It’s funny to think that the Bill of Rights, something held so dear by all, was not actually part of the original Constitution. It was instead a series of amendments drafted by James Madison that was added to the Constitution in 1791.
The focus of The Human Revolution for this week and possibly next is to float the idea of a new Bill of Rights. The idea is to come up with a list that adds to the existing framework by ensuring some of the rights that we know deep down that we have but that aren’t necessarily guaranteed by law, which cannot be true when the government claims to be “of the people, for the people and by the people.”
Here’s a quick background to get an idea why we’re doing this, but if you’re burning with ideas and don’t want to wait until the end of the article, leave them as a comment or send them in to: firstname.lastname@example.org. As ideas come in we will put together a draft to start laying out the framework for the change we hope to see.
Why is the Bill of Rights separate?
Without going into a long history lesson, basically there were two groups, the Federalists, who thought that the provision that any right not granted to the federal government would be granted to the states or the people was enough to secure the protection of individual liberties, and the anti-Federalists, who didn’t buy that argument and wanted some written guarantee. Eventually, the Anti-Federalist argument won out and the result was the 1791 Bill of Rights. So, the question to ask here is: why do we assume today that rights not guaranteed by law are automatically ours? Perhaps we should take up in the spirit of the Anti-Federalists and turn the implicit into the explicit.
The Bill of Rights is a critical component of American democracy. It guarantees freedom of speech, the press, assembly, religion, and petitions against the government. It also guarantees that you will be protected against unfair treatment in the event that you are charged with a crime. Several amendments deal with this concept and a select few deal with specific concerns of the time, like the protection against soldiers entering your home and the right to bear arms. These individual rights guaranteed by the Constitution reflect what was most pressing for those living during the birth of the United States. The press and assemblies were essential in rallying support against the Crown in the name of liberty and the unfair treatment of those charged with crimes was just one of the many injustices felt by those living in the colonies. Even if they were written 225 years ago, they live on today and are the building blocks for personal freedom not only in the US, but around the world.
So, good job Madison and the Anti-Federalists; you have saved us from restrictions of liberty and we are forever free from worry that our rights as people will be damaged or taken away. Right?…Hold on one second, let’s think about this a little further.
It is not too much of a leap to say that this might not be the case. Women, homosexuals, minorities, Muslims, immigrants and a whole lot of other people have their rights restricted every day in very different ways. Maybe this type of limitation to freedom is not direct, but an indirect consequence can be equally painful and often harder to change, especially when it is a product of the way in which our society is built. If we are truly trying to stand up for what it means to be human, all human rights need to be protected in practice and in law, not just in theory.
What would the 21st Century Bill of Rights look like?
The current Bill of Rights isn’t going anywhere, and it shouldn’t, but there is certainly an argument to be made that our advanced society has an advanced understanding of what we should be afforded as people. The Constitution guarantees the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Do our actions go along with this?
We might think that “Freedom of Speech” covers a lot of ground and therefore doesn’t need to be expanded upon, but where do things like health and education fit in? Is access to quality, inclusive education not a right in our modern day society? What about healthcare?
It is only logical to think of rights within the context of the times. James Madison and the Anti-Federalists were doing it and when they came up with what was fair they pushed to have it guaranteed by law. This is something to think of as The Human Revolution takes root and needs to formulate plans for enacting productive change.
This week’s question:
What would the 21st Century Bill of Rights look like?
We are trying to start “The Human Revolution” and if success is ever to be obtained we must first have a plan. That plan can start with asking of ourselves and answering the following question: What are the basic rights that each person deserves simply for being a person?
The United Nations has tackled this idea already (see UN Declaration of Human Rights), but on a much larger and much grander scale. Let’s bring it down to our own lives and see if we can’t come up with a more specific list. Here are a few ideas to get started, but through your thoughts and contributions we should be able to come up with a comprehensive list so we can know what it is we are truly fighting to improve.
- Voting and elections
- Corporate power
- Internet access.
Again, these are just a few suggestions to get started. The rest will come from the conversation. Feel free to comment on this post or send your ideas in to:
Let the conversation begin. The time has come.