“Judges have spoken eloquently about it. Lawyers have made it the cornerstone of many a case. Historians have praised its genius, but the people who must understand the Bill of Rights most are the people it’s designed to protect.” — “The Bill of Rights — 200 years/200 Facts — A Guide to American Liberties” booklet produced for the Bill of Rights bicentennial celebration in 1991
The Declaration of Independence says, “... all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Just as the Bill of Rights does not list every right accorded to an American citizen to protect him from an intrusive government, the Founders did not list every innumerable or natural right they believed man has in the Declaration of Independence to begin with.
W. Cleon Skousen in his book “The 5000 Year Leap” lists some rights that we take for granted: freedom of conscience, freedom to make personal choices, to choose a mate, to choose a profession, to have children or not, to explore and invent, to associate and travel freely, to enter into contracts, and many more. These are “rights” we take for granted that are not given to us by government.
According to the Bill of Rights Institute, when the Constitution was ready to go to the states for ratification one of the many points of contention between Federalists and Anti-Federalists was the Constitution’s lack of a bill of rights that would place specific limits on government power. Federalists argued that the Constitution did not need a bill of rights, because the people and the states kept any powers not given to the federal government. Anti-Federalists held that a bill of rights was necessary to safeguard individual liberty.
We can be thankful that the Anti-Federalists won out because as we have seen over the past century government has expanded and constantly seeks to control and manage our lives — sometimes infringing on the rights we have or enticing us to be dependent on them through new rights and entitlements.
George Mason, architect of Virginia’s Declaration of Rights, provided a framework and model for James Madison as he penned the federal Bill of Rights, a list of limits and prohibitions on government power.
Most everyone is familiar with the First Amendment — freedom of religion, speech, press, and petition, and the Second Amendment concerning the right to bear arms. But the Fourth Amendment (security in your person and possessions, unreasonable searches, necessary warrants), Fifth (required indictment for a crime, taking the Fifth against self-incrimination, double jeopardy, due process), and the Sixth (speedy jury trial, face accusers, have own witnesses and legal counsel) play a big part in people’s lives every day.
The Ninth and 10th Amendments were designed to close the loop leaving everything not specified to the government to the states and the people, but the courts have used these two amendments to “find” new rights not enumerated (abortion, for example). Nothing is perfect, but the Constitution’s Bill of Rights protects our individual liberties and makes America unique among nations. Take some time this week to read through the Bill of Rights for yourself, you might be surprised at what you find.
Mike Fullilove of Long Beach writes about local, state and national issues from a conservative perspective.