THE EROSION OF OUR BILL OF RIGHTS
By Toeg
Published: March 10, 2007

Welcome to the Toeg Effect. This is your host, Toeg. Today we discuss the effects of losing one the pillars of our Constitution. Today, we look at the constant erosion of one of our most fundamental assets as Americans. Today we review:

 

THE EROSION OF OUR BILL OF RIGHTS

 

It was Thomas Jefferson who said on December 20, 1787, "[A] bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse." The Constitution was remarkable, but deeply flawed. For one thing, it did not include a specific declaration - or bill - of individual rights. It specified what the government could do but did not say what it could not do. For another, it did not apply to everyone. The "consent of the governed" meant propertied white men only. In the end, the colonial states, worried and troubled by their past under the rule of English monarchy, decided that the risk of not guaranteeing certain unalienable rights to the people was too great a risk to take. The American Bill of Rights, inspired by Jefferson and drafted by James Madison, was adopted, and in 1791 the Constitution's first ten amendments became the law of the land.

 

The goal of this piece is not to delve into the history and significance of each right, but rather to explore the erosion of said right over time in the modern era. Here, we shall visit step by step the dismantling of our bill of rights and the erosion of its strength.

The first ten amendments to the Constitution of the United States begin thus: “The Conventions of a number of the States having, at the time of adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added, and as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government will best insure the beneficent ends of its institution;

Resolved, by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, two-thirds of both Houses concurring, that the following articles be proposed to the Legislatures of the several States, as amendments to the Constitution of the United States; all or any of which articles, when ratified by three-fourths of the said Legislatures, to be valid to all intents and purposes as part of the said Constitution.”

Let’s review them, shall we?

 

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 perhaps one of the best known and most complex of the ten amendments. It has five different rights all wrapped up into one amendment. Let’s take them point by point. The first right is clearly to respect ALL religions and their freedom to exercise their religion wherever they wish. However the Domestic Security Enhancement Act, also known as The Patriot Act 2, further dismantles court review of surveillance, such as by terminating court-approved limits on police spying on religious and political activity (sec. 312), allowing the government to obtain credit records and library records secretly and without judicial oversight (secs. 126, 128, 129), and by allowing wiretaps without a court order for up to 15 days following a terrorist attack (sec. 103).

 

According to Common Dreams in an article posted on January 16, 2006, “A group of Quakers who were protesting military recruitment efforts at a Florida high school recently learned their meeting was included on a secret Pentagon database of "suspicious incidents." When that news broke last month, it had a familiar ring for many American Quakers.

 

"With the restriction of civil liberties goes surveillance," says Don Weinholtz, a Quaker who lives in Windsor. "It just seems to be a very unfortunate natural course of events."

 

The Religious Society of Friends is one of the largest groups of Quakers in the United States, with about 600,000 members worldwide. They embrace beliefs, called testimonies, that include peace, equality and rejection of war in all its forms.

 

Quaker groups and members have come under government surveillance and infiltration at various times in history, from the McCarthy era to Vietnam. The pacifist church was in the forefront of protest in the run-up to the Iraq war and since then has worked to counter military recruitment efforts in high schools.” Clearly then we can see the erosion of our religious freedoms occurring before our very eyes. It is very important here to note that the story states that these actions of surveillance by the government didn’t start after 9/11. They clearly point out that ever since the McCarthy era these illegal actions have been taking place.

 

This brings us to the abridging of the freedom of speech. On November 3, 2003, the ACLU had this to say about the abusive Patriot Act, “This First Amendment "chill" is reminiscent of an earlier era when the government attempted to shut down dissent by investigating groups like the NAACP and the Japanese American Citizens League, the ACLU said. "Notably, those groups and other civil rights, immigrant and free speech advocates today filed briefs supporting the ACLU's challenge to the law.

 

"Sadly, our government has an ugly history of using its investigative powers to squelch dissent," said ACLU Associate Legal Director Ann Beeson. "We saw it during the Japanese internments of World War II, the Red Scare of the 1950's and the civil rights movement of the 1960's, and now we see it in the post-9/11 investigations and detention of Arabs and Muslims." The Patriot Act violates the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech by prohibiting the recipients of search orders from telling others about those orders, even where there is no real need for secrecy.

