiring the state to show a compelling interest.
The Supreme Court in United States v. Eichman strikes down a federal law against flag burning. Like the ruling in Texas v. Johnson (1989), the decision stirs renewed interest in a constitutional amendment to overturn it.
In Board of Education of the Westside Community Schools v. Mergens, the Supreme Court affirms the constitutionality of the Equal Access Act of 1984.
A U.S. district court judge rules in Skyywalker Records, Inc. v. Navarro that an earlier ruling against 2 Live Crew for obscene rap lyrics was an unconstitutional prior restraint.
Congress adopts the Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act.
The Supreme Court in Lee v.Weisman bans public prayer at public school graduations.
Congress adopts the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The Supreme Court strikes down an ordinance targeting animal sacrifice in Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah.
The Supreme Court rules in City of Ladue v. Gilleo that an Ohio woman has a First Amendment right to display an anti-war sign in her front yard and window.
The Supreme Court rules that the University of Virginia cannot deny student activity fees to religious groups in Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia.
In Florida Bar v. Went for It, Inc., the Supreme Court upholds a Florida state rule that prohibits attorneys from sending solicitation letters to accident victims or their family members until 30 days after the event.
Congress adopts the Telecommunications Act, part of which is the Communications Decency Act.
Congress adopts the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, allowing government contracts with faith-based organizations.
In 44 Liquormart, Inc. v. Rhode Island, the Supreme Court strengthens protection for commercial speech while striking down restrictions on liquor prices.
In City of Boerne v. Flores, the Supreme Court strikes down the application of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to the states.
In Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, the Supreme Court strikes down two provisions of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, the first major speech restriction aimed at the Internet.
The Supreme Court rules in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe that a high school’s practice of announcing prayers over the loudspeaker at football games violates the estabishment clause.
Congress passes the Children’s Internet Protection Act.
Congress adopts the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.
Al-Qaida attacks in the United States stir questions about the treatment of Muslims in the United States. Congress responds to the attacks by adopting the USA Patriot Act.
In Virginia v. Black, the Supreme Court declares that some incidents of cross burnings may transgress the First Amendment.
In McConnell v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court affirms the ban on soft money contributions passed in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.
In United States v. American Library Association, the Supreme Court upholds the Children’s Internet Protection Act of 2000, a federal law requiring Internet filtering in public libraries.
A lower court decision in Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow raises questions about the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.
The Supreme Court in Ashcroft v. American Civil Liberties Union rules that the Child Online Protection Act of 1998 is overly broad and unduly restricts the speech of adults.
In Cutter v. Wilkinson, the Supreme Court upholds the application of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 to Ohio prisoners.
The Supreme Court issues a pair of 5-4 decisions in Ten Commandments cases, upholding a monument display in a Texas public park in Van Orden v. Perry and striking down displays in two Kentucky county courthouses in McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union.
John G. Roberts Jr. is confirmed as chief justice of the United States.
In a decision later vacated as moot by the Supreme Court, a U.S. circuit court rules that a high school has the right to limit the wearing of t-shirts displaying antigay messages.
In Morse v. Frederick, the Supreme Court rules that school officials can censor or punish student speech seen as advocating illegal drug use.
In Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc., the Supreme Court rules that restrictions on advertising in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 are unconstitutional as applied.
In United States v. Williams, the Supreme Court upholds a provision of the U.S. Code prohibiting pandering of child pornography against charges that the provision was overly broad.
In Davis v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court invalidates the “Millionaire’s Amendment” to the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.
In Pleasant Grove v. Summum, the Supreme Court allowed a city to refused to place a permanent monument with the Seven Aphorisms of Summum [the name of a religious organization] in a public park.
In Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, the Supreme Court allowed a public law school to deny facilities to a religious organization that had what it considered to be discriminatory policies for its officers.
In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a provision of the bipartisan Campaign Reform Act that prohibited corporations and unions from using general treasuring funds for express advocacy or electioneering communications.
In Snyder v. Phelps, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of protestors at military funerals.
In Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, the Supreme Court invalidated a California law seeking to regulate violent video games.
In Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Arizona taxpayers did not have standing, as taxpayers, to challenge tax credits to school tuition organizations.
In Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, the Court recognized a “ministerial exception” exempting certain employees of religious institutions from employment discrimination.
In United States v. Alvarez, the Supreme Court struck down the “stolen valor” act, which punished individuals who made false claims about military awards.
Edward Snowden a systems administration with the National Security Agency leaked thousands of classified documents.
Chelsea (previously Bradley) Manning, an intelligence analyst in Iraq leaked government documents.
In Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a provision of an act that sought to prevent the distribution of aid to nongovernmental organizations that did not explicitly oppose prostitution or sex trafficking.
In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act exemp0ted closely-held corporations from providing contraceptive coverage that they considered to be abortifacients in conflict with their religious beliefs.
In Town of Greece v. Galloway, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the practice of a New York town to have a public prayer before town meetings did not violate the Establishment Clause.
In McCullen v. Coakley, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a Massachusetts law that sought to prohibit anti-abortion counselors from standing within 35 feet of sidewalks outside of abortion clinics.
In Holt v. Hobbs, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that an Arkansas prison violated the religious liberty of a Muslim inmate by refusing to allow him to grow a short beard.
In Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of Texas to reject specialty license plates with an image of the Confederate battle flag.
In Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a provision of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct that barred judicial candidates from personally soliciting funds.
In Equal Employment Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, the U.S. Supreme held that an employer could be liable if it denies employment to an otherwise qualified individual out of concerns about a head scarf that she wore as a result of her religious faith.
In Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidates state laws against gay marriage.