Independence Day is one of the holidays I like to take time to think about its meaning.
Today I’m thinking about the U.S. Bill of Rights, as timely today as ever. Why are they as important today as ever? They limit the power of government. It seems unchecked governments tend to try to seize more power. That doesn’t mean they’re bad or the people in them are bad. Just that people in positions of power feel motivations to increase that power, often for what many people would consider noble reasons.
If you’ve read my posts lately you’ve read how I consider the NSA’s spying a major step toward unaccountable centralized power (which I think the writers of the Constitution would have called tyranny) and an irresponsible abdication of leadership by President Obama, so the Fourth Amendment is on my mind. Guantanamo Bay keeps the Fifth Amendment on my mind too, which doesn’t seem to make exceptions for people who aren’t citizens.
If I coded this page right, you saw an image and link to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group that protects liberties, especially online (if I didn’t, please click here to learn more). They’re playing a key role in protecting our freedom from what look to me like violations of the Fourth Amendment. I hope you’ll support them too.
Today I’ll post the United States Bill of Rights. I hope you’ll take the time to read a few of the amendments. They’re pretty short and how often do you read them? I find it amazing such a short Constitution could stay in effect for so long for so many people. According to Wikipedia’s page:
The Bill of Rights is the collective name for the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. These limit the power of government, in order to protect the natural rights of liberty and property. They guarantee a number of personal freedoms, limit the government’s power in judicial and other proceedings, and reserve some powers to the states and the public. While originally the amendments applied only to the federal government, most of their provisions have since been held to apply to the states by way of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The amendments were introduced by James Madison to the 1st United States Congress as a series of legislative articles. They were adopted by the House of Representatives on August 21, 1789, formally proposed by joint resolution of Congress on September 25, 1789, and came into effect as Constitutional Amendments on December 15, 1791, through the process of ratification by three-fourths of the States. While twelve amendments were proposed by Congress, only ten were originally ratified by the states. Of the remaining two, one was adopted 203 years later as the Twenty-seventh Amendment and the other technically remains pending before the states.
The Bill of Rights plays a key role in American law, American politics and the American government, and remains a vital symbol of the freedoms and culture of the nation. One of the first fourteen copies of the Bill of Rights is on public display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
From Project Gutenberg’s page:
The United States Bill of Rights.
The Ten Original Amendments to the Constitution of the United States
Passed by Congress September 25, 1789
Ratified December 15, 1791
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 offense 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.
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 defense.
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.
Excessive bail shall not be required nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by 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.
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