The First Amendment is the first addition to the US Constitution, and the beginning of the ten amendments that make up the Bill of Rights. The rights included in the amendment are freedom of speech, the right to a free press, freedom to practice any religion, the right to peaceful assembly, and the right to petition the government to redress grievances. James Madison, who became the fourth president of the US, wrote the Bill of Rights, but he had help and inspiration in creating it. Thomas Jefferson was Madison’s mentor, and he actually convinced Madison to change his mind and add these amendments to the Constitution. They are based on the work of many of the thinkers of the Enlightenment period, such as John Locke.
There are actually several rights guaranteed to citizens in the First Amendment. Many people remember two of them: the right to free speech and the right to a free press. Both of these are fairly closely related, and do frustrate people from time to time. That people may say “anything” no matter how evil, mean, racist or otherwise, and write anything, no matter how unfair, slanted, or otherwise, can be a challenge to many who wish that certain groups would not air their opinions. Inherent in this right, however, is the ability to respond when one feels attacked or wishes to challenge the opinions of others. It has sometimes been called an advanced citizenship, which means that a government can't have rights for some without granting them for all.
There are certain exceptions to free speech and free press. Writing or speaking words that could be constituted as a threat to the American people, such as issuing a bomb threat or yelling “fire” in a theater, can quickly curtail a person's right to free speech. Other things, like seriously threatening the life of someone, particularly an elected official, may cause a person to be considered an enemy of the state.
There are other rights guaranteed in the First Amendment: the right to the free exercise of any religion, the right of peaceful assembly, and the right to petition the government to redress grievances. These rights struck at the heart of many issues that had existed while America still was under British rule. Right to peaceful assembly had been banned by some British governors, while the ability to petition the government was touch and go, and the British Government ignored most petitions. Free exercise of religion faced increasing challenges, particularly with anti-Catholic sentiment in England, and with the diverse sects of primarily Christian religions settling in the New World.
Not only were these rights under constant abuse, but speaking against British rule or writing anything negative about the British government could be considered treasonous. It was, therefore, considered wise to clarify that a new American government must make these rights available to its people. Nevertheless, though many consider the First Amendment the core of American society, there are constant arguments about what it means. This began with the founding fathers, and has continued to the present. Though the amendment seems straightforward, it has faced numerous challenges, and will likely continue to be tested.