A core belief of the Founding Fathers was that there were essential rights which we all possessed and they are not sourced from our government. Thomas Locke had elaborated on the principle of inalienable rights that are inherent in our existance as human beings. He cited "life, liberty and pursuit of property" as core. Jefferson would sweeten that up a bit and possibly make it a bit more moralistic by shifting from crass acquistion of property to a quest for happiness in our lives. I've got no problem with that. When I'm secure in my property, I am sublimely content.
Today is a little known holiday. It was established by Franklin Roosevelt, which of itself seems a bit illogical if one considers his ideological bent, but nevertheless it is noteworthy:
Bill of Rights Day
Our Constitution was designed to do what all constitutions do and in the most basic terms. It describes a form of governmental organization. It describes a system of operation for that government to perform its functions. And, it establishes limits on what those functions of the government are supposed to be. How ideal.
The citizens, however, knew better than even the wise Framers that government is often unbound by those simple descriptions of what it can do. They demanded a list of those things which the government could not do and without such a list they would not ratify the Constitution. Hence we get the Bill of Rights.
Our citizenry today is woefully ignorant of the very essence of the BOR. My college students can't tell you what a right guaranteed by the BOR is; not even one...at least not at the start of the course.
More importantly they don't understand that the brief list is not grants from a benevolent government but lines which shall not be crossed.
We won't see or hear much about BOR day today and we certainly won't get a ringing endorsement of the limits on our federal government from anyone in the current administration but it would be a good idea to sit down for ten minutes and read through them just as a refresher.
Here they are:
Transcript of the Bill of Rights
- Speech, Press, Assembly, Petition for Redress and Religion--it's all about political discourse, not pornography.
- Bearing Arms--it's about the ability of citizens to oppose an oppressive government, not about hunting or target shooting or self-defense.
- Quartering of Troops--it's about not having your property impressed into government service.
- Unreasonable Search & Seizure--it's about a man's home being his castle.
- Self Incrimination--it's a basic protection from undue pressure to confess to government accusations.
- Criminal Trial Process--it's the right to face your accuser and know the charges.
- Civil Trial Process--it's the right to justice in disputes with others.
- Cruel & Unusual Punishment--it's protection from torture and false imprisonment
- Rights Not Listed--it's clear acknowledgement that this list is not all-inclusive. Other rights exist as well.
- Federal Government is Limited--Power and authority flow from the people upward to the federal government not from the government as a gift to the people.
Simple ain't it? Where have we gone so wrong?