Learn more about Independence Day
and The Bill of Rights
As we look forward to the 4th of July, most of us are thrilled to have a three day weekend, backyard barbecues, bonfires at the beach, summer campouts and, of course, fireworks! Very seldom do we think about what we are actually celebrating. The Fourth of July is our Independence Day, recognizing our freedom from the control of England. A few years after we declared our independence, we created our United States Constitution, which described the type of government we wished to have. By 1791, our forefathers had also added the Bill of Rights, which clarified the freedoms that they wanted specifically spelled out as part of our Constitution. Read on to learn more about the freedoms we enjoy as we celebrate on the 4th of July?
The Freedom of Speech
The First Amendment grants our citizens the right to say and think whatever we want, even if we make a disparaging comment about our political leaders or our government. In fact, many comedians in our country have made a living impersonating and poking fun at our leaders. Although, of course, we cannot physically harm or threaten someone we disagree with, or provoke others to harm them, we do have the freedom to discuss our differences. Freedom of speech even includes the right to burn the American flag as a sign of protest, if we wish. We were granted our freedom over 200 years ago. Today, there are still countries around the world where the leaders can and do punish citizens who simply complain.
As you read about the rights that have been guaranteed by our Bill of Rights, you may also want to learn more. If so, use the link before for some helpful Amazon books:
The Freedom of Religion
The First Amendment also states that our government cannot make any laws regarding the establishment of a religion. The government cannot create any legislation that prevents individuals from exercising their religious beliefs. Of course, there are limitations on this freedom, as well as the other freedoms, if your religion requires human or animal sacrifices, polygamy or similar beliefs that harms or demeans others. However, in general, you are free to worship as you wish.
Freedom of the Press
During the Nixon scandal in the 1970's, it is unlikely that we would ever have learned what really happened during the days before and after the robbery at the Watergate if it had not been for the hard work of the reporters, Woodward and Bernstein, from the Washington Post. Think about all the other scandals that have been broken by reporters, not law enforcement. Although sometimes a free press can make us all squirm, the United States is a better, more ethical nation because of Freedom of the Press.
Freedom of Assembly
During the late 1960's, college students (including this author) demonstrated against the War in Vietnam. Although many people disagreed with the stand those students took, no one disagreed with their right to assemble in peaceful protest. Violent protests, or riots, of course, are a different matter.
Freedom to Petition the Government for Redress of Grievances
The First Amendment also grants us the right to petition our government if we believe that a law or regulation is wrong. In states, cities and small towns across America, regular citizens often gather signatures for petitions on issues they would like to see put on their local ballots. Then, the other people in their community can vote on the issue and decide if the majority want the laws changed. Individuals are truly able to participate in local democracy because of this freedom.
Freedom to Keep and Bear Arms
The Second Amendment has been very controversial, particularly since the shooting of President Reagan. As guns have become more powerful and dangerous since the beginning of the 20th Century, there have been many efforts made to limit some of the types of weapons that people can keep in their homes. Many people ask if individuals really need to have armor piercing bullets, or semi-automatic weapons. However you feel about this issue, the right to keep and bear at least basic weapons is a right that is guaranteed under the United States Constitution.
Freedom from Being Forced to House Soldiers in our Homes
Prior to the Revolutionary War, and even during the war, the British often had their troops quartered in private homes. In other words, the local military leaders could simply move into your home with you. They could insist that you feed them, do their laundry and provide food for some of their soldiers as well. As you can imagine, this deeply offended American colonists. Today, thanks to the Third Amendment, you can live in your own home free from the worry that you will have to take personal care of our troops.
Freedom from Unreasonable Search and Seizure
The Fourth Amendment states that the police cannot search your home, your papers or your body without probable cause, and even then they need a warrant that describes exactly what place they intend to search, as well as who or what they intend to seize. Of course, there are times when searching someone has not been deemed to be unreasonable.
Freedom from Misuse of the Legal System
The Fifth Amendment specifically states that we have the right to due process in criminal cases. We are also protected from double jeopardy, and self-incrimination in criminal cases. In addition, we cannot lose our property without being compensated, and without due process of the law.
The Sixth and Seventh Amendments go on to grant us freedom from legal mistreatment by guaranteeing us the right to a speedy, public trial by a jury, the right to confront our accusers, and the right to have a lawyer assist us.
The Eighth Amendment prohibits the courts from demanding excessive bail or imposing a cruel and unusual punishment. Naturally, the determination of what constitutes a cruel and unusual punishment has changed over the past 220 years. Back in those days, hanging was considered a normal and appropriate punishment. Today, it would be considered cruel and unusual.
The Ninth Amendment states that citizens of the United States have other rights, as well, if they have not been specifically denied elsewhere.
The Tenth Amendment says that the States with retain the right to govern the people within their own state, unless a power has been specifically retained by the Federal Government.
The Value of the Bill of Rights
There may be times when citizens of our nation argue about some of the freedoms listed in the Bill of Rights. Honest, intelligent people can have heartfelt differences of opinion about the Right to Bear Arms, for example, or Freedom of the Press during times of war. The truth is, however, that at least we have the Freedom of Speech that allows us to discuss these issues in public and without fear of being illegally imprisoned or having our property taken from us because we happen to disagree with the current leaders of our country.
The Bill of Rights is a true blessing. So, while you are enjoying the three-day weekend, the barbecue and the fireworks, take a few minutes to think about all the benefits and freedoms we enjoy.
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Learn More About Your Rights
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