I read a disturbing but not surprising article that said the vast majority of Americans cannot even name the rights listed in the original Bill of Rights. Hmmmm.
So, here’s where we’re going.
First question: How many rights do we presently have according to the Bill of Rights?
Second question: How many rights were Americans originally granted?
Third question: What are these rights called?
First, there are 27 rights. Second, there were originally 10. And third, our rights are called Amendments. These are attached to the Constitution.
Most of the rights in today’s arguments are centered on the original 10, specifically: Amendment 1 - Freedom of Religion, Press, Expression; Amendment 2 - Right to bear Arms; Amendment 3 - Quartering of soldiers; Amendment 4 - Search and Seizure; Amendment 5 - Trial and Punishment, Compensation for Takings; Amendment 6 - Right to speedy trial, confrontation of witnesses; Amendment 7 - Trial by jury in civil cases; Amendment 8 - Cruel and Unusual punishment; Amendment 9 - Construction of Constitution; Amendment 10 - Powers of the States and People.
Okay, that’s the short version, perhaps looking familiar to you from your days in high school Civics Class. If you look through a copy of today’s newspaper you will quickly notice that several stories pertain to these rights. The First Amendment seems to always be in the news. So, what does this amendment say? “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.” Let’s look at the first part of this right: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Why did our founding fathers feel the need to establish this as a right? And why was it the first amendment? For the answer, you need to understand the strong historical influence of British laws. The primary reason pilgrims left England in the first place was the issue over the freedom to worship as one pleased, which became the greater cause we call “Freedom of Religion.” At that time (the mid-1700s) there was an established Church in England. It has been this way for centuries. Consider John Bunyan, the author of the much beloved classic, “Pilgrims Progress.” Bunyan was a Baptist street preacher in Merry Old England when it was illegal to preach on the streets without being a member of the Church of England. For his crime, he was placed in jail. It was twelve years before he was released when a new king removed the restrictions against Protestants. The year was 1672. It was this sort of state run abuse that our founding fathers sought in protecting a fledgling America.
Today, there are countries where you are expected to be a member of the state run religion. If you are not, then you can plan on being persecuted in any number of ways: you may not own property; you may not work in any government job (including the military); you may not even be allowed to purchase food items in a store; and of course, you may be tortured and/or killed for believing differently from what the state approves. The First Amendment protects us as Americans from such abuse. Each American may worship as they choose. Or they may opt to have no religious belief. People of faith are to be involved in all aspects of life, knowing that by their involvement they affect a positive force.
Consider the words of Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black in an opinion he wrote in 1947: “The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another.”
Simply put, the freedom of religion provided in our First Amendment is to protect you and me as individual citizens from the uninvited and unwelcome pressures of a meddling government.
You may not like what other people worship or believe, but in America it’s each person’s right – a right that is insured and protected through our Constitution.
And it’s the first of your 27 rights.
Is this a great country, or what!