After the hot summer of 1787, the Constitutional Convention was done! As they were wrapping up George Mason stood and pronounced, “I would rather cut off my right hand than to put it to that document.” This man had helped create it. Why was he so determined? Mason told them: “Because it does not have a Bill of Rights.” “But Colonel Mason, we have not given the Federal Government enough power to trample our rights.” “But they will,” George Mason said with finality. “They always do.” In the ensuing ratification process, the concession to ratify a Bill of Rights right after the Constitution was ratified helped it carry the states, and to become ratified, thus giving us the 10 amendments that we know as the Bill of Rights. What was the reasoning behind them? Why are these Rights necessary? How has the Bill of Rights affected us today? Let’s look at each amendment, and see examples and stories to help us answer these questions.
 Trotter, Brian P., and William S Norton. The Miracle of America: Birth of a Nation. Captured Miracles Productions, 2010. Pg. 51
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
in 1620, a group of Separatists, who called themselves Saints and who we call Pilgrims, finally made it to America. They had come a long and treacherous journey -one made even longer by turning back 300 miles in the journey to abandon their second boat, named the Speedwell, and consolidate on the Mayflower. Finally, on this final embarkment, they got to America, after 66 days. Can you even imagine waiting 66 days to get somewhere? The Transcontinental Railroad allowed trains to cross the United States of America in about a week. To the moon and back took even less than the railroad! To get an even better picture of their journey, we also have to factor in that each person only got about 14 feet of their own; just less than a mid-sized car. Sometimes the wind was so bad they had to stop using their sails, so they wouldn’t get ripped. William Bradford, a leader among the Separatists, said that “Like the down of the thistle they were wafted across the sea, and the seed they bore of popular government and religious freedom was planted on these western shores.”. But once they got here to America it wasn’t over. There weren’t any hotels or houses; they had to start from the beginning. That winter, almost 50% of the people at Plymouth perished. For scale, in Plymouth today, 1% have died from Covid-19. While that is incredibly sad, it is nowhere near the percentage of settlers lost on that first year! Why would people endure such hard trials? Who would sign up for such a trip? What was the reason they risked it all? For freedom of religion. They just wanted their own place in which to worship as they wished, without being hindered by the government. It is therefore fitting to have this be the first right protected.
“or abridging the freedom of speech…”
In countless examples of freedom of speech, that freedom is used to defend other freedoms. Martin Luther spoke up against the errors of the Catholic church -fighting for the freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Galileo Galilei was placed under house arrest for speaking against the established religious view -again, speech and religion. If you give me a communistic or totalitarian regime, I’ll give you a country that limits free speech. Both communistic regimes of the past and those that are around today, like the USSR, North Korea, and Venezuela. The purpose of speech is to communicate ideas, to stand up for causes, and so the right of speech is often, though not always, used to defend the other rights. For example, ironically enough the first mention of freedom of speech, the Greek word parrhesia, was found in the literature of the century before Socrates was killed for speaking freely, and thereby “misleading the young.”
“or of the press…”
“Come right this way, sir.” Baron Alexander von Humboldt was led into the Cabinet room to the President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson. While there, he saw a newspaper full of vicious attacks that abused Jefferson both personally and politically. The Baron queried, “Why is not this libelous journal suppressed, or its editor at least fined and imprisoned?” Jefferson smilingly replied, “Put that paper in your pocket, Baron, and should you hear the reality of our liberty, the freedom of our press questioned, show this paper and tell where you found it.” Jefferson almost equates liberty with the freedom of the press in that quote. Now, Jefferson was not just a man whom criticism rolled off like water on a duck’s back. Prior to this, in 1789, he wrote a letter to Francis Hopkinson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. In it, Jefferson revealed that “My great wish is to go on in a strict but silent performance of my duty, to avoid attracting notice, and to keep my name out of newspapers, because I find the pain of a little censure, even when it is unfounded, is more acute than the pleasure of much praise.” And yet, he cared so much about the freedom of the press that he told Edward Carrington in a letter that “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter.” Next time you read things defaming and degrading Jefferson, remember that, right or wrong, this highlights the freedom of the press that we enjoy.
