Explaining the Bill of Rights

The First Amendment. Perhaps the most important part of the Bill of Rights. It protects five of the most basic liberties. They are freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom to petition the government to right wrongs. These were the guarantees that the Antifederalists missed most in the new Constitution.

  • Freedom of Religion. Freedom of religion means that the government may not force you to accept one set of religious beliefs nor may it interfere with the way you worship.
  • Freedom of Speech. This freedom entitles American citizens to say what they think, provided they do not intentionally hurt someone else's reputation by making false accusations.
  • Freedom of the Press. This freedom makes it possible for Americans to keep informed about what is going on in government. It helps them to be responsible citizens. Reporters and editors can criticize the government without the risk of punishment, provided they do not deliberately tell lies.
  • Freedom of Assembly. This freedom makes it possible for Americans to join clubs or political parties, even if those groups represent unpopular views.
  • Freedom to Petition. This important freedom allows people to tell the government what they think is needed. They can try to prevent the government from acting in a certain way. They can complain to the government without fear of penalty when things aren't going the way they should.

The Second Amendment: The Right to Bear Arms.

Guarantees individual states the right to maintain "a well-regulated militia," and citizens the right to "keep and bear arms."

The Third Amendment: Housing Troops. Pledges that in peacetime, citizens will never have to keep soldiers in their homes without consenting.

The Fourth Amendment: Searches and Seizure. The Fourth through Eighth Amendments concern the rights of people suspected of crime. The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from improper searches of their bodies, possessions, or homes.

The Fifth Amendment: Rights of the Accused, Due Process of the Law, and Eminent Domain:

  • Rights of the Accused. Protects the rights of anyone accused of a crime. It assumes that everyone is innocent until proven guilty.
  • Due Process of the Law. Holds that "no one can be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law." In other words, the government must follow certain legal procedures before deciding on a penalty.
  • Eminent Domain. Requires the government to pay citizens when it takes over their property for a public use.

The Sixth Amendment: Fair and Speedy Trials:

Provides more requirements for a fair trial in criminal cases. It guarantees a speedy, public trial by an impartial jury in the area where the crime was committed. The defendant must be able to question the accusers and to force favorable witnesses to testify. The accused has a right to a lawyer.

The Seventh Amendment: Jury Trials:

The Seventh Amendment guarantees that Americans will receive a jury trial in civil (as opposed to criminal) cases involving property worth more than $20.

The Eighth Amendment: Bails, Fines, and Punishments:

Protects people from having to pay unreasonably high "bail" in order to be released from prison before they go to trial. Bail is money given to pledge that a person accused of a crime will appear for trial

The Ninth and Tenth Amendments: Reserved Powers:

The last two amendments address the liberties of citizens and the rights of states. The Ninth Amendment states that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights do not define all of the fundamental rights people have. Such rights exist whether or not they are defined. The Tenth Amendment makes a similar claim concerning the rights of the states. It holds that the states and the people have powers that are set aside and not listed item by item. These powers are called "reserved powers."

Source: Explaining the Bill of Rights
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