The Constitution and Bill of Rights
The Constitution was divided into seven sections, called articles.
The first three articles deal with the separation of powers, and a description of which of the three branches can do
what. The next four deal with a variety of issues, including cleaning up the mess left from the Articles of Confederation.
1. Article One-Separates the power and function of our government. This is where the Legislative, Executive, and
Judicial find out what they can and cannot do.
2. Article Two-dictates how the laws are to be carried out by the branches. This is where the three branches find
out what rules they have to follow to do their jobs.
3. Article Three – explains how laws are to be interpreted, and by whom. This is the part that describes how to
“check” other branches, as well as themselves.
4. Article Four – State to state relations. All states shall be treated equally, and must respect each other’s laws,
and the laws of the United States. Each state must treat citizens of other states as it treats it’s own citizens.
5. Article Five – Describes how to amend the Constitution.
6. Article Six – No state laws may conflict with the U.S. Constitution. It also guarantees that the U.S. will pay all of it’
7. Article Seven – Explains the procedure for ratification.
They covered all of the bases, but they forgot one thing…
THE BILL OF RIGHTS
Bill Of Rights – enacted in 1789, two years after the Constitution.
10 amendments were chosen out of 200 proposed amendments.
Americans were furious that the Constitution did not mention specific rights guaranteed to the citizens.
Freedom of Religion: The right to practice any religion, or no religion. This is frequently known as the Separation of
Church and State.
QUESTION - Does this amendment provide freedom OF religion, or freedom FROM religion? This has been an
ongoing battle, especially in the past 75 years.
· Growing diversity of religions.
· Fewer practicing religion / more people are agnostic or atheist.
· Increased judicial activism.
Freedom Of Speech – The “right to express your ideas and opinions when you speak.” Americans are allowed to
criticize the government or government officials without fear of reprisals. The only exception is if that speech may:
· Injure others
· Tell lies about others (slander)
Freedom of the Press – “Freedom to express your ideas in writing”.
Similar to “freedom of speech” but specifically targeted to those in publishing.
Freedom of Assembly – Americans are free to meet and discuss whatever, and with whomever they choose (as long
as such meetings are peaceful).
Freedom of Petition – This allows a citizen to write to their representative to ask them to pass a law, or fix a problem.
The right of citizens to bear arms (own guns). Exactly what this amendment means is under debate.
Citizens do not have to allow soldiers to live in their homes.
The Police, or any government agency, are forbidden to search any person’s property without a search warrant
signed by a judge. In fact, they are also forbidden to take anyone’s property without a warrant.
Before a person can be brought to trial, a Grand Jury must be indicted by a Grand Jury. GRAND JURY- A group of
citizens who review evidence to see if there is reason for a trial.
· Accused people do not have to testify against themselves. Did you ever see a movie where the criminal says “I
take the 5th” ? This amendment is what the criminal is using.
· A person can only be punished after “due process of law”(a fair trial).
· Double Jeopardy, re-trying a person after being found “not guilty” is illegal.
· The government may take a person’s property for the public good, but they must pay the person the fair value
of that item.
People accused of a crime will receive a prompt, public trial.
PROMPT - without having to wait too long
Under certain circumstances involving a dispute over property or money, a trial by jury may be awarded.
· Cruel or unusual punishment is not allowed.
· A person may be allowed to post bail if the judge agrees. Bail may not be too high. BAIL – money or property
that the accused lets the court hold as proof that they will show up for court.
The people have other rights not specifically mentioned in the Constitution.
Guarantees that any powers not awarded by the U.S. Constitution, shall be the responsibility of the states, or reserved
for the people themselves.
There are currently twenty-seven amendments, and they seem to come in bunches. Following the first ten, three were
passed between 1865 and 1870, five were passed between 1913 and 1930, and three between 1964 and 1971. The
last amendment to the Constitution was in 1992, which had to do with pay raises for Congress.