“or the right of the people peaceably to assemble…”
Covid-19 has caused a major breach in this. In one state Catholic priests were barred from anointing a parishioner with holy oil in the performance of last rites—even if all sorts of precautions, like masks and gloves were used, and the oil was applied with a swab. Not even the knowledge that the person did not have Covid-19 changed that verdict. What type of assembly is more peaceable than that? And yet, it was denied. In April, Mayor De Blasio of New York City tweeted “My message to the Jewish community and all communities, is this simple: the time for warnings has passed. I have instructed the NYPD to proceed immediately to summons or even arrest those who gather in large groups.” The government certainly went too far in this crisis, limiting our rights, not only of assembly, but of religion.
“and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
In the life-changing book Bridge at Andau by James Michener, he relates the true story of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, against the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or the USSR. “We must remember that there are men in this world who are willing to fight for the right to read newspapers and to argue about what has been said. There were young men in Budapest who laid down their lives because they wanted to return to a system in which a man could sit with friends over a glass of beer and let the wild flow of ideas lead where it would.” In particular, they wanted the ability to act on and suggest the reforms that their discussion could lead to, and petition to change the government. While they were free, for 5 short days before the Soviets returned in force, Michener asserts “So joyous was the atmosphere that from all over Hungary delegations of miners and farmers and students came to Budapest bearing lists of proposals for a more democratic nation.” As soon as this satellite nation could, it was making petitions to change the government. Before, to criticize the government, or suggest it could be improved, meant to be turned in by a friend and imprisoned by the Allam Vedelmi Osztag (AVO), or the State Protecting Special Group. They were so grateful for the ability to ask for redress from the government, something often taken for granted here in America.
 Smith, Margaret Bayard, and Gaillard Hunt. First Forty Years of Washington Society, Portrayed by the Family Letters of Mrs. Samuel Harrison Smith (Margaret Bayard) from the Collection of Her Grandson J. Henley Smith. pg. 396-397.
 Bednar, David A. And When He Came to Himself (Luke 15:17). 17 June 2020, newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/bednar-byu-religious-freedom-review-speech.
 Michener, James A. The Bridge at Andau. Fawcett Crest, 1989, Pg. 227
 Ibid, Pg. 71
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
World War II caused millions of deaths. The lowest estimates of the casualties of the USSR are about 6,000,000 soldiers, which is more than the respective population of 30 of the United States today. Germany lost about three and a half million. China and Japan also lost over a million. Truly, this was a war of epic proportions. And yet, as you can see from the map to the left, Switzerland -smaller than Ohio- was not invaded. What kept Switzerland out of wars? Remember, the Scandinavian and Baltic states were neutral as well, but were still occupied and invaded. How did Switzerland escape their fate? Their militia. They trained each citizen regularly. Each man had to join the militia at 20, and stay till 50. In the tradition of their national hero William Tell, they were taught sharpshooting, the layout of the land, and how to distinguish the leaders from those of lower ranks. This gave them all they needed to keep out enemies. What general will want to lead his army to the very place where every citizen knows to aim for you with a gun they want to use? This is precisely the method that Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox, used in the Southern States during the Revolutionary War, helping to provide our independence. In a letter to John Cartwright, Thomas Jefferson connected this right with keeping the power in the people. He wrote, “all power is inherent in the people… it is their right and duty to be at all times armed; that they are entitled to freedom of person; freedom of religion; freedom of property; and freedom of the press.” In addition to looking at the Swamp Fox for the power of a people that bears arms, we can see the power in the people when we look at the Shot Heard ‘Round The World -Lexington and Concord. The British marched out to Concord because it was the place where all of the revolutionaries kept their guns, ammo, and cannon -the Minuteman HQ. In the Powder Alarms of the previous months, the minuteman had been too late, and the British Regulars had been consolidating munitions. This time was critical. If they lost Concord, they would lose their bite, and be left with an empty bark. As you know, the Minutemen succeeded, through their information network and speed. This allowed them to have the ammunition they had at Bunker (really Breed’s) Hill, where they only left the hill once they had expended all their ammunition. It is telling that in the quote above, it says it is the “right and the duty” (emphasis added) to be armed and ready to stand in defense of liberty, whether through the pen, sword, camera, voice, or brush. This amendment definitely allows for us to remain secure and maintain a free state.
