The Living Bill of Rights

by Edgar J. Steele

April 2, 2005

"Each measure is passed without great trouble or violent public opposition because the average man does not see at the time, how it can possibly affect his own existence - the only thing he is really interested in.  Then, one day, he awakens suddenly to realize all his rights and liberties are gone."
  --- Ayn Rand, in a letter to the New York Herald-Tribune (February 9, 1937)

"...whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends (of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness), it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness..."
  --- Declaration of Independence of the American Colonies, 1776

We keep hearing from our elected officials and so many media talking heads that the U.S. Constitution is a "living document," which changes with the times and adapts to situations not considered by America's founding fathers.  In particular, I understand how innumerable statutes, legal rulings and widespread bureaucratic fiat work together to make our Constitution a "living document."  Some might say subvert it, but I, of course, never would be one of those.

Endless confusion results from a written constitution which says one thing yet means another, as interpreted and applied today.  Therefore, I consider it imperative that we rewrite our constitution to say exactly what it means and thereby clear up any confusion engendered today, particularly in the obviously-misguided minds of so-called patriots.  I humbly offer the following rewrite of Amendments 1 through 10 to the U.S. Constitution, collectively known as the Bill of Rights, as a first step toward recasting our "living constitution" into a form that all can comprehend.

Starting with the Bill of Rights is a natural first step, as its adoption specifically was designed to prevent any misconstruction of the powers of government.  Clarity being the objective of the founding fathers, it seems only natural that we start by establishing clarity with regard to the very portion of the document which itself was charged with ensuring clarity about the entire U.S. Constitution.  

While I often jest or exaggerate to make a point in my writings, please understand that what follows is neither.  The following reflects my understanding of the current state of the Bill of Rights, both personally and  based upon my training, education and experience as a lawyer.  I repeat:  this is no joke.  

For easy reference, I include the original wording of each amendment in parentheses, following each proposed new amendment.

Amendment I

Congress shall subjugate all forms of religious expression to the will of the State, particularly Christianity, and draw an absolute wall between personal religious beliefs and any and all public expressions thereof.  All manner of speech is to be carefully monitored, filtered and censored to ensure that nothing offensive to the ruling class is communicated to or from any individual or form of media.  The people will be allowed to assemble only when and where the State directs.  Government at all levels will be immune to petitions and lawsuits of any sort brought by citizens.

(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.)

Amendment II

Citizen militias are forbidden.  The carrying of small arms, when permitted, will be closely regulated by the State, with licensing and registration of all firearms required.  At no time shall any weapon of military significance be possessed by citizens except when citizens are pressed into the service of America's standing armed forces.

(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.)

Amendment III

By Executive Order, soldiers may be quartered in any house,  with or without consent of the owner and at any time following a declaration of martial law.

(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.)

Amendment IV

Citizens may be stopped at any time and any place and be required to produce identification and a justification for their presence.  Citizens and their possessions, including vehicles and houses, may be searched at any time and in any manner, including secretly, with or without justification and without warrants.  A right to privacy is retained exclusively to the State and its agents and in no case possessed by any private citizen.

(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.)

Amendment V

Citizens may be held indefinitely, with or without charges being made, upon the direction of government officials.  Citizens may be tried repeatedly for the same offense, both by differing jurisdictions and by way of differing charges, both simultaneously and at different times and places.  Citizens may be required to testify against themselves, save only in specified circumstances and during actual public trials.  The property of any citizen may be seized upon the direction of government officials, with no review by any tribunal and with or without compensation.

(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.)

Amendment VI

At no time shall any citizen accused of a criminal offense be entitled to a hearing or a trial, either public or private, except when government officials shall so determine.  At trial, no citizen shall be entitled to a jury, except when allowed by the judge presiding.  Citizens may be held indefinitely without charges and without being informed of the nature and charge, if any, of accusations against themselves.  Citizens shall have no right to confront witnesses against themselves or to compel the attendance of witnesses in their favor.  When allowed by government officials to retain counsel, citizens may hire only certain preapproved attorneys and, when allowed by the presiding judge, be appointed only attorneys beholden to the State.

(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.)

Amendment VII

In no suits at common law, civil or otherwise, shall any party be entitled to a jury, except as allowed by the judge presiding.  When allowed, juries may determine only those facts allowed them by the judge, who, in every case, shall be the sole arbiter of applicable law.  All facts determined by juries may be rejected or affirmed, either by the judge presiding or upon appeal.

(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.)

Amendment VIII

Bail of any amount may be prescribed and may be denied altogether.  Fines may be imposed and punishments inflicted at the direction of government officials, legislatures and judges presiding over trials.  No fine or punishment so imposed shall be deemed excessive, cruel or unusual.  Certain citizens, designated by government officials and legislatures, may summarily be executed without formal proceeding, by way of either abortion or euthanasia.  Citizens placed in prisons and jails may not be protected from other inmates.

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

Amendment IX

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

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

Amendment X

The powers not delegated to the states by the Constitution, nor granted to citizens, are reserved to the Federal government.

(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.)

I trust that this exercise has been instructive.  

We all should encourage immediate adoption of The Living Bill of Rights as well as a completely rewritten Living Constitution so that we might well understand our limitations as they now exist in America.

Or, perhaps this would be a good time for you to reread that excerpt from the Declaration of Independence provided at the outset of this article.  In fact, this would be a good time to reread all of the Declaration, not to mention the entirety of the U.S. Constitution.

New America.  An idea whose time has come.

-ed

Copyright 2005, Edgar J. Steele

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