The Constitution

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Much has been made recently about the U.S. Constitution and its amendments.

Every day, people debating public policy on Facebook or in online forums and those who are raising their voices at bars or coffee shops -- they are practicing their right to free speech, as outlined in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. Those who take time to go to council meetings, call their representatives or ask for information are exercising their right to petition their government; those who organize groups to advocate their views are taking advantage of their right to peacefully assemble. Those of you who attended church this morning know that the government can't prohibit you from practicing your religion. And, of course, you're reading a newspaper, which is protected from government interference by the freedom of the press. All of these rights come from the First Amendment.

Most of the debate recently is about the Second Amendment, which concerns the right to bear arms. The debate is over what forms of gun control infringe on those rights. The debate over constitutional matters is worth having, because the document is so important. It is the cornerstone of our legal system. As several have pointed out this week, public officials are sworn to protect it, from sheriffs to presidents. The highest court is charged with interpreting it.

With the debate over the Second Amendment going on, we thought it might be a good time to list all 10 amendments contained in the Bill of Rights. Do you know them all?

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

9. The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

10. 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.

It should be noted the amendments contained in the Bill of Rights are only a small section of the constitution. Most of the document deals with the structure of the government such as what powers are held by Congress, how members are elected, how laws are passed and other important matters that are relevant today such as borrowing money and regulating money. If you haven't read it or studied it for a while, take some time to inform yourself about the constitution. You might be surprised by what's in there.

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