I think it’s appropriate that we pause for a few moments this Thanksgiving Day to reflect on something uniquely American: the Bill of Rights. It is generally accepted that the Constitution would not have been adopted by the first 13 states if it had not been accompanied by these first 10 amendments.
Having just won a war to establish their liberty from tyrannical government, those early citizens were not about to allow the newly created government to curtail their rights. So they did their very best to enumerate exactly what this new entity could and could not do.
The 1st Amendment set the tone for all that followed:
Congress shall make no law respecting the 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.
What a powerful group of freedoms are listed here: the freedom to worship as you please without the state imposing its dictates on you, the freedom of speech for you and your neighbors and even the media, the right to demonstrate and to petition government to change. It’s sobering to realize that most people who ever lived did not enjoy such freedoms.
Thanks to these protections, it is virtually impossible to keep Americans from expressing our views and working to implement our beliefs. The liberals might control most of the mainstream media. But they can’t suppress all of the alternative means of communication, from Fox News and talk radio to thousands of “contrary” websites like Personal Liberty Digest. No matter how much they may wish it were otherwise, they can’t keep us from communicating with each other or reaching out to our fellow citizens.
Yes, the 1st Amendment is essential to establish and protect our freedoms. But so is the 2nd 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.
Boy, have the liberals tried to get rid of this one! While they’ve managed to nibble away at the edges of this guarantee, putting limits in some areas on carrying or even owning some weapons, most of their assaults on our right to keep and bear arms have been defeated. And that’s a good thing, because tyranny can never be imposed on a population that is as well-armed as we are.
The 3rd Amendment isn’t much of a concern anymore; quartering soldiers in our homes hasn’t been an issue since the War Between the States.
But the 4th Amendment is one that needs a lot more attention these days. That’s the one that starts, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated….”
We now know that the government has been monitoring millions of our emails and cellphone conversations. It doesn’t matter that some well-meaning people are doing this because they think they’re protecting us; a lot of crimes have been committed by a lot of governments in the name of “national security.” It’s shameful that the United States has become one of them.
I’m going to skip over the next five amendments, so I can spend the remainder of this column discussing the last amendment in the Bill of Rights. Basically, the 10th Amendment says that if the Founders forgot to include something in the list of what government can’t do, well, it can’t do that, either. Here’s how the Framers of our Constitution put it in the 10th 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.
Sad to say, the courts have done a terrible job of enforcing this amendment. The central government now intrudes in so many areas that I think it’s safe to say that the Founding Fathers would be dismayed by most federal programs. Like me, they would believe that entire Cabinets, and everything they do, are unconstitutional. And our trillion-dollar budgets, and $18 trillion in debt, would leave them horrified.
Yes, we’ve come a long way from the kind of Constitutional government our Founding Fathers gave us. But the good news is that we still enjoy the rights and liberties we need in our efforts to bind government down with the chains of the Constitution.
So I repeat: As we give thanks this Thanksgiving Day for the many blessings we enjoy, let’s pause for a moment to reflect on the value and the importance of that incredible, invaluable document, the Bill of Rights.
Until next time, keep some powder dry.