ACCORDING to a new poll released by the nonpartisan, nonprofit First Amendment Center, 55 percent of Americans believe that the U.S. Constitution establishes a Christian nation, and 56 percent believe that the freedom to worship as you choose doesn’t extend to all religious groups.It’s troubling that at a time of serious constitutional debates in this country – from school prayer to the detainee program at Guantanamo – so many Americans don’t even have a minimal understanding of the very bedrock of our Republic. Just in case, here is a refresher on the rights guaranteed in our Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution:
FIRST AMENDMENT – “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.”
This means, despite what the majority of Americans believe, there is not now and nor will there ever be, a declaration of Christianity as our national religion, barring another amendment to the Constitution that declares so. We are not a Christian nation, and our founders specifically forbid us to become so. Further, it guarantees the right of Americans to practice any religion they wish to – no matter how “offensive” others may find it. This amendment also guarantees us all freedom of speech, no matter how offensive it may be, the right to rally, no matter how extreme the cause, and the right to petition our government.
SECOND AMENDMENT – “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.” Often up for interpretation, this amendment guarantees the right to own guns. Some believe that it means guns for all, and others believe a “well regulated Militia” is what is known as the National Guard.
THIRD AMENDMENT – “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.” Believe it or not, at one time, British troops barged into the houses of Philadelphia and elsewhere, and hung out there as long as they wanted. Today, this amendment guarantees that you are the “King of the Castle.”
FOURTH AMENDMENT – “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated . . .”
This amendment protects you from the government busting into your house and rifling through your things, and taking what it wants, without a proper warrant that is issued, due to probable cause. Remember this one next time the president says we have no time to issue warrants in the war on terror.
FIFTH AMENDMENT – “No person shall be held to answer for any 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.”
Every American, no matter how horrific the crime he is accused of, is allowed his day in court, and cannot be forced to testify against himself, or be tried twice for the same offense. It doesn’t matter if someone shoplifted or killed 500 people. This right is extended to all Americans. Additionally, the government cannot take something you own without paying you what it’s worth.
SIXTH AMENDMENT – “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial . . .”
Again, no matter how horrific the crime alleged against the accused, every single American has the right to a speedy trial, and cannot be held for an extended period of time without it. We all have the right to trial by our peers, and the right to see all evidence that will be used against us. We all have the right to a lawyer.
SEVENTH AMENDMENT – “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 reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.”
Again, even in civil suits, we have the right to judgment by our peers.
EIGHTH AMENDMENT – “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”
Yes, this right even extends to American citizens who are members of terror cells within the U.S.
NINTH AMENDMENT – “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”
Just because the Bill of Rights doesn’t protect a right specifically doesn’t mean you don’t have that right.
TENTH AMENDMENT – “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 amendment makes clear – if the Constitution doesn’t give the power to the federal government, or specifically keep it from the states, that power is exercised on the state and local level.
That such a large number of Americans don’t know their rights is a sure sign that we are on the road to no longer fighting to protect those rights. Once misunderstanding and complacency over our rights reaches a critical mass, you can be sure your government will exploit that and regularly violate the liberties the Constitution gives to all of us.
Don’t let that happen. *