“Fear is the weapon in the hands of tyrants.”
– Mary Baker Eddy, Miscellaneous Writings
This post was inspired by the zany antics of GOP Sen. Tom Cotton – who apparently told his constituents that if they continued to write him letters he’d have them arrested for harassment. I’m thinking it’s time our politicians had a refresher course on the United States Constitution. 🙂
Today we are going to have a civics lesson. Let’s talk about the Bill of Rights, okay? The Bill of Rights are the first ten amendments in the United States Constitution. James Madison, who is sometimes called the The Father of the Constitution, came up with these babies. What I heard, when I was majoring in History at Washington State University, was that Madison created these ten amendments because he wanted to get the Constitution ratified, not because the amendments were particularly important to him, personally. But these ten amendments are, I believe, the most important part of our Constitution, and evidence, to me, that Madison was a genius.
The Constitution is, of course, the foundation for our nation’s government. It is the legal document that establishes the United States as a representative democracy. It is what makes us what we are as a nation, and who we are as citizens of that nation.
Here are the first ten amendments:
1) Freedom of religion, speech, and the press – “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment or 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.”
The first amendment is, for me, the most important amendment to our Constitution. It gives our citizens the right to practice any religion (or non-religion) they choose; to express their opinions and beliefs in writing or in speech; and to peaceably assemble to protest what they feel is wrong. It gives our news media the right (and responsibility) to keep the public informed so citizens can be informed when they vote.
In other words, no, you can’t be arrested for writing letters to your legislators. No, you can’t be locked up because you don’t happen to practice the same religion as the Vice President. No, journalists can’t be sent to prison for printing the truth.
2) The Right to Bear Arms – “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.”
In other words, no dictatorship or despot has the right to send troops from house to house to confiscate your guns.
3) The Housing of Soldiers – “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.”
In other words, the government can’t force you to provide board and room for soldiers. (Remember this amendment was made not long after The Revolutionary War – when colonists were forced to house British soldiers in their homes.)
4) Protection from Unreasonable Searches and Seizures – “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 probably cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particuarly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.”
In the “olden days” if rulers didn’t like you they could send out their soldiers to enter your home and ransack it whenever they chose. Imagine quietly sleeping in your home when suddenly soldiers break down your door and pull you from your bed and start tearing your house apart – not because you’ve done anything wrong, but just because the king doesn’t like you.
The fourth amendment protects our right to privacy and security. Without a legitimate reason for a search warrant, the government cannot intrude on your privacy.
5) Protection to Life, Liberty, and Security – “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.”
Without this amendment, if, say, the ruler didn’t happen to like you or your family, he could put you on trial for a crime over and over again – even after it was established your were innocent. Yup, he could just keep on hauling you back into court – not because you were guilty of anything, but just because he didn’t like you. Without this amendment, you could be locked up in jail without any charges ever being filed against you – you could be locked up just because someone who doesn’t like you accused you of committing some crime. That would really stink, wouldn’t it?
6) Rights of Accused Persons in Criminal Cases – “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.”
Without this amendment you might be an innocent person locked up in jail for YEARS without ever having the chance to prove your innocence in a court of law. Without this amendment a judge who doesn’t like you might hold your trial behind closed doors – without anyone else to witness how you were being treated. Without this amendment you might be put on trial without knowing WHY you were being put on trial, or what crime you were accused of committing. Without this amendment you might not have someone learned in the law representing you in court.
7) Rights in Civil Cases – “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.”
This amendment guarantees your right to a trial by jury if you’re accused of a crime that’s greater than twenty dollars. In other words, a judge alone isn’t going to decide your fate. You have a right to a trial by your peers.
8) Excessive Bails, Fines, and Punishments Forbidden – “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”
This amendment guarantees that if you’re found guilty of committing a crime, any fines and punishments imposed on you won’t be over-the-top . In other words, you can’t have your hand cut off for stealing an apple, or be stoned to death for not paying a parking ticket.
9) Other Rights Kept by the People – “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”
This amendment says that just because a right isn’t specifically mentioned in the Constitution doesn’t mean you don’t have that right. So, like, just because the Constitution doesn’t explicitly say you have the right to breathe, doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to breathe.
10) Undeligated Powers Kept by the States and the People – “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.”
This one says that any powers not specifically granted to the Federal Government belong to the state governments and to the people. This amendment protects individual states and citizens from the Federal Government ever getting too much power over us.
Okay, there you have it. Study. You never know when there’s going to be a pop quiz in the Class of Life.
“It is the pulpit and press, clerical robes and the prohibiting of free speech, that cradles and covers the sins of the world,—all unmitigated systems of crime; and it requires the enlightenment of these worthies, through civil and religious reform, to blot out all inhuman codes. It was the Southern pulpit and press that influenced the people to wrench from man both human and divine rights, in order to subserve the interests of wealth, religious caste, civil and political power…Shall religious intolerance, arrayed against the rights of man, again deluge the earth in blood?”
– Mary Baker Eddy, Miscellaneous Writings
“When the press is gagged, liberty is besieged…”
– Mary Baker Eddy, Miscellaneous Writings