Gov: Constitution Bill of Rights


bill of rights
With the Bill of Rights added to the Constitution, Americans were guaranteed a broad range of civil rights and civil liberties. But these were only formal guarantees. The enforcement of these rights was another matter. These rights and freedoms would be safeguarded only when protections were built into the structure of government. That is where the role of the Supreme Court and other federal courts come into play. Before free speech and other rights on paper could be safeguarded, the language of the Bill of Rights had to be interpreted and applied under actual circumstances. That task would fall to the Supreme Court under its power of judicial review.

The First Amendment protects the freedoms of religion, speech, and the press, and the rights of assembly and to petition the government. These rights are critical to life in a democratic society. Freedom of religion which can be divided into two parts: the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. The Establishment Clause guarantees the separation of church and state. It reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The Free Exercise Clause establishes that all people are free to follow the religious practices of their choice. They are also free to follow no religion. If a person’s religious faith conflicts with the law of the land, however, the law must prevail.

The Second Amendment protects the rights of states to maintain a militia and of citizens to bear arms. Today lawmakers and citizens still argue over the exact meaning of the Second Amendment. Was it intended to apply only to a militia, or were all citizens guaranteed the right to “keep and bear arms”?

The Third Amendment restricts quartering of troops in private homes during peacetime. Although the Third Amendment has little direct application today compared to colonial times, it offers a general guarantee for the privacy and sanctity of people’s homes.

The Fourth Amendment protects against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” This means that law enforcement officials may not search a person’s home or property without prior consent or a legal order. A warrant must be based on probable cause, or reasonable suspicion of criminal behavior. It must also be very specific in describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.

The Fifth Amendment includes protections for people accused of crimes: the right to a grand jury and protections against double jeopardy, self-incrimination, and government seizure of property without just compensation. It also requires that the national government follow due process of law. Self-incrimination was meant to prevent law enforcement officials from pressuring suspects into admitting guilt for a crime they did not commit.

The Sixth Amendment guarantees additional rights to the accused: to have a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury, to hear and question witnesses, and to be defended by a lawyer.

The Seventh Amendment assures the right to a jury trial in civil cases. Civil cases do not involve criminal matters.

The Eighth Amendment protects against excessive bail or fines and forbids cruel or unusual punishment. Bail is money given over to the court in exchange for a suspect’s release until his or her trial begins. Most of the legal challenges to this amendment have involved the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

The Ninth Amendment provides that people’s rights are not restricted to those specified in Amendments 1 through 8. Some of these unlisted rights were later protected under other amendments and laws.

The Tenth Amendment restates that any powers not granted to the federal government nor prohibited to the states are reserved to the states and to the people.


Homework:
1) Constitution Amendments worksheet

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