When I first began writing this column over a decade ago, I thought I would have enough subject matter for perhaps a year at one column per week, but I have not run out of material. This is column five hundred.
Thanks again for reading, but, just as importantly, I encourage you to write. I am not the only person with an opinion.
Last column I wrote about Amendments 1 and 2 of the Bill of Rights, the ageless protector of our individual freedoms. I will examine several more amendments based on what they state.
Amendment 3: 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.
When the Sons of Liberty were stirring up trouble for the British government in Boston, troops were brought in to enforce arbitrary and capricious laws. The Brits’ problem was housing for the soldiers. Citizens were ordered to provide shelter for the very troops who were enforcers against the popular will but also symbols of oppression. This situation did not set well with Bostonians and contributed further to revolution. It also led to the Third Amendment, ratified in December of 1791.
The Third Amendment may seem archaic to us today, and, in a way, it is, but it also protects privacy and one’s personal domain under extraordinary circumstances. The amendment is specific by identifying “soldier”, but it is also open when it concludes “…but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”
Amendment 4: 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 enormously significant amendment underscores the importance of privacy, personal security and property. The police and legal system can not act against a civilian without probable cause and due process through a legal warrant, or act unreasonably beyond what suspicion indicates. This amendment is judicial in its content and is an important check in the government’s power over its citizens.
The so called “red flag” issue surfaced recently following mass shootings. Per supposition, this could allow the seizure of firearms on someone else’s word that the owner of a weapon is unstable or otherwise unsuited to own a firearm. To me this is impossible under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, but there are political forces in America who care nothing about either. This is an unfolding challenge.
Amendment Five: 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 offense 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 amendment addresses felony (capital) cases and protects the accused from unlawful conduct by any entity outside the courts. It covers double jeopardy, self incrimination, the right to access to the legal system, and the protection of private property from an entity that might covet it without compensation for it. The amendment protects everyone and is vital to our security and citizenship.
Understand, governmental bodies can legally seize property under public domain if said property is construed as contributing to a larger public good, but government must compensate you fairly for it. Also, firearms are property and can not be seized unless used or held unlawfully. Those opposed to firearm ownership neglect this feature of the Fifth Amendment, but there it is. It is conjoined with the vital Second Amendment, like it or not.
America is a constantly shifting society which is healthy and desirable. The Bill of Rights provides stability and constancy within social and political turmoil. It tempers change within a code of ethics that constrains government by reminding it that power is retained by the people.
The Constitution belongs to everyone; however, no individual or group owns it. It remains a tie that binds.
Larry W. Anderson is a retired educator.