 

 

Again, it is noteworthy here to mention that this is not a new phenomenon brought on by the zealousness of a cowboy from Texas and an oil-rich magnate from Wyoming. We have consistently allowed our freedoms to be held as hostage and eroded over time until there is virtually nothing of value left in them. The Patriot Act and other recently passed damning legislation are but the latest nails being driven into the coffin of the body of the Bill of Rights.

 

We now review the freedom of the press. As I have stated on a previous Toeg Effect, the media is already infiltrated by the CIA. Operation Mockingbird started in the 40s and ensured that all major news outlets were directly controlled by the CIA. Ever since then, the news in the US has been sanitized for our protection. We have been spoon-fed convenient feel-good sound bites that give us the perception that we are at best being misunderstood by the rest of the world, and at worst, biting off more than we can chew. Seldom do we contemplate the possibility that our foreign and domestic policies are well planned and methodically implemented.

 

Our press is supposed to be the fourth power, the independent voice that decries the victim and questions the leaders. Yet, where was our press when we failed to get Osama? Where were the doubting Thomases when the US falsely accused Saddam of having WMDs? Where was the enlightened debate over the effects of the Patriot Act and the Patriot Act 2? Congress was silent, and the press obliged accordingly.

 

Freedom of the press has become freedom to keep quiet. We no longer enjoy the energies of an independent news service that brings us the latest from our centers of society, and that asks the tough questions of those who govern us. We have a fourth accomplice instead, guilty of hiding the faux pas of the other three.

 

This brings us to the right to peaceably assemble. As mentioned above, the Quakers have been tracked and systematically followed for many decades. We know that there were some 27 million records drawn up by the FBI in the 1960s in order to track the dissident anti-Vietnam War protestors. If people fear congregating for peaceful purposes and normal grievances, then the freedom to assemble has no meaning.

 

The case for the loss of petitioning the government for redress of grievances has been made long ago. In today’s secretive government of classified documents, people like Sibel Edmunds have found out first hand what happens when you uncover a problem in the government. It’s either their way or the highway. Teresa Chambers: Chambers, former US Park Police Chief, was fired on Friday, July 9, 2004 after criticizing the lack of funding for the US Park Police divison from the Bush administration in interviews with the media. Daniel Ellsberg: When Daniel Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers in 1971, exposing government deceptions on the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon responded with the break-in into the office of Ellsberg's psychoanalyst and the subsequent cover-up that became known as Watergate. The first amendment is basically, DOA.

 

 

Amendment II

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.

 

No other amendment has met with such controversy. As ambiguous and far-sweeping as this amendment is, it is just as much abused and misused. Whether our forefathers wanted us to have a well regulated militia, which we have to this day with the National Guard, or whether they preferred to see every citizen with an armed weapon will probably never be solved. Nevertheless, through modern media manipulation, this amendment has been construed to mean that even the most psycho out there has a right to a gun. Little mention is made that the US kills more people than almost anyone else on Earth. This amendment has been so distorted from its original intended purpose that it is oft regarded as a safe haven for gun enthusiasts and serial killers. From its original intent, this amendment is DOA.

Amendment III

No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

According to Wikipedia, “The only instance a Federal court was asked to invalidate a law or action on Third Amendment grounds was in Engblom v. Carey, decided by the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 1982. In 1979, prison officials in New York organized a strike; they were evicted from their prison facility residences, which were reassigned to members of the National Guard who had temporarily taken their place as prison guards. The prison officials' Third Amendment claims were summarily rejected on the ground that they were not owners of the residences. On appeal, however, the term "owner" was construed more broadly. Since there existed no Supreme Court precedents on the Third Amendment, the Circuit Court of Appeals relied on rulings relating to the Fourth Amendment, as both Amendments relate to what are considered privacy rights (the former to quartering, the latter to search and seizure).” However, should this, or any government of the US declare Martial Law, this amendment would be toast.

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

But we know what the Patriot Act does to this amendment. It allows foreign intelligence searches for criminal purposes without probable cause of crime. It fails to provide timely notice to persons whose home has been searched. Notice is also a key element of due process, which is guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment. It allows the government to seize records in intelligence and terrorism investigations without probable suspicion that the records pertain to a terrorist, spy or other foreign agent.  This amendment no longer holds water. The government has effectively given itself permission to enter out homes at will, at their discretion, and without our agreement.

