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Sunday, July 3, 2011

A Constitutional Thought for July 4th

It is only about two hours until July 4th. Families will hold barbeques, fireworks, parties, or in my cousin's case, an ironically timed wedding. But are we really keeping and maintaining the Constitutional values that made our country so great when it was adopted on September 17, 1787? On a side note, most Americans don't even know what event happened on July 4th - it was the date the Declaration of Independence was finalized. It is disputed whether or not it was actually signed on this date. But back on subject, the Constitutional values and the Bill of Rights have been frequently trampled on by our government. Let us take a look at these values and violations as we attempt to return to the Spirit of 1776.

Let's look at the Bill of Rights. Most people don't realize that there were actually twelve amendments in the original Bill of Rights.The first deals with the number of Representatives and is unlikely to ever be ratified due to the fact that it would create about a hundred thousand representatives. Article II read
Article the second ... No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.

This was finally ratified as the 27th Amendment in 1992. However, the next 10 all make up what we know today as the Bill of Rights. Most notably, there is the First Amendment, which reads
Article the third ...... 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.

It is this free speech, press, peaceful assembly, and petitioning of the government that was supposed to make our country so great. However, whether it was prosecuting "Communist infidels" for vaguely anti-Government statements in the 1950s or government-sanctioned Islamaphobia today, this has been violated too many times. I could make a long list, but it would take away from the rest of this post, so I won't.

The Fourth Amendment reads:
Article the sixth ...... 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.
 Too often I see police violating this statute. The blame lies with the citizens almost as much as with the police, however. The video above should help citizens deal with police encounters so as not to forfeit their rights under this amendment or any other amendment regarding police searches. However, as the video notes, there is one place where massive Fourth Amendment violations occur - at airports. Full body scanners and "enhanced patdowns" as well as "random searches" which allegedly are not based on racial profiling are severely restricting what should be Constitutional rights.

And while these are claimed to be in the name of national security, I haven't heard of these measures catching anyone BEFORE they got on the plane. The underwear bomber was caught by other passengers. The shoe bomber was also caught by other passengers. The 9/11 hijackers weren't caught at all. So are these helping? No. All I hear about is TSA agents humiliating 61-year old bladder cancer survivors because of their diaper bags and other horror stories. So clearly responsible citizens are better at catching terrorists and are far less invasive.

Moving on to the Fifth and Sixth Amendments...
Article the seventh .. 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, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
Article the eighth ... 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.

Once again, these have been violated, mainly in the so-called name of "national security". The PATRIOT Act and indefinite detentions at Gitmo have caused both the actual terrorists and many innocent citizens to involuntarily give up their rights to privacy. And when so-called terrorists actually are caught, they may be held indefinitely. This is not living up to our Constitutional rights.

Finally, let us look at the Ninth and Tenth Amendments:

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

I tend to favor the power of the Ninth Amendment (people's rights) over the power of the Tenth (mainly states' rights). For the most part, I support the freedom of the people to live as they choose so long as they do not violate other people's rights to life, liberty, or property. Therefore, I support minimizing government to the point of only instituting services to protect people from force against those rights. As for the Tenth Amendment, when it doesn't violate the people's rights per the 9th Amendment, states may issue licenses, build roads, create police forces and courts and so on. But I believe their government role should be minimized as well. And as I've discussed before, I think secession is a Tenth Amendment right as well.

To summarize, many of our civil rights under the Constitution have been massively violated over the years. It is time to return to the Spirit of the Constitution.

On a lighter note, we should be thankful not to live in an alternate Earth where J. Edgar Hoover was elected President in 1964.

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