The Bill of Rights; What Does It Really Mean?
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.
Ammendment 1 is pretty simple; Congress shall make NO LAW that RESPECTS (it does not say ESTABLISH, it says just to RESPECT) an establishment of religion, meaing it can not do anything that legally gives support or preference to any religion, ever. It cannot limit the freedeom to worship as one pleases. Congress can not stop free speech or free press. It can't prohibit peaceable assemblies, and it must allow the people to demand change for error (aka, protests). There should be little question as to the intent; the founders wanted the basic rights of freedom of both thought and the right to express it maintained. Please see my look at ammendment 9 below for the only limits on these rights.
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.
Again, a simple ammendment is so rarely understood. First, the ammendment states that a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state; the founders believed the militia would both keep the government in check and repel invaders, because originally, a standing army was not permitted for longer than 2 years. It THEN says, in a seperate clause, that the right of the people to both own and use arms (again, see ammendment nine for limits) shall not be infringed. It doesn't say "shall not be erased", it says merely INFRINGED, meaning that any meddling is not allowed.
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.
Thankfully, this is clear.
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.
This lays out the process and reasoning by which the government may go through your things and into your effects. The intent was clear; unless the government can find someone to swear under threat of perjury that they believe there is good reason that a certain item has proof of a crime in a particular house, they can't look. This was before we had telephones and such, but that does not mean that the INTENT is no longer valid; unless the government can give to a court of law good reason to think that an individual is planning illegal activities over the phone, they can't tap his phone. Period.
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.
This is a doozy, but fairly easy to understand. First, a grand jury must establish that a case is merited (this has since been limited to only certain kinds of cases). Secondly, a person cannot be tried for the same crime twice; government cannot continually prosecute someone until a jury finally agrees with them. That is not justice, although appeals are permitted, if new evidence or other reasonable cause can be given for a new case. Third, no one can have their things, their liberty, or their rights taken without due process of law; that means being found in Afghanistan does not mean you can be thrown in a brig for years without a trial, Mister Bush. Finally, we have the clause of eminent domain; take a close look at the wording. It says public USE, not public GOOD; just because it might benefit the public means nothing if it's not being USED by the public. This was mentioned as well in the main body of the Constitution, where the only enumerated reasons the government can own land is to establish buildings of goverance or military. The public at large all uses the military and the government, as they are servants of the public, and thus, it may be necessary to take land from time to time. That's it. The public does not use a mall, or a marina, or a hotel.
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 defence.
Again, something the President isn't aware of; a criminal on trial has the right to a jury, to not be held for a needlessly long time before a trial, shall be tried where he committed the offense, and shall be told of his crime, of the witnesses against him, and shall be granted defense if he has none, which has the power to force witnesses to testify honestly. Basically, a fair trial.
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.
"Common law" is the term applied to the law made outside the Constitution (not in violation of it, mind you). Anyway, this just states that trials with large sums of money also must involve a jury, and that a court can look at the case again without legal reason. The reason the amount is so low is due to inflation; which I will examine in a different post.
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
This should be clear; ridiculously dispraportionate bales, fines, or other punishments may be inflicted at any point.
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
Basic but extremely important amendment; no right, including free speech, right to bear arms, can be used as a weapon to take anyone else's right. This is why, yes, things like libel laws are permitted, or it's legal to prosecute people who were following their religion in committing a crime.
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.
Ah, the one of ultimate importance as it is the least followed; any, absolutely any, right not given to the federal government DOES NOT EXIST FOR THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT! It cannot do ANYTHING that has not been enumerated here. Who can? State governments, if the Constitution hasn't forbidden it, and if they don't have the right, the people. Again, simply, but clearly, ANYTHING that it doesn't say the government CAN do, they can't. Period. Ever.
The overall effect here was to enumerate some of the most important rights. However, it must be made clear; a right does NOT have to be in the Bill of Rights. Nothing says that. The BoR just says lists clearly some of the more basic rights. But, following the 10th ammendment, the government cannot limit any other conceivable right unless the Constitution says they can. So, the right to shoot up drugs, get drunk, or eat yourself enormous, although not LISTED, is fully protected under the BoR and the Constitution. So, any attempt to regulate is, indeed, a clear and direct violation of the US Constitution and should be vetoed, struck down, or eliminated by any means necessary. Because if one right can be unjustly cut, so can every other right. It's no more against the BoR to limit free speech than it is to limit the right to heroine.