Mr. Speaker, Thomas Jefferson once stated, "A democracy cannot be both ignorant and free." Our Founding Fathers shared that attitude. They knew that if American citizens failed to share information and were unable to speak freely, they would be worse off than they had been as subjects under Britain's King George III.

   Our Founding Fathers were former colonists under a tyranny that controlled information and freedom of expression. King George III suppressed free speech, especially speech critical of the Crown or the government.

   As the Founding Fathers debated what the new Nation of America should look like and stand for, they were determined free speech would be a basic right for all of us.

   After the States ratified the Constitution, our Founding Fathers set out to enact a declaration of rights. They knew that this was essential for our country. That declaration of rights later became the Bill of Rights, which includes the first 10 amendments.

   The Bill of Rights, Mr. Speaker, limits government control over us. The government does not have any rights. Government has power. It has the power we give it when we give up our rights that are listed in the Bill of Rights. This is an important concept that unfortunately many Americans fail to understand.

   And the first amendment is first because it's the most important. The first amendment states in part: Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech.

   Without the first amendment of free speech, freedom of the press, religion and assembly, the rest of the amendments are meaningless. The purpose of the first amendment is to permit free and open discussion about important public affairs. This is exactly what was forbidden under King George, so it makes sense that this was most important to our Founders.

   The Founding Fathers intended free speech to include criticism of the government and advocacy of unpopular ideas that are distasteful or even against public policy or even controversial issues. Freedom of speech allows individuals to express themselves without interference of the government.

   For over 200 years, the first amendment has endured without substantial alterations or limitations. This is a testament to the first amendment's importance. There are a few instances, however, in our history where the first amendment has been set aside, including a few instances of government censorship, such as sedition acts and wartime censorship.

   The most volatile and controversial types of speech are political speech and religious speech. That's why they should be protected the most, because they are so controversial.

   Congress would do well to stay out of the speech control business, especially trying to control the open and free discussion of America's two controversial and passionate pastimes, which are politics and religion. And besides, the Constitution forbids a speech police by Congress.

   George Washington said it very well when he said, "If the freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be, led like sheep to the slaughter."

   And, finally, Voltaire, who lived right at the time that our revolution began, he said, "I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

   It's important and incumbent upon Congress that we make sure that we have open, free and even volatile, if necessary, discussion of America's issues, which are politics and religion, because that is the type of country we are, and that is what our Constitution and the first amendment stand for.

   And that's just the way it is.