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Our View: Bill of Rights keeps spirit alive

Published: Friday, Dec. 14, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT

For more than 200 years, the Bill of Rights has kept the spirit of the American Revolution alive.

Saturday will mark 221 years since the first 10 amendments to the Constitution of the United States went into effect in 1791.

The U.S. Constitution, which took effect in 1789, lays the framework for how our government still works today, but the Bill of Rights goes further: It lays out our country’s bedrock values in the rights it guarantees to the people.

These first 10 amendments set freedoms of the individual citizen above the power of government.

Although these centuries-old guarantees are taken for granted by many Americans, at the time they were created they truly were “revolutionary” concepts that were only beginning to awaken the world.

Even today, these freedoms are not enjoyed by many of the world’s people, a sad fact that those who believe in the American way of life should work to change in whatever ways they can.

As Americans, we also have a responsibility to know what’s in the Bill of Rights. Here’s a short summary of the freedoms guaranteed by each amendment.

• First Amendment: Guarantees five freedoms – of speech, of assembly, of religion, to petition and of the press.

• Second Amendment: Guarantees the right of the people to keep and bear arms.

• Third Amendment: Protection from forced quartering of troops.

• Fourth Amendment: Protection from unreasonable search and seizure.

• Fifth Amendment: Establishes the right to due process of the law, protection from self-incrimination and double jeopardy, and requires just compensation for property taken by eminent domain.

• Sixth Amendment: Establishes rights of those accused of crimes to a trial by jury, a speedy and public trial, to confront accusers, to obtain witnesses on their behalf and to the assistance of a lawyer.

• Seventh Amendment: Allows for a civil trial by jury.

• Eighth Amendment: Protects against excessive bail and fines and cruel and unusual punishment.

• Ninth Amendment: Declares that rights not specifically named in the Constitution may still exist.

• 10th Amendment: Reserves for the states or the people themselves any powers not delegated to the federal government.

Without any of these amendments, life in the United States would not be the same, particularly given that the 14th Amendment later extended the protections in the Bill of Rights to the state governments.

For 221 years, these 10 items have helped to spell out what Americans’ hold dear: Our individual rights and freedoms, which, for 221 years now, have endured.

May they be preserved and protected for centuries to come.

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