Amendment V

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

The idea of double jeopardy was one of primal importance to our forefathers. They didn’t want a return to the medieval times when a king could try a subjugate over and over again for the same crime until a court finally agreed with him. Yet the Patriot Act allows indefinite incarceration of persons without judicial review thereby denying due process and equal protection of law. It creates a very serious risk that individuals could be deported for association with political groups that the government later chooses to regard as terrorist organizations.  Clearly this amendment has serious gaping holes that any future government could use willy-nilly to incarcerate indefinitely any of its political opposition. This amendment is now DOA.

Amendment VI

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

But with the destruction of habeas corpus, the need for a speedy and public trial is no longer necessary. The detainee can be kept indefinitely, without charges and without due process. The detainee can be kept indefinitely without recourse to a lawyer, nor witnesses for his defense. The detainee is basically screwed according to the Patriot Act. This amendment is DOA.

Amendment VII

In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

This is one of the few amendments unaffected by all the controversy over the past century. Though it is not certain whether a trial by jury is appropriate, it can be said that this amendment has not been fundamentally tampered with since its inception.

 

Amendment VIII

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Uh, can you say ABU GHRAIB?? The systematic torture of prisoners in the US, and in its satellite establishments in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere around the world is very well documented. Though the US is a signatory of the Geneva Conventions, it has continually violated its doctrines almost from the beginning. Through the Extraordinary Rendition program of the CIA where innocent civilians would be sent to countries renown for their torture methods, the US has garnished a reputation around the world as one of the premier torture centers anywhere. Cruel and unusual punishment are no longer to be avoided, but they are to be incorporated into US practices.

Amendment IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

The fact that everyone should enjoy the fundamental rights as endowed by the Constitution is nothing new. But the fact that we are placing everyone into small compartments by which to judge them better is just a renovation of an old theme. Before the African-American was segregated against.. All of a sudden, Muslims are to be isolated and segregated. People from the Middle East are to be placed apart and looked down upon. Hispanics are denounced universally as illegals and disparaged regardless of their legal status here. Minorities have been, and continue to be, trampled upon by the majority class in a deliberate attempt to keep them subdued and under control.

Amendment X

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

The powers reserved to the people were relatively few to begin with. But since the end of WWII, these powers have dwindled down to near nothingness. Our freedom of religion is curtailed unless we believe the extreme Christian right who concludes that only someone who believes in Christ and war with Muslims can enter heaven. We have freedom of speech, as long as we accept being on the FBI’s most wanted list. There is no freedom of the press. They were bought off long ago. We do have the right to assemble, as long as we inform the FBI of our intent so they can start a dossier against us. We can petition the government for grievances as long as we are looking for a new job.

We can be armed to the teeth, that they’ve left us. I guess it’s a way to allow us to kill each other and save them the trouble. Soldiers can’t yet take over our homes, at least not until Martial Law is declared. They can already read everything we write, look at all of our secrets, and uncover everything we have at home, and without telling us they are doing it. We can now be held indefinitely without charge and without recourse to council. Our government can take us away in the middle of the night and hold us for over 50 years without every saying why they did it. How warm and fuzzy do you feel?

Our government may now charge us over and over again for the same crime. They have the ability to continue charging us regardless of what a jury finds. You can now be subject to heinous torture of the likes only seen at Abu Ghraib. We will be definitely tracked if we look Hispanic, Muslim or African-American. And we will never know how the states have curtailed our freedoms even more.

We can clearly see that our Bill of Rights have been eroded away into next to nothingness. We can clearly see that our freedoms so long upheld by past generations have been destroyed and replaced by governmental oversight into our every aspect. It’s only a matter of time until the rest of our freedoms are parlayed into the history books, relegated into a story that could have been, but was not to be thanks to the inattention of the very people charged with the very vigilance of its existence. We, as a nation, have allowed the total disintegration of those founding pillars our forefathers laid for us. We have let them down.

 

Our country deserves more than that. She deserves all the freedoms our forefathers intended for her to have. It is imperative that we as a nation strive to restore the Constitution and its intended purpose to ALL Americans. We owe nothing short of this goal to our forefathers and what they’ve given us. For the Toeg Effect, this is Toeg.