This Week's Poll

Comments - bottom of page


Our Rights
- The Fabric of Freedom

By Jeffry Boatright

It is fascinating to weigh the numerous reactions we receive when asking others which amendment in the Bill of Rights is most meaningful to them. Certainly we receive varied responses, and it is fair to say that people’s answers are apt to change based on their individual experiences or circumstances.
For many of us, it might be the First Amendment or perhaps the second. For some, it might be the Fourth Amendment and others might choose the fifth. Some might literally choose the fifth.

It is fitting and proper that Florida’s public schools observe Founders’ Month each September, and a minimum of three hours of instruction is required during social studies classes during the last week of September to commemorate the Declaration of Independence and our nation’s other founding documents.

Of course, it is essential that we fully comprehend the purpose and significance of the Declaration of Independence so that we might understand our nation’s subsequent founding documents. We cannot fully appreciate our Constitution, which is the oldest and shortest of any national constitution, if we do not understand the rationale and weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation. Finally, when we understand the brilliance of the United States Constitution, we regard its Bill of Rights and other amendments with utmost esteem.

Our founding fathers knew that constitutional amendments would eventually become essential. The fact that the original Constitution lacked a description of individual rights even troubled some of the founders and many of the state delegates during the ratifying process.

Because of our founders’ concern and regards for the individual, a list of individual rights was added to our Constitution in 1791, just three years after the U.S. Constitution was ratified. We recognize that list of individual rights as the Bill of Rights.

It has been 227 years since the Constitution was amended with the Bill of Rights. Since those first ten amendments, there have been only 17 succeeding amendments added to our Constitution. The fact that our Constitution has a total of only 27 amendments reiterates just how incredible the 4,400-word document is. The latest Constitutional Amendment, the 27th Amendment, prohibits members of congress from receiving a pay raise during their present term. That amendment was actually proposed in 1789, but wasn’t ratified until 1992.

While the 27th Amendment applies to elected officials, many of the Constitutional Amendments apply to private citizens. For example, the 15th Amendment prohibits voting restrictions based on race and the 19th Amendment secured the right for women to vote.

While we can credit having so few amendments to the creation of such an astute constitution, we must also acknowledge the forethought of our founders. A process for constitutional amendments was outlined in Article V of the Constitution. That process is not an easy process, and has probably prevented a number of proposed amendments from ratification that should have never been proposed in the first place. To date, there have been over 11,000 proposed Constitutional Amendments. Only 27, however, have been ratified.

According to Article V of the Constitution, a Constitutional Amendment can be proposed whenever two-thirds of both Houses of Congress deem it necessary, or when two-thirds of the states deem it necessary. In either case, amendments still must be ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures, or by conventions in three-fourths of the states.

A reverberating concern among many Americans is the possibility of losing our rights, especially the First and Second Amendments. Fortunately, it is equally as difficult to repeal an amendment as it is to create a new one. To do so, a new amendment would have to be proposed to repeal an existing amendment, and the process would be the same as proposing and ratifying any other Constitutional Amendment. The 21st Amendment readily comes to mind, as it repealed the 18th Amendment, effectively ending prohibition.

Perhaps the greatest threat to our rights as Americans is our failure to know and exercise those rights, along with our nonchalant concern for them. Furthermore, we must understand that our Constitutional rights are not without limits. We cannot violate laws or harm others in the name of free speech, nor can we freely carry firearms in restricted areas without authorization. With rights come responsibilities and limitations.

Such responsibilities apply to all factions of society and government. At times it is quite tempting to disqualify the importance of others’ rights, possibly and unknowingly compromising our own rights. Recent years have brought much disdain for most media outlets, admittedly with good cause at times.

Could you imagine, however, a nation without freedom of the press? Would it be fair to only receive the generic press release from local, state and federal agencies and officials? We have a right to answers when we have questions. After all, it is tax dollars that fund government agencies and public offices. It is doubtless that the founding fathers’ intent for a free press was, and remains, to insure accountability and transparency.

We must remember that each Constitutional Amendment was added with purpose, and while some amendments might seem insignificant or even bothersome on the surface to some, they each remain the right that is most meaningful to someone else. As circumstances and experiences change, it might become most meaningful to you too. They are, always have been, and must remain the fabric of freedom in this beautiful republic that we know as the United States.