The United States Supreme Court has interpreted the constitutional guarantees contained in amendments to the constitution. Among these Guaranteed rights are the freedoms of religion, speech, and press, along with the right of protection against illegal search and seizure, equal protection under the law, and the right to counsel. These rights all contained in the first amendment to the constitution are arguably the most important rights guaranteed to citizens of the United States. However these rights are not absolute. Throughout the course of time many controversies have occurred concerning the limitation of rights. Many of these controversies have called upon the Supreme Court to evaluate the constitutionality of laws or individual actions. Many cases in the history of the supreme court have led to a significant change in the interpretation of rights in the united states.
One important case involving the freedom of religion was Reynolds v. United States in 1879. Reynolds, a Mormon living in Utah had two wives. Polygamy was allowed in the teachings of the church, but prohibited by a federal lab banning the practice in the United States. Reynolds when convicted argued that the federal law violated his constitutional right to the free exercise of his religious beliefs. The Supreme Court did not agree with Reynolds claiming that congress was not without the power to punish violations of social duties or subversive of good order. The court said that to place religious belief superior to the law of the land, would in affect permit every citizen to become a law unto himself. Government would exist only in name under such circumstances. The ruling in this case has upheld that ones religious beliefs do not permit him/her to break the law to suit his religion, and that that governmental law presides over all religious beliefs. This is an example of the limitation of the Guaranteed rights of the constitution. The right to practice religion freely allows people to believe what they want however they must abide by the laws of government in order to prevent a lawless society. Because of this case it is now established that governmental law precedes religious law.
Another important case recently involved the right of protection against illegal search and seizure. In T.L.O. v. New Jersey two girls were caught smoking cigarettes in the bathroom of a New jersey high school. Being searched revealed cigarettes, marijuana, large amounts of cash, and records indicating the sale of marijuana on one of the girls. The girl was convicted of drug charges but her lawyer argued she was searched illegally. This case was another example of the limitation of rights. The issue in this case was the right of protection against illegal search and seizure versus the need of the school system to create and maintain a safe learning environment. According to law a law official must establish "probable cause" before a search can take place. However in a public school setting school officials operate under "reasonable suspicion" this was established because of the school's responsibility to provide a safe learning environment. This case upheld the schools right to search under the cause of reasonable suspicion. Schools now currently operate under reasonable suspicion.
Finally the case of Schenck v. United States is considered one of the most important cases in United States history. This case dealt with the Guarantee of free speech and how it is limited. In 1919 Schenck, the general secretary of the Socialist party, had been convicted of sending some 15,000 strongly worded leaflets to men who had been called to military service, urging them to resist the draft. The issue in this case was the individual rights of expression and speech against the needs of society. In this case a very important precedent was set the idea of "clear and present danger" which states that when words are in such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that congress has a right to prevent. That words can be outlawed and those who utter them can be punished when their use creates an immediate danger that criminal acts will follow. This case has set a precedent that has existed for almost eighty years regarding free speech. Today the statement has been revised to read "immediate clear and present danger" to expand the rights of the individual.
Under the constitution the citizens are Guaranteed certain rights and freedoms, however these rights are not absolute they are relative to the rights of others. The Supreme Court will continue to attempt to balance the rights of the individual with the needs of society at large. Because of this the Supreme Court is an extremely essential part of the United States government.