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Front Page » September 28, 2010 » Opinion » Bill of Rights: Enigma or knowledge hole?
Published 1,402 days ago

Bill of Rights: Enigma or knowledge hole?


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By RICHARD SHAW
Sun Advocate publisher

As in every election cycle the rhetoric from political candidates has recently been blowing in all directions. Each election season, the fight over two things seems to take the majority of the political cake; spending and personal rights.

While government spending has been a critical issue this year due to the weak economy, the rights of citizens and of states has taken the fore front in political fights too. Candidates throw around ideas and often come up with speeches that mention the Bill of Rights, specificially referring to such amendments as the first, second, fourth, fifth, and fourteenth.

It seems that so many people get their news from sound bites these days that depth in the news is lacking in a lot of places. We here at the Sun Advocate believe that that is where newspapers and other periodicials come in. No news show on television or radio can really give a person the depth of story that newspapers can.

However, that is not the point of this column. The object of this piece is to point out how few citizens know what these people running for office are even talking about. The amendments in the Bill of Rights seem to be at the least an enigma to many citizens. While most of us learned about the Constitution in public school, few of us remember what all the amendments are about; in fact many can only give meaningful labels to a couple.

While it was unscientific in any way, I went out to prove my point here at the office and in a few other locales around town. I asked people, without giving them any hints, what eight of the amendments stated. In fact I made it simpler than that; I told them they just had to come up with one word or a phrase about what those amendments proclaimed. The lack of knowledge people exhibited was a shock to me, even though I myself can't name them all. I guess I just thought most people were more educated than me.

Overall only one person was able to get the answers to all of them correct. And in fact for some of the amendments he actually recited the exact wording. Well he did waver on one, but I still counted that as an affirmative. No one else came close. Most people were able to name at least one right from the first amendment with freedom of religion and freedom of speech being the most often mentioned. The second amendment also got a lot of hits (the right to bear arms) correctly, but there were a few off on that one too.

Few knew the meaning of the fourth and fifth amendments. These amendements prevents unreasonable searches and keeps people from incriminating themselves. One person I talked with didn't even know what "pleading the fifth" meant when I gave them a hint after I had already scored them as not knowing.

Surprisingly, almost no one got the 14th amendment correct, despite it being very controverisal right now concerning illegal immigrants 'American born children. The amendment is actually an add-on to the 13th amendment which abolished slavery.

I thought everyone would know the 18th amendment, because it is (or I guess was) near and dear to everyone one who likes a beer or a drink once in awhile. It was the amendment that prohibited alcohol (or as most people know it prohibition). More well liked by those that like to inbibe however is the 21st amendment that repealed the 18th amendment. I guess that has been a long time ago and few drinkers today even remember that once the entire country was dry.

I thought the 19th amendment would get a rise in correct responses out of women, but they must be more apathetic than their counterparts were in 1920 when that amendment finally gave them the right to vote in federal elections. (Before that a few states allowed women to vote in local and state elections, including Utah which was, surprisingly to many, the first to allow them to cast ballots at all).

Lastly I asked about the 26th Amendment, one that was near and dear to my heart when I was 19 years old in 1971, the year it passed Congress and was ratified by the states. While those younger than 30 have basically never known a time when people over 18 couldn't vote (it was 21 before the amendment), I experienced that lack of rights in the election of 1970, even though I was near the age where I could be drafted, and sent off to fight in the Vietnam War. So many young men that died in that conflict never had the chance to cast their vote for the leaders of the country they were defending. Today those that join the military before age 21 at least can have a say in their government.

Maybe there are some other amendments I should have asked about, afterall there are 27 of them, and all important. Most people would be interested in the 16th Amendment, but they probably couldn't tell me what it was about. It was the amendment that basically established the federal income tax system). The eighth Amendment bans cruel and unusual punishment (a phrase that has been hard for the legal system to define over the years). The 22nd Amendment is interesting because it was basically enacted because of one guy; Franklin D. Roosevelt, who ran and won four times for President. He was in office so long that political cartoonists started drawing images of him with a crown on his head. Now (thank goodness) we only have to put up with some of these clowns for eight years. Maybe term limitations would be good in a lot of places; it has seemed to work well in the presidency.

So the Bill of Rights is an important document, which obviously most people don't know enough about.

Maybe we should all take time to learn more, don't you think?

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