The first few amendments in the Constitution of the United States of America are known as the “Bill of Rights.” Since the beginnings of the USA, these rights have repeatedly been attacked, limited, curtailed, and even completely revoked and then later restored by numerous government officials. This opinion piece details my interpretation of the current state of affairs with regards to the Bill of Rights and how those rights seem to presently be limited by government.
Amendment 1 – Freedom of Religion, Press, Expression. Ratified 12/15/1791.
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.
Today, the government routinely rounds citizens up into “free speech zones” during political events. They put these citizens into places where they will be less likely to be seen by the people they are protesting, and less likely to be seen by cameras. They put police all over the area, and prevent citizens from walking or moving outside of these zones, even if that prevents same citizens from accessing public transportation services and such.
Amendment 2 – Right to Bear Arms. Ratified 12/15/1791.
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.
I could go on for a while on this one, but suffice to say, we all know it has been limited substantially by more recent state and federal laws. A short list includes numerous regulations requiring citizens to jump through various types of hoops to obtain a weapon, as well as limiting the types of weapons a citizen can purchase, who they may be purchased from, etc.
Amendment 4 – Search and Seizure. Ratified 12/15/1791.
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.
US Drug law has created a situation where you can have all of your property confiscated even if it has nothing to do with any criminal enterprise. Additionally, your bank papers can be searched at any time without warrant. Your other papers and effects are searched by giant government-run spy networks. You have essentially no guarantee here any longer. If they want to fuck you over, they do. You only have this right by happenstance, if the govt chooses not to fuck you.
Amendment 5 – Trial and Punishment, Compensation for Takings. Ratified 12/15/1791.
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.
We’ve been depriving people of their life, liberty and property without due process of law ever since the war on drugs began, and the war on terror has only made it more glaringly obvious and far worse.
Amendment 6 – Right to Speedy Trial, Confrontation of Witnesses. Ratified 12/15/1791.
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.
The government frequently stretches out pre-trial motions and other such things in drug cases in order to wear down the defense to the point where the defendant has no money left to mount a defense. This has been one of their primary strategies in the war on drugs. With the Patriot Act, prisoners may now be held indefinitely without trial.
Amendment 7 – Trial by Jury in Civil Cases. Ratified 12/15/1791.
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.
Rendition, anyone? For those unfamiliar with it, “extraordinary rendition,” refers to the process of removing a person from the country in an effort to subvert the legal process, including this amendment.
Amendment 8 – Cruel and Unusual Punishment. Ratified 12/15/1791.
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
I know a man who spent 5 years in prison for being in possession of 25 hits of LSD. Cruel and unusual? Practically everyone sentenced for buying, selling or possessing drugs falls under this category. Also everyone sentenced for prostitution falls under this category.
Amendment 13 – Slavery Abolished. Ratified 12/6/1865.
1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation
Income tax. Nuff said.
And yet, though all of this, where have the American people been? Sitting at home watching their televisions and enjoying the temporary security they purchased by decimating these Amendments to the Constitution, that’s where.
When I bring up Liberty, Rights or similar issues these days, I almost always find myself under attack (personal ad hominems more frequently than attacks of my arguments) from a bunch of socialists and government apologists and neocons alike. How is it that both the socialists and the neocons can agree on this? That we should be stripped of our rights? That the bill of rights should be used as government toilet paper?
How about you? Are you in favor of the bill of rights, or do you think it belongs on the scrapheap of history?
As for me, I’m with Patrick Henry:
“Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!”