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Do You Know the Bill of Rights?

Written By: John W. Whitehead  |  Posted: Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

"It astonishes me to find... [that so many] of our countrymen... should be contented to live under a system which leaves to their governors the power of taking from them the trial by jury in civil cases, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of commerce, the habeas corpus laws, and of yoking them with a standing army. This is a degeneracy in the principles of liberty... which I [would not have expected for at least] four centuries."-Thomas Jefferson, 1788
"Most citizens, " writes columnist Nat Hentoff, "are largely uneducated about their own constitutional rights and liberties."
The following incident, which was shared with me recently, is a case in point for Hentoff's claim. A young attorney, preparing to address a small gathering about the need to protect freedom, especially in the schools, wrote the text of the First Amendment on a blackboard. After carefully reading the text, a woman in the audience approached the attorney, pointed to the First Amendment on the board and remarked, "My, the law is really changing. Is this new?" The woman was a retired schoolteacher.
For more than 200 years, Americans have enjoyed the freedoms of speech, assembly, and religion, among others, without ever really studying the source of those liberties, found in the Bill of Rights-the first ten amendments to our U. S. Constitution.
Yet never has there been a time when knowing our rights has been more critical and safeguarding them more necessary. In a time when elected officials continue to pass intrusive legislation like the U.S.A. Patriot Act, which is drastically altering the landscape of our liberties, it is vital that we gain a better understanding of what Thomas Jefferson described as "fetters against doing evil."
A short summary of the first ten amendments shows how vital these freedoms are to the republic in which we live.

Amendment I
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 First Amendment protects the freedom to speak your mind and protest in peace without being bridled by the government. It also protects the freedom of press, as well as the right to worship and pray without interference. In other words, Americans cannot lawfully be silenced by the government.

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