Friday, March 11, 2016

Bill of Rights

As most people in the United States know, the first 10 amendments to our Constitution are known as the Bill of Rights. These amendments were not included when the Constitution was completed in 1787. Only 39 of the 42 members of the constitutional convention signed the Constitution. Edmund Randolph and George Mason of Virginia and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts refused to sign because there was no bill of rights included in the Constitution. A major sticking point to getting the Constitution ratified by the new states was a lack of a bill of rights. That is the major reason it took two years to get the document ratified. It was causing so many problems for the people that our Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution in 1791.

Another interesting note is that the word democracy does not appear in the Constitution. The right to vote or nor even a discussion of the right to vote came up in the constitutional convention. The same is true for the Bill of Rights. At the time the Constitution was ratified only male property owners were allowed to vote. More on that will appear in later posts.

The Bill of Rights:

The 1st amendment says Congress will not establish a religion. It guarantees freedom for individuals to worship as they please. It also gives us freedom of speech and freedom of the press, the right to assemble and the right to petition government to address grievances.

The 2nd amendment gives us the right to bear arms. Specifically, it states, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms will not be infringed.”

The 3rd amendment addresses quartering of the military. It says in peace time people will not be forced to give up their homes or any part of their homes to house soldiers without the homeowner’s permission. This is also true in wartime, unless it is made lawful at that time.

The 4th amendment protects us from illegal searches and seizures and declares a warrant will not be issued without probable cause. This amendment is violated continually by our government today, but that discussion will have wait for another time.

The 5th amendment says no person will be put on trial for a serious crime without the indictment of a grand jury, excluding the military in time of war. It further protects us against double jeopardy and gives us the right not to give testimony against ourselves (taking the fifth). It further states the government cannot take our property without just compensation.

The 6th amendment guarantees a speedy trial and the right to a lawyer. It also gives us the right to see the evidence and hear the witnesses against us before trial. An aside note: We automatically have a right to a lawyer and the Miranda speech law enforcement gives law-breakers is to assure the law-breakers know they have that right.

The 7th amendment guarantees a trial by jury in civil cases involving over $20.

The 8th amendment gives us the right to bail, prevents excessive fines and protects us from cruel and unusual punishment.

The 9th amendment says that the enumeration of rights in the Constitution is not a limitation to other rights we may or should have as human beings.

The 10th amendment says all powers not specifically given to the federal government belong to the states, unless such powers are explicitly forbidden to the states.

As you read through this document and the Constitution itself, including amendments, you will probably question many of the practices common in the country. I do. I think our government and government officials at every level act outside the Constitution on occasion. We the people are the only ones that can stop that. Let your voice be heard.

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