Two hundred and twenty-five years ago today, a young nation made ten additions to its already revolutionary Constitution.
These amendments – this “Bill of Rights” – said we could speak our minds, worship freely, defend ourselves, be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures, and expect to be treated fairly if accused of a crime.
In contrast to almost all of the legislation Congress passes today, the Bill of Rights is full of language such as “Congress shall make no law” and “The right of the people… shall not be violated,” along with a guarantee that non-delegated powers or those not specifically denied the states “are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”
With this document, the Founders drew a line in the sand a few inches from the government’s feet.
Not all of these 225 years have been kind to the Bill of Rights, though. It’s been challenged, debated, and far too often just ignored.
Don’t be fooled into thinking this would have surprised the Founders.
We have the Bill of Rights precisely because the Founding Fathers knew government can’t resist stretching its limits. Much like Benjamin Franklin’s reported statement that we had a Republic if we could “keep it,” the Bill of Rights relies on the people holding government accountable.
When some in government say “of course we can,” you and I are supposed to use the Bill of Rights to say, “No, you can’t.”
Some believe government has grown too large to hold down with these chains, that it’s too late to rein it back in. If the Bill of Rights were mere words on paper, perhaps we could afford to indulge that feeling.
But they are not mere words. They are principles fundamental to who we are as a people and what we represent as a nation. If we stop caring enough to preserve them, we will lose more than a few liberties.
We will become something else entirely.
That’s one reason we must defend the entire Bill of Rights. If you expect to be able to speak freely, then surveillance that shreds the Fourth Amendment stops being just the other guy’s problem.
If you let the government decide the Second Amendment doesn’t mean what it says, then why should it hold to a strict definition of due process or freedom of the press?
We don’t have the luxury of playing favorites. We have the responsibility of getting it right.
In a time where so many are divided, this provides us with a clear path forward. We can unite on a Constitution that binds us together by the same standard, and we can demand all politicians stay within those rules to best benefit us all.
If that document needs to be changed, as the Founders expected it would, let’s follow their example by properly amending it, as they did with the ten amendments we celebrate today.
There’s no better time than the present to drop the status quo and adopt this “new” approach.
I am excited for the upcoming opportunities we will have to institute long-overdue reforms, roll back an overzealous and misguided bureaucracy, and return to a government that works for the people instead of the special interests.
On this 225th anniversary, let us rededicate ourselves to the principles and boundaries found in the Bill of Rights, and let us recommit to passing them on honored and intact.