The Bill of Rights celebrates its 220th birthday today and it’s a mixed bag as to how she’s holding up.
Firstly, Freedom of Religion seems to be holding up pretty as has Freedom of Speech though a recent ruling by the Oregon Supreme Court that bloggers are not automatically journalists, citing blogger Crystal Cox’s, “Lack of education in journalism, any credentials or proof of affiliation with any recognized news entry, plus her failure to contact the other side to get both sides of the story,” in declaring her “not a member of the media,” which seems rather a slap in the face to Tom Paine and all the other Citizen Journalists of the Revolution, not to mention seeming to hold Ms. Cox to a Fairness Doctrine that has been legally abandoned by the State Approved Media since 1987.
Another troubling trend that affects Free Speech and bleeds into Freedom of Assembly is the trend of politicians having people removed from public gatherings, and sometimes even arrested, for peacefully expressing dissent, sometimes in the form of a tee shirt. This has spilled over to penning Citizens who wish to peacefully protest into confined “Free Speech Zones” from which they are not allowed to wander. An even bolder attempt to infringe of Citizens’ right to Freedom of Assembly has come out of Republican Scott Walker’s Minnesota where a law has been enacted in response to an outbreak of Democracy seen there over the summer requires a group of more than four protestors get a permit at least 72 hours in advance and also to pay $50.00 an hour per police officer in advance, as well as pay for any law enforcement from outside agencies brought in to police the event, any and all clean up costs associated with the protest and also to have liability insurance on your protest at the discretion of the Capitol Police.
The Second Amendment, the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, is flourishing mightily. Any free person who wants a gun in the United States can get a gun, even those who really shouldn’t have a gun and can’t go through legal channels to get a gun. Concealed carry laws are springing up like dandelions, allowing people to legally bring firearms into churches and bars and our own local newspaper in yesterday’s edition carried a picture of the winner of the Friends of the Police’s Gun Raffle just a few pages over from the most recent winner of the Kendall Dental Office’s latest frozen turkey give-away. We do seem pretty adept at ignoring the “well-regulated militia” part as the militias around here, like most militias, seem to be pretty unregulated.
So far United States Citizens have never been forced to house soldiers during peacetime though houses were seized and used for hospitals and quarters during the Civil War.
The Fourth Amendment has taken such a beating over the last quarter-of-a-century to the extent that it stands a tattered shell of what it should be. In North Dakota this year, a Predator Drone borrowed from a nearby military base was used to spy on a separatist family who refused to return three cows that had wandered onto their property prior to a raid on the family’s property and the damage done by a War on Drugs reignited by Hippie-hating Ronald Reagan and perpetrated ever since by his successors has turned us from a Nation that valued personal privacy to a Nation whose motto should be “Well, whatta ya got to hide then?”
We still have Grand Juries indicting the proverbial ham sandwiches but double jeopardy, self-incrimination and public confiscation of personal property have all been compromised of late by the growth in crimes classed as Federal crimes which sometimes give prosecutors several bites at the apple, the involuntary collection of bodily fluids and laws confiscating private property of those convicted of drug offenses and sometimes the landlords and grandparents of those convicted of drug offenses.
The right to a speedy and public trial seems on reasonably firm ground even though the definition of “speedy” can linger for years as motions and cross motions are entered but the provision for “a competent defense” seems iffy given the many atrocities in practice we’ve seen among so many attorneys representing people charged in death penalty cases.
We are still allowed a trial by jury though there are some who argue vigorously against it and often bail is set extremely high and fines are shooting up each year as cash strapped cities seek ways to collect more revenue without raising taxes. Then there is cruel and unusual punishment which could apply to the Death Penalty which becomes even more cruel and unusual with every evolving day and the cruelty and unusualness of sentencing very young juvenile offenders to life in prison without the possibility of parole or the horrific overcrowding and inhumane conditions that result in Lindsay Lohan’s 30 day sentence for violating her California parole being reduced to 45 minutes of jail time. Then again, this is a Country where tasering elementary schoolchildren and great-grandmothers have become acceptable.
Then their are the last two Amendments, generally ignored, which each basically boil down to all Rights not enumerated in this Bill of Rights belong to We, the People, individually and not held as some sort of People’s Collective where the majority can suppress the rights of the minority. “All power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the people,” as the document’s forbearer, The Virginia Declaration of Rights, held.
Today is the 220th Birthday of the Bill of Rights with Virginia being the vote that gave it a 2/3rds majority on December 15, 1791, and, ironically, today, December 15, 2011, may be the day when yet another nail is driven through its heart if President Obama signs, as expected, the National Defense Authorization Act with would allow the Government to seize suspected terrorists, even U.S. Citizens on U.S. soil, and hold them indefinitely without charges.
The Bill of Rights was written to assuage the fears of those who believed a too powerful, centralized, Federal Government would eventually fall into the worst habits of monarchy while others opposed an enumerated Bill of Rights on the grounds that future generations might argue that the only rights We the People hold are those expressly enumerated. Perhaps at a time when we are subjected to vassalage under a Unitary Executive Presidency and the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court can publicly state the he doesn’t believe the Constitution protects the rights of Female Citizens, on the 220th Birthday of our sacred Bill of Rights, We the People might consider staging a Second Constitutional Convention just to hammer out the details and to make sure our Elected Representatives remember what’s what when it comes to the Source from which Rights naturally flow and to where all Rights inherently reside.