We developed this section to summarize the key points in a quick section if you are short on time.
The first 10 Constitutional Amendments are called the Bill of Rights. These rights were developed to protect the people from federal government overreach. Here, in part 1, we cover the first 5 Amendments and will cover the next 5 in the following article.
- The First Amendment protects religion (establishment and free exercise), speech, the press, peaceably assemble, and petition the government (protest).
- The Second Amendment provides a militia and the right to keep and bear arms.
- The Third Amendment protects individuals from quartering (housing) soldiers.
- The Fourth Amendment prescribes the process of obtaining a warrant and protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures.
- The Fifth Amendment protects the criminally accused by allowing a jury. Also, they cannot be charged twice for the same crime, or caused to witness against themselves. Finally, private property cannot be taken for public use.
The What And Why Behind The Bill of Rights
During the Constitutional Convention, several founding fathers were outraged that the Constitution was lacking a Bill of Rights. But what is the Bill of Rights? It is a list of Constitutional Amendments of rights given to the people of the United States. The purpose of the Bill of Rights was to protect individuals from federal government overreach.
Many of the founding fathers were concerned with how much power was given to the federal government in the new Constitution. They believed a Bill of Rights was necessary to protect the people. Although other founding fathers did not believe a Bill of Rights was necessary, they knew the Constitution would not be approved without it. Thus, they agreed a Bill of Rights could be drafted and added to the Constitution as Amendments following the ratification process.
The several States also felt a Bill of Rights should be included. Although the Constitution was ratified in 1789, several States chose not to ratify until the Bill of Rights was added in 1791.
Importantly, the founders only thought the Bill of Rights was needed only to restrict the federal government. However, the courts have also applied several Amendments to apply to State and local governments as well.
The First Amendment is interesting because of how much it protects in a short amount of text. Here, the Amendment protects religion (establishment and free exercise), free speech, a free press, peaceful assembly, and the right to petition the government.
These rights propose several difficult questions. For instance, should the press be given certain privileges so they can be more open in their reporting? The courts have had to answer each question to provide insight into the Constitutional Amendment.
We will address several of these questions in future articles.
The Second Amendment contains two clauses. The first clause, the prefatory clause, provides a militia because it is necessary for a free state. The second clause is acting, protecting the right to keep and bear arms.
Once again this provides questions. How dependent is the right to keep and bear arms on the fact that there is a well-regulated militia? Is that the only instance where the right to keep and bear arms is protected? Or is it merely providing an example of how we can use weapons?
Answering these questions is essential to answering gun control-related debates. Again, we will explore these questions more in future articles.
The Third Amendment is slightly easier to understand. In times of war or peace, the government is unable to require citizens to quarter (house) soldiers without their consent. However, during times of war, this may be altered, as “prescribed by law.”
The Fourth Amendment describes what is protected from unreasonable searches and seizures. It also tells us the process for issuing warrants.
People, houses, papers, and effects are protected from unreasonable searches and seizures. With passing time, the courts have also provided other areas some Constitutional protection because of the increase in technology.
A warrant is issued if there is probable cause of a crime. It must be supported by oath or affirmation by a judicial authority. Before it is approved, however, it must describe the places to be searched, “and the persons or things to be seized.”
In summary, a warrant must have a good reason to be issued, provide information about what is to be searched and seized, and be approved by oath or affirmation.
The Fifth Amendment is the first of several Amendments to establish the rights of the criminally accused.
First, a person must be indicted by a jury to be held to answer for a crime. This rule varies for those who are in the military during times of war or public danger.
Second, those who have been accused cannot be charged twice for the same crime. This term is often called “double jeopardy.”
Third, the accused cannot be compelled to witness against themselves. Additionally, there can be no deprivation of life, liberty, or property without the due process of law. That is, ensuring the case works its way through the legal system properly.
Finally, private property cannot be taken for public use if there is no just compensation for the property.
Although some founders felt the Bill of Rights was not needed, history has shown that it was. Constantly, cases are brought before the courts because they feel like their rights, protected in the Bill of Rights, were violated by governmental entities. Several times the court has found that the government had overreached.
The Bill of Rights is a part of the Constitution. Just like the Constitution, the Bill of Rights needs to be protected.
A Quick Note
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