Thursday, December 15, 2016

Happy Bill of Rights Day!

Well, the title of this article is a greeting you don’t usually hear, I assume. But on December 15, 1941, President Roosevelt proclaimed that day as Bill of Rights Day, and it has been so designated ever since.
That first Bill of Rights Day, instituted just eight days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, was on the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights—and that was 225 years ago today.
The Bill of Rights Ratified
When the U.S. Constitution was approved by Congress in 1787, there were some who were not in favor of its passage. They thought the new Constitution did not adequately guarantee the freedoms or rights of individual citizens. 

James Madison subsequently drafted twelve amendments to the Constitution. They were passed by Congress in September 1789.
Ten of those amendments were ratified on Dec. 15, 1791, when Virginia ratified them, making the necessary three-fourths of the 13 states to do so. Those ten amendments, as you know, have been popularly known through the years as the Bill of Rights.
The first of the two amendments that were not ratified would have established how members of the House of Representatives would be apportioned to the states, but that matter seems to have been covered adequately in the Constitution itself (see Art. 1, Sec. 2, Para. 3).
The other amendment not approved by 1791 actually became the 27th, and most recent, Amendment, when it was ratified in 1992. It prohibits any law that increases or decreases the salary of members of Congress from taking effect until the start of the next set of terms of office for Representatives.
The Bill of Rights Disputed 
After all these years, aspects of the Bill of Rights are discussed, and disputed, almost weekly. 

Nearly everyone knows that the First Amendment guarantees freedoms of religion, speech, and the press. It also gives citizens the right to assemble peacefully and to petition the government for changes. But what, specifically, is guaranteed? 

For example, are conservative Christians guaranteed the freedom to speak out against homosexuality and gay marriage? Some of them claim their religious liberty is endangered by laws giving LGBTQ people equality and making speaking out against them “hate speech.” 

And then what about burning the American flag? On 5:55 a.m. on Nov. 29 PEOTUS Trump tweeted, “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag - if they do, there must be consequences - perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!” 

The Supreme Court, however, has twice (in 1989 and in 1990) affirmed the right to desecrate the American flag as a form of free speech as protected by the First Amendment. 

The Second Amendment, of course, has over the past several years been a matter of even more contention. As I have written about that before (see especially this Jan. 2013 article), perhaps there is little reason to write much more about that here. 

The words of that Amendment—“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”—seem straightforward and rather clear (in spite of the questionable use of commas). But as you know, they have been vociferously debated in recent years. 
The Bill of Rights Affirmed
In spite of the disputes, which seem largely contrived and unnecessary, the Bill of Rights is a remarkable and praiseworthy part of the U.S. Constitution. All of us citizens of the U.S. should be grateful for the protection of personal freedoms guaranteed by those first 10 Amendments.
So once again I say to you USAmericans, “Happy Bill of Rights Day!”


  1. Here is the link to President Obama's proclamation (made late yesterday) about today being Bill of Rights Day 2016:

  2. This is perfect! My "Religion in the American Experience" class is taking their final exam today, and I'll give them all a "Happy Bill of Rights Day" sheet to go along with their exam. (This will actually be a bonus for them, as it will actually help with one of the exam questions.) May they never forget the Bill of Rights!

  3. I have a more liberal leaning friend who thinks much of the Constitution and Bill of Rights are out of date and need to be removed or replaced (including 6 of the first 10 Amendments). There are Constitutional processes for doing so. The Constitution, then and now, is contentious for many within the citizenry of the Republic, and the leadership of all the branches has not been helpful, further polarizing the citizens. It is just hard to live with people who have differing perspectives – sometimes militantly. Thankfully, Ralph and I are still friends.

    1. I took this as a challenge, and reread the Bill of Rights to see if there were any amendments I would remove. I must not be very liberal, because I was not offended by any of them, although I hope jurisprudence has found a way to adjust the $20 threshold for civil suits to a current equivalent (about $2,000?) for guaranteeing the right to a trial by jury.

      I see the Bill of Rights as something of a map, telling us that if we are debating issues where it draws distinctions, then we are debating the right issues. For instance, the second amendment juxtapositions the right to bear arms with a need for a well-ordered militia. Now society may from time to time lean too far towards the right, or towards the order, but this is the right debate. More than that a constitution cannot do, for where it gets too particular, as in the $20 threshold, that is exactly where it is guaranteeing that it will fail.

      Today the real constitutional question is whether the Electoral College will follow the explicit advice of founding father Alexander Hamilton in Federalist Paper #68 by refusing to endorse an terribly unqualified candidate for President. Instead, state laws and long tradition seem to have so rusted the joints shut, that the Electoral College seems to have forgotten its original mandate to behave as a deliberative body, akin to the College of Cardinals electing a new Pope. Personally, I would prefer we moved to a true popular vote for the election, but, failing that, the College should not be extra-constitutionally hampered by the states from performing its most rare and sacred of duties in reviewing the results when the facts demand it. See link:

    2. :) Thank you, Craig.

  4. Thanks for the good education. This is what makes United States the most favorable and great nation on earth. thanks.

  5. The Bible speaks of building one another up and outdoing one another in showing honor to others. What would our country be like if we ALL treated the Bill of Rights the same way? We might be caught saying things like "How can I use the Bill of Rights to defend and insure your freedoms?" instead defending our own. Three cheers for James Madison during a time of tremendous political turmoil!

    1. Tom, thanks for your significant comments. We all tend to think about our own rights, but you helpfully challenged us to think about the rights of others.

  6. Here is a brief, but very pertinent, comment by Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson:

    "That great document deserves our recognition and celebration every year!"

  7. Thinking Friend Eric Dollard's comments are always thoughtful, and I appreciate him regularly sharing them:

    "Thanks, Leroy, for the info. I was not aware of National Bill of Rights Day, so I learned something.

    "Interestingly, the Bill of Rights originally only applied to the federal government, not the states. Because it only applied to the federal government, it did nothing to protect the rights of slaves. Beginning in 1925, the Supreme Court has gradually applied the Bill of Rights to the state and local governments.

    "In The Federalist Papers, Hamilton argued that a Bill of Rights was not needed; the original Constitution was adequate, but its addition to the Constitution has done much to preserve individual rights, especially since 1925."