There is one secular document whose name is often lobbed like a conversational grenade, intended as both litmus test and dogmatic soap box: The Constitution of the United States of America. Much like bits of the bible for certain Christians seeking and even modifying evidence to prove preconceived values or beliefs, the constitution has become a societal wedge wielded by many only when useful and confirmatory. And precisely like so many hypochristian bible-samplers, these confirmation bias seekers seem to have not actually read the document.
Yes, I’ve read the constitution straight through multiple times and have returned to articles and amendments occasionally.
No, I’m not attempting to exert moral or intellectual superiority over any other person. Really, I’m not.
Ultimately, it’s really difficult to understand the constitution. It’s downright headache-inducing, particularly if you attempt to take it in all at once, actually process the language, then consolidate the ideas into a cohesive framework. Like the language of the bible – ancient and disparate and many times interpreted like a several thousand year version of the telephone game; or that of Shakespeare – conveying the dialects, colloquialisms, beliefs, and culture of people biologically precisely like us but functionally quite alien; the narrative of the Constitution is cumbersome, dated, jargon-filled, and wrought with the necessary and, indeed, intended ambiguity and contradictions of the groups of men, federalists and anti-federalists, who really never fully agreed on what the damned thing should communicate.
September 11th, 2001 changed everything; in ways we’d never before experienced and apparently hadn’t seriously considered.
Terrorism, which is defined as the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims, has changed everything.
Politics, by the way, is defined as the activities associated with the governance of a country or other area/entity, especially the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power.
So again, to be as specific as possible…terrorism, which is the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of influencing the governance of a country, area, or entity, has changed everything.
Consider the days, months, and years between September 11th, 2001 and right now. It’s like a sixth verse of Billy Joel’s, “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” after a dozen years of relative quiet between its release in 1989 and the day the towers fell.
Homeland Security. The TSA. Wire tapping. Email surveillance. Edward Snowden. Unmanned drone strikes. Guantanamo. Is waterboarding torture? Rendition. Internet ubiquity. Artificial Intelligence. Donald Trump. The last time the U.S. constitutionally declared war was 1941 even though we’ve been engaged in Afghanistan since 2001.
(Obviously the list is neither exhaustive nor ubiquitous. It’s mine and it’s off the top of my head. Feel free to add, subtract, or modify as your interests and passions dictate.)
But hey…there’s that word: Constitutionally. I know, I used it for a purpose; to communicate more than the literal words, perhaps revealing my bias.
I would like to highlight here, if you’ll permit, just the bill of rights, that being the first ten amendments to the constitution. Certainly you can read the core document and the subsequent amendments. But for now, the bill of rights. Let’s start there. I’ll neither paraphrase nor interpret , but offer them as originally written. (Except Amendment IX, for which I’ll add what I believe is a necessary note.) And as you read each of these, I encourage you to think about the past 14 years…even the past 14 days. Think about the news, the traditional and social media, your experiences, the experiences of those around you and those about whom you care. Also, think about the ambiguity of the language and, perhaps, the intention or spirit of the framers of the document. I don’t want to plant any more of my ideas in your head. I would like to offer, from this point forward, a distraction free look at the ten things our founding fathers nearly immediately attached to the ratified constitution. But again, please think about these words in the light of your, and our, “state of the union.” Further information spanning first-person accounts, dispassionate historical narratives, philosophical musings, and archival data is at your fingertips. Right now…on the same device with which you’re reading this. So please, use them. And before you finish, thanks for your time.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 offence 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.
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.
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 re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
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 Ninth Amendment clarifies that the specific individual rights stated in these amendments does not constitute an explicit and exhaustive listing of all individual rights possessed by the people and cannot be used by the federal government to increase its powers in areas not stated.