Explaining the Bill of Rights

The First Amendment. Protects five of the most basic liberties. These were the guarantees that the Antifederalists missed most in the new Constitution:

  • 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. 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. Makes it possible for Americans to keep informed about events in government, helping 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. Allows Americans to join clubs or political parties, even if representing unpopular views.
  • Freedom to Petition. 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.

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 not have to keep soldiers in their homes without consent.

The Fourth Amendment: Searches and Seizure. The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from improper searches of their bodies, possessions, or homes.

The Fifth Amendment:

  • Rights of the Accused. 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 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. 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 to be released from prison before they go to trial.

The Ninth and Tenth Amendments: Reserved Powers. Addresses 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 fundamental rights. Such rights exist even if not defined. The Tenth Amendment makes a similar claim concerning the rights of the states. It holds that the states and the people have "reserved powers."

Source: Explaining the Bill of Rights
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