Friday, December 09, 2005
Bill of Rights Day - December 15, 1791
I think it's time I wrote a little about the Bill of Rights, since it's the Document that makes the United States the economically powerful and relatively free nation it is today. I say relatively free because that's merely a comparison to other countries around the world. When compared to a model of ideal freedom, or even when compared to the freedom Americans enjoyed a century ago, we're not free. Not even close.
The Bill of Rights was ratified on December 15, 1791. It came into being at the behest of the delegations of several of the original thirteen states, who refused to join the union without it.
Now, after many decades of government schooling of children and the attending redefinition of the role of government in our lives, most people are only peripherally aware of the Bill of Rights, and have very little knowledge of its content and purpose. We also have to suffer the news media, the politicians and high-profile legal "experts" redefining Americans' rights and the proper relationship between us and our servants in government.
Thus, we have Bill of Rights Day. Many freedom-loving individuals, beginning (for me) with Aaron Zelman of Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership (JPFO), have suggested an annual recognition of this day. A part of his site details his views on the promotion of Bill of Rights Day.
Here are the Ten Amendments that are our Bill of Rights, with a very brief addendum for each by yours truly.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or preventing 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 is seemingly the only Amendment of which ACLU is aware, and toward which they invest nearly all of their efforts. On the other hand they are, more often than not, on the wrong side of the Amendment. Colleges and universities, once bastions of free speech and free inquiry, have become the worst violators of the free speech clause. Conservatives take great glee at enumerating the limitations on free speech. They are always wrong. Disgusting speech, or speech with which we disagree, is still protected by the Amendment. Government itself violates the right to free assembly in many, many cases. After all this and more, the First Amendment is where most of our freedom resides, and is nominally still respected--at least when it's convenient to do so.
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.
Freedom-loving individuals face a constant battle against government to keep this Amendment intact. There are thousands of (unConstitutional) laws that limit the right to arm and defend oneself, and more limitations appear fairly often, but the Amendment stands. Many individuals keep illegal weapons surreptitiously, in defiance of these illegal laws, within their rights as individuals. More power to 'em!
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 prescribed by law.
While the government takes more than enough money to supply our military with quarters, it could be suggested that, since they've militarized the nation's police agencies, separated them from the general population and started referring to them as other than civilians, the case can easily be made that they become an army, quartered among us. No law-abiding American feared the beat cop in blue; everyone fears those nazi-esque storm troopers in black armor that pop up at virtually any excuse (remember the Democrat and Republican Party Conventions a little over a year ago?) and terrorize neighborhoods. That's the steep part of a very slippery slope.
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 person or thing to be seized.
Well, what can I say? This one has been so roundly violated that it might as well be stricken from the document. The real violations came with the so-called War on Drugs. Violations have increased by orders of magnitude with the addition of the horribly misnamed War on Terror--the portions of which are directed against the population of the United States. Search warrants are mass-produced in tear-off pads, already signed and sealed. Objects of the warrants are forbidden to disclose that they've been served (if, of course, they were actually told about the search themselves!).
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 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, of property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.
The main difficulties here are with government's (both police and the courts) utter disregard for due process, particularly in drug and other contraband prosecutions and more recently, in the cases arising from the "War on Terror." Pundits and government spokesmen cite the urgency of the situation, but thrashing through the rights of both alleged violators of the (not usually rational) law, and uninvolved bystanders, is no substitute for good police work.
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 witrnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.
The speedy trial has gone out the window many decades ago. As the number of (mostly irrational) possibilities of violations of the sensibilities of the government increases exponentially, and the numbers of accused criminals mounts alongside, pressure on the courts to handle these cases, along with the demands of attorneys, means an accused individual might wait years with a sword over his head before the arrival of his day in court. Government-inspired irregularities caused by inconsistencies between the law and the Constitution generally go in favor of law enforcement, at the expense of the individual.
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 jury shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
Thanks to government's inflation of the money supply, particularly over the past eighty years or so, twenty dollars doesn't mean much anymore. Nonetheless, the right to a jury trial has become more difficult and tenuous--particularly in cases in which government is the plaintiff. Judges and prosecutors practice jury tampering routinely, lying to juries about their legal responsibilities, prerogatives under the law, and duties.
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
Setting of bail has deteriorated to an amount based upon the ability of the accused to pay, rather than the severity of the crime, as often do fines imposed. This had largely come about as a result of the so-called "War on Drugs."
The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or desparage others retained by the prople.
When conservative pundits proclaim that there is no right to privacy, they're dead wrong. This Amendment is where that right (among others) resides. The source of the denial of the right to privacy began with the unConstitutional beginning of the federal income taxes (Amendment XVI doesn't even begin to address the Constitutional problems of this imposition) and carrries through to include any personal information the individual doesn't want known by government. Government's seeking out of private information released by the individual to private concerns for private purposes is as unConstitutional as their raiding and searching that person's home and effects without a duly executed warrant.
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.
What this catchall Amendment tells us is that government can do nothing, except what is specifically enumerated in the Constitution. Nothing. When the infamous and illegal Federal Bureau of Investigation was founded, the proper thing to ask was, "does the Constitution authorize the founding of a national police force?" No, it doesn't. Nor does the Constitution authorize any of the many other national police agencies that have been illegally created in the past few decades. Nor FEMA. Nor the Dept of Education. Nor any of the other big-spending bureaucracies created by various would-be dictators in Washington DC. The authorizations might be achieved by Constitutional Amendment, but wasn't. Laws might be implemented to allow easier communication and cooperation between the police departments of the cities and states, and private crime laboratories could be used for the sophisticated investigations. Private charities and accreditation firms might take on most of these other tasks, as well. Unfortunately for the constantly overburdened taxpayer, that was not the way government, in its compulsive desire to grow and involve itself in private affairs, decided to go.
Thus, I plan to mumble many obscenities on the 15th day of December, as I reflect upon freedom lost. I'll wear my Scott Beiser "Bill of Rights Enforcement" t-shirt, and generally be a pain in the ass to all, on the subject. May Thomas Paine have mercy on my soul.
They've killed Freedom! Those bastards!