The Coastal Post - February, 1998

Are Americans Chucking The Bill Of Rights?

By Stephen Simac

If Americans were given the opportunity to vote on whether to keep the Bill of Rights or not, most would chuck it. This sad state of ignorance about the basic rights of an American citizen is surprising in a country which considers itself a beacon of human rights.

Only 200 years ago the ratification of the current Constitution of the United States of America was withheld by the 13 states until 1791, when these first 10 amendments were included in “order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers.”(Preamble to the Articles).

Only with these rights of the citizens that guaranteed against the power of the state were the people willing to form a “more perfect union” with a stronger federal government.

Sunshine soldiers

The rights guaranteed by these Amendments have been shredded and distorted from those first idealistic aims of “promoting the general welfare and securing the Blessings of Liberty”. We have accepted gladly the freedoms, liberties and rights promised to citizens of the United States if they suited our commercial desires. We need to be reminded that with every right comes greater political responsibilities.

In the 1780s these were revolutionary rights which had been fought for with blood and guns, through winters of discontent, frostbite and bitterness. They were not about to be relinquished. by the citizens of a new nation.

The Ten Amendments of the Bill of Rights are like the ten commandments in many ways, not the least being the tendency to value them in the abstract. They both contain more than 10. There are numerous clauses in each including, “thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s ass” in Deuteronomy 21.

The First Amendment doesn’t harbor such petty proscriptions, it reads “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 to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Who's in charge here?

The debate over the ratification of the Constitution began after the Constitutional Convention which drafted it in 1787. The monetary depression of the post-revolutionary war period strengthened the faction pushing for a stronger federal government with a central bank.

Banker Alexander Hamilton helped to craft the constitution and wrote the Federalist Papers, a series of articles favoring the ratification during this debate.

Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence ,wrote and argued forcefully for the necessary inclusion of the Bill of Rights, which he had drafted for the state of Virginia’s constitution.

The two sides of the debate stood on either side of an ancient split in philosophy and politics dating at least to the third century B.C. Socrates' student Plato idealized a rigid governing structure in his book The Republic, which stood in stark contrast to the democratic rights of Athen’s free male citizens.

The Federalists believed that elite experts congregated in a centralized government should lead, with their authority rippling outward from their legislative and judicial actions.

The Jeffersonian poster boy was the yeoman farmer, protecting the nation with his vote, his guns and his plow. This idea of natural rights emerged out of English common law, native American traditions, the humanism of the European enlightenment and the Masonic tenets sworn to by the majority of the founding fathers.

This faith in the common man (at that time the vision did not extend beyond property owning white men) protecting democracy, has to be backed up with more than daytime talk shows and tabloid journalism for the masses.

The debate was published in the multitudes of newspapers and broadsides Americans had been noted for since colonial days. In those days 98% of the white population was literate, which remained constant until compulsory public schooling began in the 1840’s. Literacy has declined ever since.

The tyranny of the state, the knowledge that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely was plain to the citizens. The lunatic George across the sea had been vanquished, and even though an imperial presidency was offered to George Washington, he refused. He preferred retirement at Mt. Vernon, growing his hemp.

The laws of nature and nature's God

The freedom of religion also means the freedom from religion, a state religion. Most of the founding fathers were nominally Christian or deists, who gave allegiance to “the laws of Nature and Nature’s God” in the Declaration of Independence.

They wanted to prevent sectarian hatreds and imposition of a state religion or government interference in religious matters.

Religious freedoms have been banned if they didn’t appeal to the majority. Mormon’s multiple wives, the protection of Native Americans' spiritual sites and human sacrifice weren’t included.

Most arguably, the unofficial creation of state “religions” of economic progress, scientific know-how, technological fixes, military spending, “free markets”, traffic flow and taxpayer bailouts of financial capitalism are shared by both parties.

The Democrat sect favors secular humanism while Republicans attend biblical fundamentalist prayer circles. Citizens for the most part worship automobiles, malls, wealth, and entertainment with faith in a generous God to fill their desires.

Shut up, little man

The right of citizens to speak their truth freely about political and public matters without fear of government oppression and for the press to publish without interference or censorship are guaranteed in the First Amendment.

The liberty provided has led to every kind of excess, the least of which lately has been excessive prying into the corruption of government.

The citizens and the press were considered another force in the balance of power between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of federal, state and local governments.

The checks theoretically provided by a free press and free speech was considered essential to the maintenance of a democracy.

Now the press/media in general have abdicated their responsibility and are controlled by corporations which profit from the corruption and collusion of government officials.

Only the education of the citizens can shape a true democracy, which is based on an equality or rough parity of citizens. When voters are ignorant and easily swayed by smoke and mirrors of cash rich campaign funding, it cheapens any real political debate.

The agreement and consensus of the people and states is not easy to achieve, yet it is only valuable if it is gained without shutting up contrary voices. A simple majority vote at the conclusion does not create consensus, and the minority view must be safeguarded from the tyranny of the majority.

One strength of allowing those who dissent to express their discontent is as a safety valve for their anger, but also it prevent the majority from jailing or muzzling dissidents.

The founding fathers were responding to the scientific rationalism of the day. Scientific progress was dependent on the free exchange of ideas, whether they challenged authority or not.

It’s human nature to want to agree with the majority. To create consensus, we’re trained to do anything, agree with anything to belong, to be liked. The right of someone to disagree and our responsibility to defend the right to disagree or agree is limited to speech.

Show me the money!

In 1946, the Supreme Court ruled against union sound trucks with political messages, stating the “right to free speech does not include the right to drown out the opposition.” This has not been extended to corporation’s advertising or campaign funding. In 1976 the Supreme Court ruled that “money is speech” and struck down limits on campaign spending or funding.

Education of the ignorant and exposure of those who willfully manipulate with fear and lies is more effective in the long run and less likely to create martyrs for their cause.

You are what you eat

The food disparagement laws a dozen states have passed are one of the current attacks on free speech. Mad cow disease in England is caused by the agricultural industry practice of using the rendered remains of cows, pigs and chickens and other animals to feed cows and other animals.

Since the same practices were followed in the U.S. until last summer, with the addition of sewage sludge, one of Oprah Winfrey’s guests predicted that the plague, and the human deaths linked to it, could cross the Atlantic. She was sued after she swore off hamburgers and the price of beef dropped.

These laws are designed to prevent speech which is not based on “reasonable and reliable scientific inquiry.” A Kansas cattle rancher’s opinion, “This type of speech, I feel does not need to be protected,” is the view of most people who want to restrict the right of free speech.

Meat producers have often wanted to silence their critics, beginning with Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle. His exposé of the nauseating practices of Chicago meat packing plants led to the formation of the Food and Drug Administration after Teddy Roosevelt read it. The current practices of the meat industry dwarf those exposed by Sinclair.

It is unlikely that scientific experts are going to bite the industries which feed them when corporations are the source of most of the funding for these researchers.

Go ahead, make my day

A million men can march and peaceably assemble, can petition the government for a redress of grievances, but it is the Second Amendment which “guarantees the security of a Free State” if their representatives are not responsive.

As the Declaration of Independence States, “when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolut Despotism, it it their right, it is their duty to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

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