Friday, December 16, 2011

Richard Schwartzman: A Bill of guarantees

  The best document ever written to preserve the liberty of a free people isn’t a complete document at all, but just a part of one. It’s the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

  Those ten paragraphs capture the essence of what it means to govern a government. Are they perfect? No, but how much in life is?

  While the body of the Constitution is simply a framework or schematic diagram of the body of government, the Bill of Rights was an attempt to put chains on that government instead of letting the government put chains on the people (as is usually the case).

  The Bill of Rights does not grant any right to any person. It guarantees the rights that belong to all of mankind. The source of those rights may be presumed to be God or our nature as human beings. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson cited the “Creator” as the source of those rights. And he referred to them as “inalienable” rights, meaning that they can’t be separated or taken from us. They are ours regardless of what a government decrees, because they existed before there were governments.

  Among its five provisions, for instance, the First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech. Recall that it says, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.” It doesn’t grant a right to free speech.

  Yet, disregard for the provisions of these amendments is diminishing the liberties of us all.

  The House Judiciary Committee recently passed a bill making it illegal to even talk about using marijuana in places like Amsterdam, where there is no criminal penalty for the use of pot in coffeehouses.

  The wars on terror and some drugs have virtually gutted the provisions of the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments.

  Asset-forfeiture laws take property from people without them ever being found guilty of a crime. Cities and towns, as we saw in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Kelo v. New London, can now take private property via eminent domain and give it to other private entities, notwithstanding the Fifth Amendment’s “public use.” limitation.

  The war on terror has only escalated the assaults on our guaranteed rights. Warrantless searches are on the rise, and now Congress has passed a law that would allow the military to pick up U.S. citizens on American streets strictly on suspicion, without charging them with any crime, and then lock them up in places like Guantanamo for an indefinite period of time.

  Again, this law violates all the levels of due process guaranteed in the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments.

  And despite the fact that one of the most unambiguous, easily read clauses of the Bill of Rights is “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” several states and municipalities make it almost impossible to possess a firearm. At least the Supreme Court has ruled this to be an individual right that supersedes state and local laws.

  Our rights are not finite — not limited by their enumeration. The Ninth Amendment tells us that explicitly, and the Tenth tells us that powers not delegated to the federal government are retained by the states or by the people.

  While the government, through members of Congress and even presidents, violates these guarantees, it can’t get away with those violations unless the people allow it to happen. People allow the violations by electing officials who are more eager to accrue power than to ensure a condition of liberty.

  The people are bought by a politician’s promise of security from criminals or foreign invaders, or a promise of some welfare benefit. In short, they’re bought by the welfare-warfare state.

  As scary as that all is, we still have our rights. The government may seek to punish us for talking about doing things that are currently illegal, but it can’t stop us from talking about changing those laws or changing any law that violates our guaranteed liberty.

  The Constitution and the Bill of Rights don’t grant our liberty, but they do guarantee it. It can readily be said that the only difference between the United States and the rest of the world was our adherence to the Bill of Rights. We must reclaim it.

  About the author: Richard Schwartzman is managing editor at Chadds Ford Live in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.

  This article was published by The Future of Freedom Foundation.

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