By Nathan Barton
Monday is “Bill of Rights Day” and I think it is appropriate to use the opportunity to remember the late and great document which once helped us keep some hard-won liberties.
Therefore, I’d like to suggest that you wear black armbands, or a black ribbon, in memory of the United States Bill of Rights, which once meant so much and was such an important part of that other dead document, the United States Constitution.
I realize that there are many more Bills of Rights (or “Right”) in this world, including at least Fifty, one each for the Fifty States, and of course, the first known Bill of Rights, that of the English and later the English and Scots and Welsh and Irish peoples, dating to 1688. (It, too, died long ago.) Sadly, the Fifty States’ Bills of Right are as dead in this post-republic era of the Pax Americana and American Empire as the one, of ten articles, which amended that poor document, the Constitution of 1787.
As you think about where you can find black cloth or ribbon (crepe is the traditional choice) to wrap around your arm (or a black magic marker and some first-aid tape!), let us mourn the various illnesses and injuries that killed the Bill of Rights.
The First Article, of course, still stuffed and placed upon the mantle in a place of honor, but as dead as the deer head or the buffalo skull also up there, died in an ironic excess of zeal: since government could not dictate religion, then obviously religion cannot be allowed to dictate (or even opportune) government: “free expression” is limited to your basement or a properly recognized “church building.” And free speech is limited to anything that doesn’t offend anyone else, anywhere else, including the other side of the world.
The Second Article is widely hailed and constantly “defended,” except that the real meaning disappeared a long time ago: back in the 1930s or earlier. It is, at best, “undead:” a zombie with a semblance of life until a democratic vote can be held in enough places to finally not just gut but actually dismember it. But we often forget that the other part: the militia idea, died in about 1903 when the Congress found a way around certain states not wanting to participate in imperial adventures around the world.
The Third Article just never really did enough to claim it is really alive. “Consent” is such a slippery term, and so easily resolved with a few bucks – FRNs or not. And why do we need to quarter soldiers in private houses when we can steal the money for them to rent a motel room or rent the house instead? And no one visualized the permanent garrison or occupation force we call the “civilian” police forces of 2014, in which the entire town or city or county is the quarters of the non-soldiers that garrison the area.
The Fourth Article was, to use an old western expression, shot to doll rags long ago. Like an outlaw who failed to tree a town and got his rewards, the Fourth was theoretically not dead, but dying more and more each day. Warrants? With enough crooked judges, who cares? Security? Except your cell phone and your mail and your e-mail and whatever you have in your car when you get stopped for a “almost-burned-out” license plate light or for a “sobriety check.” Breath analyzers and blood tests and broomsticks up the rear end are all “compliant” with this Swiss-cheese article.
The Fifth? “Anything you EVER said or wrote can be used against you, if we even bother to do so.” Due process of law? “We say what the law is…” No double jeopardy? Not with the tens of thousands of overlapping laws of the books: always got a fresh law that we can twist enough to do you all over again. And we know what grand juries have turned into, even if we have a “right” to one.
The Sixth Article, like the First, has been exaggerated to death: the jokes that are modern juries show that, and don’t get me started on “speedy trials” in 2014. Know your accusers? Unless they can justify fear of something to hide them, or it is a camera or software. Right to an attorney? We are back to juries and qualifications like, intelligence and dedication, that we pay lip service to and ignore otherwise.
The Seventh Article, lucky Seven, has been a joke from day one. How can the First, Second, etc., apply to states as well as federal courts, but the right to a trial by jury for anything in dispute with a value greater than 20 dollars (one ounce of gold) ONLY apply to federal courts? And sadly, the Seventh never explicitly stated that juries have the power to judge both facts AND the law.
The Eighth Article, on the other hand, has been kicked to death. Long ago. Excessive fines? Like, oh, $300 for a speeding ticket – or $50,000 a day for not having your paperwork right when you discharging storm water? Cruel and unusual punishments? Like life in prison for smoking something other people don’t like? It ain’t just about the death penalty. And let us not forget that this article supposedly bans such traditional and ancient practices as… would you believe, torture? No, really!
The Ninth Article, like the First and the Sixth, has been so badly twisted by all sides as to be meaningless, even if it were not routinely ignored at ALL levels of courts: from a justice of the peace in a township to the Nine Nazgul at their bench in DC. And as the word “right” has been redefined to mean anything that lawyers and their clients want it to mean, it has become worthless. Our right to medical care? Right to a “good job” and a “good education” and even a right to “not be offended” are all found in these few words.
The final, Tenth Amendment is totally ignored today, or at best used for some vague justification of “state’s rights” as if a government can HAVE any rights at all. This is talking about power – and of course it has been sliced and diced at will, even casually, as Congress and White House (and every Statehouse and Governor’s Mansion) has constantly grabbed more and more power, not just indirectly from the people through the states, but directly from them. This isn’t even a killing joke.
Dead, dead, dead. The Bill of Rights, some people have argued, was stillborn, with no specified method of enforcement. And when the only serious attempt to enforce it was put down in a bloodbath that lasted four years, it was just a matter of time before the infections of tyranny and greed and corruption and lack of responsibility spread throughout and killed it. One could charitably say that it was pathetically weak and sickly, a bedridden creature that was constantly honored and more constantly ignored.
So wear a black armband and explain to people just what you mourn: not so much the Bill of Rights itself, but the spirit that infused its writers and supporters: the idea that WE HAVE LIBERTY and government is a vicious evil that must be carefully controlled lest it take that liberty.
Mama’s Note: Not sure about the armband, but I intend to wear my gun to town (as always) and pay cash…