A Guide to The Bill of Rights

01.26.11 7 years ago 41 Comments

What does that say? Seymour Bu... Dammit Madison!

The Constitution. All the rage right now.  Largely on the back of the tiny American flag waving subset, the Constitution has seen a huge popular resurgence in the past year or so, capping with members of Congress reading it on the floor of the House to open their latest session.  Without a doubt it is one of the most influential governing documents in the history of civilization, triggering a far-reaching shift from rule by monarchy to one by democratically elected representatives.  To that end, its importance can’t be overstated. (Unless you claim something cuckoobananas, like the Constitution and John Wayne marched around Europe armed to the teeth, overthrowing dictatorships and bedding fancy ladies who smelled of jasmine.  Then you could overstate it.)

But as a very impressive and knowledgeable law student (*shines apple on lapel*), it dawns on me that not everyone actually knows the extent of the freedoms the Constitution grants.  Sure it’s easy to quote songs and passages about freedom and liberty, but what do the words in the Bill of Rights actually guarantee us, and what has been bastardized by decades of cop dramas where Clint Eastwood just shoots anyone whose last name ends in a vowel?  Well, don’t you worry.  I’m here to help.  What follows is a basic primer on the Bill of Rights, and how they apply to you.

Note: A few years of law school have bred a fear of actually saying anything into me, so here’s a brief disclaimer.  This is a humor article giving a very simplistic view the first ten amendments.  None of it should be taken as actual legal advice.  Christ, I wouldn’t even take my legal advice.  I mean, I did get an A- in Constitutional Law, so, you know, go me… but if you have a real legal issue, contact a real lawyer.  Preferably not one who just referenced the Constitution sleeping with European prostitutes.

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.

This is the big one, people.  The First Amendment guarantees our freedoms of speech, religion, assembly, and the press.  It’s too easy to take these for granted now.  This means we can’t be imprisoned for disagreeing with the government, or for saying things that are merely unpopular.  Without it, all the loudmouth talking heads on the 24-hour news networks would have been locked up with the key thrown away years ago, and… and… well look, that part wouldn’t be so bad.  But it means that you can voice YOUR opinion without fear of retribution.  And as much as people say Bush was a Nazi, or Obama is a totalitarian threat, keep in mind that you can shout your opinion up and down the street without any serious repercussions besides people thinking you’re a jack-ss.  Ask someone in Iran or North Korea how that would work out for them.

One important note on free speech: the freedom of speech does not mean you can say whatever you want in any situation without facing consequences.  Example: f-ck, assh-le, c-cknose.  Had I not censored those words, I’d have been in deep sh-t with the Uproxx bosses, and might have lost my sweet sweet stream of blogging income.  Rather, the freedom of speech only means that the government can’t punish you for speech (except in extreme circumstances, like yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater, or speaking ill of The Sandlot once I’m in charge).

So when Dr. Laura Schlessinger threw the N-word around on her radio show like butter in a Paula Deen recipe, and the resulting uproar led to her leaving the show, that wasn’t her First Amendment rights being infringed.  Technically, that was her precious free market distancing itself from unpopular ideas.  Likewise, people protesting the construction of a Muslim gathering center near Ground Zero are perfectly within their rights.  Just as the people are to build it.  No one’s freedom of religion or assembly is being violated unless the government steps in and take action.

I guess what I’m really saying is this: you have the RIGHT to say what you want, but maybe you SHOULD shut up a little more.

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