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.
As recently as the 1960’s, Edward Hall coined the word “proxemics.” This is the study of human territories and as it has developed, it has discovered a lot of interesting things, many of which are almost intuitive. Allan and Barbara Pease, a husband-wife author duo, in their book The Definitive Book of Body Language say “One of our deepest urges is the desire to own land. This compulsion comes from the fact that it gives us the space freedom we need.” They then cite a study of deer on James Island off the coast of Maryland. These deer are overcrowded, and so more die “as a result of overactive adrenal glands, resulting from the stress caused by the degradation of each deer’s personal territory…” “Similar studies in earlier years with rats and rabbits revealed the same trend.” This extreme stress is the effect of feeling like somebody is invading your space. That is what the people of the colonies, especially Boston, had to go through every day while quartering soldiers, of being forced to take care of, host, and nourish an enemy, who did not care for you. This is why the third amendment was added. I’m grateful it has never been ignored.
 Pease, Allan, and Barbara Pease. The Definitive Book of Body Language. Bantam Books, 2006, pg.199
 Ibid, pg.199
 Ibid, pg 199
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…”
With the advent of the internet, and before that the Red Scare and McCarthyism, the role and extent of this right has been hotly debated, attacked, supported, pivoted, used, and affected. Whatever the minutia may be, whatever Blackstone’s Ratio should be, I am so grateful for the fourth amendment. Who doesn’t know about the Holocaust by Nazi Germany? Corrie Ten Boom (and the rest of her family), Irena Sendler, Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz, and many other heroes all helped hide, rescue, and protect the Jews, even at the risk of their own death. Their houses would be searched without warning and without reason. This put all those innocent Jews at risk of being found and sent to concentration camps, along with those that were helping them. The sorrow of this genocide is awful. If they had the 4th amendment to protect their right to be secure, more Jews could have been saved and protected. This is the purpose of the Bill of Rights! To stop a government from taking power, dominion, and control. With good people in government, they won’t go around searching people’s houses without discretion, but only when they have a logical, reasonable cause. When there are corrupt people in government, they may desire the power to search and control their opponents and the people, but thanks to this amendment, they will still not be able to in America.
“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.”
On February 24th, 1761, in the English Colonies, a powerful, eloquent, and overlooked founding father gave a five hour speech. What’s more is that he quit his job to be able to argue for this side, and refused pay when it was offered. John Adams would ever remember watching this speech being given. The man? James Otis. The cause? Writs of Assistance. Writs of Assistance are papers that allow any one who holds it to be able to search houses or shops, for “Bare suspicion without oath is sufficient.” They were not assigned to a specific person and applied to an entire household. So, you could pass them from one person to another, and it would remain legal for whoever held it to use it -making it easily possible for the writ to pass out of the hands of responsible people. This opens up a chance for tyrants or coalitions, who hinder and harass their competition or enemies legally. They also never expired, giving them even more power. “Their menial servants may enter, may break locks, bars, and everything in their way; and whether they break through malice or revenge, no man, no court can inquire.” The holder of a Writ of Assistance was granted immunity in their acts to search others. Otis related the story of one Mr. Ware, who was called by a constable. After receiving the warning, he stated “’Well then, I will show you a little of my power. I command you to permit me to search your house for uncustomed goods’ — and went on to search the house from the garret to the cellar” This is why we today have the fourth amendment. To protect us from the tragedies that the Writs of Assistance, the Nazi searches, and other raids on property cause.
(Read the speech here)