You probably hear a lot about the Bill of Rights and things like "free speech" and "search & seizure." But do you know what it all really means?
The Bill of Rights are amendments to the U.S. Constitution that limit the power of the government and guarantee certain individual rights. The first ten amendments, added to the Constitution in 1791, are the original Bill of Rights. The Constitution also includes other amendments that affect civil liberties, and those are included here, too.
Remember, the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights is not the only thing that protects you from too much government interference. The State of Oregon also has a Constitution, with its own Bill of Rights.
The Bill of Rights (& Some Helpful Translations)
First Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Translation: The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, press, religion, and your right to gather with other people. It covers the right to demonstrate, pass out leaflets, and state your opinions. The First Amendment also prohibits the government from supporting or endorsing a religion, so as not to interfere or influence religious views and practices.
Similar amendments in Oregon’s Constitution are Article 1, sections 2, 3, 4, 5, & 8.
Second Amendment: 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.
Third Amendment: 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.
Fourth Amendment: 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.
Translation: The Fourth Amendment says the government cannot enter your home or any other personal area and search all your belongings, or search your body, or arrest you, without a valid reason.
The similar amendment in Oregon’s Constitution is Article 1, section 9.
Fifth Amendment: 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 by taken for public use, without just compensation.
Sixth Amendment: In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.
Seventh Amendment: In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by a jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise reexamined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
Eighth Amendment: Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
Ninth Amendment: The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
Translation: Just because a certain right isn't specified in the Bill of Rights doesn't mean it doesn't exist. However, the courts have not said much about what these rights might be. What do you think?
Tenth Amendment: The powers no delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
Thirteenth Amendment: Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Fourteenth Amendment: All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Translation: It is unconstitutional to treat someone differently based on race, gender, age, religion, national origin, marital status, or physical ability. The question of including sexual orientation is still being debated.
The similar amendment in Oregon’s Constitution is Article 1, section 20.
Fifteenth Amendment: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
Nineteenth Amendment: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.