First Amendment – Freedom to Associate


Prof. William Wagner

WFFC Distinguished Chair for Faith & Freedom at SAU

Did you know our Constitution protects your freedom to associate with like-minded people? This constitutional protection logically follows from the plain language in the First Amendment safeguarding your freedom of expression.

Freedom to Associate: The NAACP Example

In the 1950’s, the State of Alabama used its power to intimidate members of the NAACP. The coercive government action ultimately resulted in the organization disbanding in the State.

Eventually, the matter reached the United States Supreme Court . When it did, a unanimous Court stated:

 Effective advocacy of both public and private points of view, particularly controversial ones, is undeniably enhanced by group association.  This right of association is protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and it is immaterial if the beliefs are political, economic, religious, or cultural.

After the Court held the State of Alabama’s action unconstitutional, the NAACP eventually reassembled in the state.

The Supreme Court likewise recognized that freedom of association protects the right to exclude, especially where exclusion is integral to the expressive activity of the group.  This makes sense. The NAACP should be allowed to exclude the KKK.

Freedom to Associate: A Contemporary Infringement

Blatantly disregarding these Constitutional limits on the exercise of state power, Wayne State University recently unrecognized a student organization. InterVarsity, a Christian organization, opened its membership to anyone on campus for over 75 years. Because InterVarsity required its leaders to hold the same faith as the organization’s expressive Christian message though, Wayne State University derecognize it. The university’s policy would have required the organization, for example, to allow Muslims and secular atheists to serve in the Christian organization’s leadership. Only after lawyers for the organization filed a lawsuit, did Wayne State conform its conduct to the Constitution.


We the people necessarily grant, in the constitution, great powers to our government. Consequently, this same constitution limits the exercise of that power in ways that infringe on our freedom to associate — or not.

Professor William Wagner holds the academic rank of Distinguished Professor. He is President of Salt & Light Global. At Salt & Light Global we season the public dialog with Truth. To support SLG’s efforts click here.

About the Author

Prof. William Wagner
WFFC Distinguished Chair for Faith & Freedom at SAU
Professor Wagner holds the WFFC Distinguished Chair for Faith & Freedom at Spring Arbor University. He has a special interest in building and preserving environments where Christians may share the Good News of Jesus, free from persecution and oppression.

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