July 4, 2003
In light of today being independence day for my country (the US), I would like to reflect on a cornerstone of our laws: The Bill of Rights.
Among some circles, it is said that if the Bill of Rights were proposed to American citizens today, people would not accept it. People would call it too "terrorist friendly", too "unamerican", too "radical". That thought in mind, I will look at each article in the Bill of Rights and comment on how people react to them today.
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.
Many people feel that America is a "Christian Nation". However, as seen above, America is, in fact, an agnostic nation. Our legal system should not favor any religion over another; nor should it trample on the rights of people of different religions.
This is why the Supreme court recently decided that laws which make gay sex acts illegal are unconstitutional. Many Christians feel that God considers homosexual acts wrong; however, our nation should not pass a law because people feel the law is God's will. Laws should be passed (or not passed) based on secular reasoning.
This is why laws supporting "creation science" are routinely turned down by the courts; "creation science" is the establishment of the beliefs of a religion in a classroom.
This is not to say that God has no place in our nation. It just means, when writing up laws, they should be written up for reasons besides "God says so".
I do not think there is any argument over freedom of speech. Of course, freedom of speech does not mean one is guaranteed to have a free printing press, or that one is allowed to influence another printing press.
A newspaper is free to reject an article, or to not publish a letter to the editor. It is only when it becomes illegal to publish said article in any newspaper that the right to free speech is broken.
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.
This is the amendment that gun control advocates wished was not in the constitution. I support gun control laws myself: I think there should be a waiting period, I think anyone with a criminal history should not be able to buy a gun, and I think that certain military-grade weapons should not be available to the general public.
That said, I think the city of New York has gone too far making gun ownership outright illegal; I am very surprised that such a law has not been stuck down as unconstitutional. And, indeed, the police can not be everywhere all of the time; there are people who legitimately feel they need a gun to feel safe.
The 1980s story of the New Yorker who shot four people trying to mug him comes to mind. This person was previously mugged and beaten, and the police did not even arrest the muggers. So, the person bought a gun. Next time a gang tried to mug him, he shot them. He was acquitted for murder; however, he was arrested for owning a gun in New York?
I may not agree with America's gun culture; and I have never owned a gun and hope to never own one. However, the constitution allows people to have guns, and I respect the constitution.
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.
"A man's house is his castle".
This was a practice that happened in pre-independence America which annoyed the newly-independent Americans enough to make it a constitutional amendment. And, indeed, there is a reason we have military bases with barracks.
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.
I know someone who had all of the money in his bank accounts taken away from him. His crime? Someone called the police and said he was a drug dealer.
Even though there was absolutely no evidence that he was dealing drugs, the police felt they could seize all of his funds without a trial, without a court appearance, heck, without probable cause.
He never got his money back.
Another practice: Seizing the cars of men that police suspect are seeking prostitutes.
It is sad that congress has passed laws which so flagrantly violate this amendment of the Constitution. Yes, it is OK to seize money from drug dealers, but such seizures should not happen until there is proof that the person in question is, indeed, dealing drugs.
On a similar note, banks have the right to withhold customer's access to their own bank accounts if they suspect illegal activity, again without any evidence or proof needed.
This amendment needs to be honored by America again.
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.
In other words, no one can be forced to confess against themselves. I do not think this has been opposed or has generated any serious controversy.
This stops the practice, common in less civilized places, of torturing people until they confess that they have committed crimes. Once the confessions are obtained via torture, the people are tired for crimes which they normally did not commit.
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 defense.
Habeous Corpus. In other words, if someone is in jail, there better be charges brought against them. Ideally, one should not be in jail just because we think the person is, say, a "terrorist".
Sadly, this is being forgotten in our zealous "war on terrorism". People are being held in Guanajuanto Bay in Cuba because we think they might be terrorists. We do not have evidence nor charges against these people; they are being held in violation of the sixth amendment of the constitution.
George Bush should read the Bill of Rights again; what he is doing to these people is clearly un-American.
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.
I, for one, feel that lawsuits have gone too far. In particular, I think the members of the Jury in a lawsuit should be selected by a random process, and that the lawyer's ability to select or reject jury members should be severely limited.
I also feel that Juries need to come to a unanimous decision for a civil suit to award damages to the plaintiff.
That said, lawsuits are much better than the old system of the person with the most money hiring people to beat up the person who they had a grievance with.
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
In the name of the "war on drugs", we are arresting people and putting them in jail for long periods of time. We are arresting them, even though their crimes are victimless. Once someone goes to jail, their chances of becoming a hardened criminal increase; their chances of getting a job and contributing to society again decrease.
We need to think long and hard before putting someone in jail, or fining them so much they become bankrupt. Should someone who is just experimenting with drugs be forced to spend years in jail? Our "war on drugs" thinks so; the Constitution thinks not.
On a similar vein, should a restaurant be forced out of business because someone spills coffee on their legs and sues them?
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
In other words, the Constitution exists to give people rights, not take the rights away.
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.
Another amendment forgotten in these times. I think there is something wrong with a system where the lion's share of personal income taxes go to the federal government, and where the federal government then turns around and gives the money back to the states under grant programs. Such money should be given directly to the states via state income tax.
Our federal government has become too powerful. We need to remember amendment 10 and give more power back to the states again.
In closing, on this 4th of July weekend, I want to see America not be so un-American any more, and go back to our roots: The Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
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