This is going to be part one of “Know your constitution” series. I intend to address the amendments sequentially, and tie the various articles together with links so that once completed the series will be easy to follow. In the meantime, the series will be published sporadically, at least one article a week, which I hope will not be too confusing. There seems to be a great deal of misunderstanding out there, what the Constitution guarantees and what it does not.
First and foremost, the Constitution does not empower the government. It limits federal power. It is, essentially, a list of things the government cannot do. Continuing that thought, it does not address the public’s ability to do things. The right to free speech prohibits government censorship, if the newspaper won’t print your letter they are not violating your rights, they are using theirs.
That was one of the first lessons on freedom we learned in school. “Your rights end where my nose begins” was the phrase in Kindergarten. Kindergarten. Yet for some reason some college graduates don’t understand individual rights.
Many rights have been interpreted from the constitution. There is no “Right to Privacy”, however the Declaration of Independence says “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness“, the fourth amendment reads “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 the fourteenth amendment states “nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law” from which has been derived the concept of a right to privacy. This does not apply to Facebook, only to the government. What you say in public is public. You have no right to privacy when you post your life story on the internet.
You have the right to pursue happiness, you do not have the right to happiness. Rights are not entitlements. This country was founded by people who went to war over a tax on their favorite breakfast beverage, the Constitution was written as a weapon against government, not as government social program. Each amendment limits government, it does not require the government to provide anything.
The Constitution does not become irrelevant when it is successful in holding down oppression any more than jails become irrelevant when they’re full of criminals. Just because homes haven’t been seized to house troops recently (to your knowledge) does not mean we need to eliminate the third amendment, it means the third amendment is working.
The Constitution remains a work in progress, the most recently ratified amendment, the twenty seventh, took effect in 1992. It was proposed in 1789. One amendment has been repealed, the eighteenth, only fourteen years after it was ratified. It is a document that lays out the limits and purposes of government, amended with the “Bill of Rights” which is the first ten amendments. You can read the Constitution by clicking here.
Next time I’ll start on the Bill of rights.