Our Constitutional Bill of Rights
Central to almost any aspect of democracy in the United States is an understanding of the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, otherwise known as the Bill of Rights. These rights are the rights of every American citizen and no one can legitimately take them from us.
In the Preamble to these amendments, the Constitutional framers noted that:
“The Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.”
The ten amendments referred to in that paragraph were ratified on December 15, 1791.
The amendments have been tested many times in the over 200 years since their original adoption. They have also been debated as to their meaning many times. In some cases the language originally used is not very specific and others are rather obsolete, such as the Third Ammendment about soldiers being housed in private homes without the owner’s permission.
In some cases, that meaning has been obscured somewhat by the passage of time, such as in the case of the Second Amendment in which many argue what the “right to keep and bear Arms” in fact allows. In many situations, on the other hand, it is our individual and collective ignorance of what the Amendments actually say that is the bigger problem. Such is the case, for example, with the First Amendment’s carefully crafted “Establishment Clause” regarding the prohibition of laws against the free exercise of religion and the government’s lack of any right to establish any religion as its own or a preferred one.
The Fourth Amendment’s protection from “unreasonable searches and seizures” is also quite clear, as well as that “no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause”. Yet so many today, including our Congressional representatives and those in the Executive branch who should definitely know better, not only do not understand these Amendments but in many cases have not even read them.
We at Trillions echo the belief of many that one of the most important things each of us can do to restore democracy to where it should be – is to read, understand, practice and defend these important rights for all of us.
This copy of the Bill of Rights comes from the excellent U.S. National Archives site on the subject at: http:// www. archives. gov/ exhibits/ charters/ bill_ of_ rights_transcript.html.
Amendment I Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Amendment II A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Amendment III No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
Amendment IV The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Amendment V No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
Amendment VI In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
Amendment VII In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
Amendment VIII Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
Amendment IX The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
Amendment X The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
In addition to the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights, all humans have the rights listed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The fact that so many nations ratified but do not adhere to the Declaration shows how far we have to go to obtain our basic human rights.