What Are the Bill of Rights? – Part I, Amendments I-V


Human interactions can be complicated. We disagree. Debate. Get along. Grow apart. Cross boundaries. Make mistakes and learn from them. We come from diverse backgrounds and communities. At the same time, we share air, land, neighborhoods and food. The only way we can live together is by enacting laws of engagement upon what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior. We need social etiquette. The Founding Fathers, authored the Constitution of the United States (Constitution), which is the supreme law of the United States of America, (USA) to create order and government. Written in 1789, initially with seven articles, the Constitution has been amended twenty-seven times to meet the evolutionary needs of American citizens. The purpose of the Constitution, including the first ten amendments known as the Bill of Rights (BOR), is to create peace in our communities.  According to James Madison, considered the Father of the Constitution, "If Men were angels, no government would be necessary." We are not angels. What are the Bill of Rights?  Let's discuss….

Why should you know the Bill of Rights?

Like atoms, human beings interact with each other. We think differently, which means conflicts are inevitable. We need a manner to handle conflicts.  In essence, American law is divided into state law and federal laws. The BOR are federal laws, which means that the laws govern all 50 states. Individual states have their own specific laws, which cannot conflict with the federal laws. What is a law in Georgia may not exist in Alabama, and vice versa.

Our lives are governed by laws, and society survives when we follow these laws. Did you receive a jury summons? If yes, you must respond.  If you do not respond, you can go to jail. Why? Because jury trials need people.  Do you drive above the speed limit? You might get a ticket. Why? Because our streets need to be safe. The list goes on. For every action, there is an equal reaction.

As American citizens, it is also our responsibility to be engaged in the legal process. It is possible for the Constitution to be amended. New laws are created in state legislature all of the time. Laws are not static, they are allowed to evolve. We can all become a part of the legal system by voting or and supporting new legislation.

Even the most law abiding citizen needs to know the BOR because we do not live in a vacuum. Things happen. Life happens. Mistakes happen. Conflicts happen. Not knowing the law is not a defense. Knowledge is power. Being aware of the BOR will enable you to protect yourself and your loved ones.  

If it rains, use an umbrella. If you are ever accused or convicted of a crime, know your legal rights.  

BOR - Amendments I-V:

First Amendment - Amendment I Freedom of Religion, speech, and the right to peaceably assemble

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.

The USA has thousands of churches, mosques, synagogues and religious centers that exist due to the First Amendment. Congress shall make no law establishing a religion, or prohibiting your right to exercise the religion of your choice. You have the right to peacefully protests, however some states may require an application for a parade, protest, etc. Freedom of speech means you can blog, use Facebook and publish books. But, you do not have the right to use your speech harm others. There are laws against slander, using inciting language, and terroristic threats. Even freedoms have limits.

Second Amendment – Amendment IIRight to possess weapons

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

You have the right to keep and bear arms. In some states, a permit is required to carry a gun in public.

Third Amendment – Amendment III Right to privacy

No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

This amendment was written in response to the Quartering Acts which allowed British soldiers to live in colonial homes.  However, in the time of war when national security is at stake, you may be required to allow soldiers to live in your home. Interesting...

Fourth Amendment – Amendment IVProtection from illegal search and seizure

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Your space cannot be searched without a warrant, and there has to be probable cause. Any evidence secured without a warrant may not be used in court. However, there are exceptions to the rule.

Fifth Amendment – Amendment V - Due Process of law

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject or the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself,nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

The Fifth Amendment is very well known."I plead the fifth" is a common plea in popular legal television dramas and movies. No one is forced to be a witness against themselves. You can only be tried for a crime once. Your private property cannot be taken for public use without just compensation.

Law is Not Math

Laws are written and interpreted by people. Unlike math which has repeatable formulas, laws are applied to each case differently. Innocence or guilt, in some situations, depend on the plaintiff, defendant, judge, attorney and jury.  Our responsibility as citizens is to know our legal rights in order to create a more just society.  Law is a practice. Constantly evolving.  

To be continued…..


1. Bill of Rights image: https://thebluediamondgallery.com/legal/bill-of-rights.html

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