Archive for Thursday, December 7, 2006

Cherish the Bill of Rights

December 7, 2006

"I see that Bill of Rights Day is December 15th," a bored American yawns. "Ho, hum. That Constitution stuff is so dull and tedious that I never read it. Besides, no one can take my rights away from me."

Anyone who harbors this blase attitude hasn't been paying attention.

We U.S. citizens have argued about, and fought for, some of these precious rights during this very year of 2006.

For instance, freedom of the press is under attack.

Journalists have been called "unpatriotic" because they reported the facts. Some try to bully or discredit the press by claiming it is too far "right" or too far "left" when they don't agree with press reports.

While professional journalists try to deal only in facts, their critics ignore one thing. Even though members of the press are more unbiased than most Americans, they too have a right to state opinions ... just as you have a right to sit in the local cafe and regale your fellow coffee drinkers with your slant on the truth.

You probably would fight anyone who tried to stop you from speaking freely -- to cuss the governor, or second-guess the coach -- just as our free press fights for its right not to be bullied or curtailed.

Along with freedom of speech and freedom of the press, we Kansans hear arguments about freedom of religion. Right here in our home state, we argue over the role of religion in our schools; we debate the teaching of evolution; some think that religion should be a part of the curriculum.

Just this year, we have witnessed an attack on another freedom that is crucial to our Bill of Rights -- the right to a speedy and public trial.

Some Americans want to water down the writ of habeas corpus, which protects us from arbitrary imprisonment, gives us the right to face our accusers, and liberates illegally detained persons.

Probably you are hard-pressed to remember exactly what other rights you have. It's easy. Go to your computer and Google "Bill of Rights," then print your own copy and study it.

Or, if you prefer, here are a few highlights:

You have the right to a trial by jury, and the right to bear arms (another of today's arguments).

You are protected from unreasonable search and seizure (which brings to mind warrantless wiretapping), and the Bill of Rights outlaws excessive bail and fines, along with cruel and unusual punishment (another hot issue in the U.S. Congress).

You don't have to incriminate yourself in a court of law, and you can't be tried twice for the same offense.

Say what you think, and write what you wish (as long as you don't libel or slander someone), but at the same time be thankful that our Founding Fathers were wise enough to guarantee those privileges in the Bill of Rights.

We should set off fireworks, play patriotic music, and dance in the streets to celebrate the ratification of our Bill of Rights on Dec. 15, 1791. This event is just as significant as the Fourth of July, and deserves parades with marching bands.

That probably won't happen, but at least find a moment to cherish your freedoms. Then argue about them if you must, but be extremely careful about tampering with them.

They grew out of the Magna Carta, which limited the powers of English kings way back in the year 1215. These protections have served us well ever since they were adopted as amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Most of all, don't take those rights for granted, because the world has too many people who would curtail your freedoms if they could.

A British contemporary of our Founding Fathers, the British statesman Edmund Burke, penned this warning: "All that is necessary for the forces of evil to triumph is for enough good men to do nothing."

-- Darrel Miller, former owner and publisher of the Smith County Pioneer, Downs News and Times, Cawker City Ledger and Lebanon Times, is also a former president of the Kansas Press Association.

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