How to Understand the Bill of Rights

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  • 1). Get a copy of the Constitution and read the 10 amendments known as the Bill of Rights.

  • 2). Understand the history of these amendments. When the Constitution was first written, a major criticism was that it did not address and protect individuals' rights. The Bill of Rights was passed by Congress in 1789 because of this and became law in 1791.

  • 3). Read Amendment I. Analyze it as a law that ensures individuals religious freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to assemble - that is, to protest - and the right to petition the Goverment to correct wrongs.

  • 4). Understand Amendment II, which allows the creation of a national army and gives citizens the right to bear arms when necessary, ensuring that the government doesn't create an army that acts against its own citizens.

  • 5). Read Amendment III prohibiting the government from taking private residences without the owners' consent in peacetime and without legal authority in case of war in order to house the army.

  • 6). Analyze Amendment IV, which protects an individual and his possessions from being "unreasonably" searched and requires that there be solid grounds for an arrest or seizure of property.

  • 7). Read Amendment V, which gives a person legal rights: the right not to be forced to testify against himself, not to be imprisoned without a proper indictment, not to be tried twice for the same offense, not to lose his life, freedom or possessions without the proper implementation of the law, and not to have his property taken to be used by the government without fair payment for it.

  • 8). Understand Amendment VI ensuring a person charged with a criminal offense the right to a speedy trial, to an impartial jury within the proper jurisdiction, to know all charges, and to know all the evidence, as well as the right to have a lawyer, provided to him free if necessary.

  • 9). Read Amendment VII, which addresses civil (rather than criminal) cases. It includes the right to a trial by jury and the right to have civil matters tried using the rules of civil law.

  • 10

    Analyze Amendment VIII, which prohibits excessive bail and fines and protects against cruel and unusual punishment.

  • 11

    Understand Amendment IX. This amendment acknowledges that rights not spelled out by the Constitution do still exist.

  • 12

    Interpret Amendment X as giving to the States and the people the powers not directly assigned to the Federal government. This is the Bill of Rights' way of ensuring that the central government doesn't get too powerful.

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