It's Your Bill of Rights
by Linn and Ari Armstrong
The following article was originally published by Grand Junction Free Press on December 12, 2005.
When the First Amendment Center asked people if they could name the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, 63 percent named "freedom of speech." Only 16 percent could name "freedom of the press," 20 percent "freedom of religion," 3 percent "right to petition," and 14 percent "right of assembly."
We have to do better than that. The Bill of Rights, the first ten Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, was ratified effective December 15, 1791. Thursday is Bill of Rights Day. What is your family doing to celebrate our tradition of liberty?
The Pro Second Amendment Committee has been a leader in celebrating Bill of Rights Day since 1997. Dean Blanck, president of the organization, promises this year's event will be the best yet.
The celebration will take place at the Masonic Center at 2400 Consistory Court on December 15, 6:00 p.m., in the large, warm auditorium. (Warm is important this time of year: one year the celebration was held in front of the Federal building in a 30-mile-an-hour blizzard. That's dedication!) The Masonic Center is between North Avenue and Patterson. From 1st Street, turn east onto Bookcliff, which turns into Consistory Court and leads right up to the building.
This year, Blanck said, soldiers returning from the war will play a role. Colonel Haggerty will give a foreword. Asked why this year's celebration is working with Home Front Heroes, Blanck said, "The Bill of Rights energizes our military defense. American servicemen and women swear an oath to reserve and defend the Bill of Rights... It is part of the Constitution. When American military people fight and die for our country, they do so to protect our rights and freedoms under the Bill of Rights."
The City of Grand Junction and Mesa County Commissioners sought to declare December 15 Bill of Rights Day in a joint proclamation. The City-County celebration starts at 5:00 a.m. at the City Hall auditorium. Mayor Bruce Hill and Commissioner Tillman Bishop will read the proclamation. This celebration has strong input from the Boy Scouts.
The ratification of the Bill of Rights was not a smooth one, and some believed it was unnecessary.
In the Federalist Papers, number 84, Alexander Hamilton states, "I go further, and affirm that the Bill of Rights, in the sense and in the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed constitution, but would even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers which are not granted; and on this very account, would afford a colourable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do? Why for instance, should it be said, that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions may be imposed?"
We're glad that Hamilton lost this fight. Largely through abuse of the Commerce Clause of Article I, Section 8, the federal government has expanded its powers beyond anything imagined by the Founders. It is only the Bill of Rights, and our knowledge and support of it, that has served to protect American liberty.
The Ninth and Tenth Amendments explicitly address Hamilton's concerns. The Ninth Amendment states, "The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." The Tenth Amendment states, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
In The Rights Retained by the People, Constitutional attorney Randy Barnett writes, "The Ninth Amendment may be forgotten, but it is not gone. We can be grateful to James Madison for conceiving the Ninth Amendment. Without it, any claim that the people retain rights other that those specified in the Constitution would be dismissed today as the product of a fevered imagination... [T]he task of... protecting unenumerated rights... must be commenced in earnest if balance is to be restored to our constitutional scheme."
We know how Deborah Davis of Arvada will celebrate Bill of Rights day: by reflecting on her arrest for refusing to show identification on a public bus that passed through grounds of the Federal Center in Lakewood. Jacob Sullum of Reason noted that Davis's lawyer planned "to argue that the ID requirement violates [her] First Amendment right to freedom of association, her Fourth Amendment right to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures, and her Fifth Amendment right not to be deprived of liberty... without due process." Charges were dropped last week.
Take some time to join others in celebrating Bill of Rights Day on December 15. Keep the idea of freedom alive in your own heart and mind, and help pass on this heritage of liberty to the next generation.