Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Charting a path for freedom

Freedom is considered the very basic foundation of the American civilization. The universal values of liberties and civil rights are always regarded with esteem in the US constitution which has these values embedded in it in the shape of the Bill of Rights – the first ten ratified amendments in the constitution of United States of America. This bill is also known as the Charter of Freedom which restricts the state to pass any laws that may impinge the individual liberties of people. Although throughout its history it has seen many violations, just as the Patriot Act today enacted only six weeks after September 11 by President Bush to obstruct terrorists’ activities is infringing not only the citizens’ rights but also allows a racial treatment of immigrants, treating them all as ‘suspected’ terrorists. The Bill of Rights still has a supreme value in the eyes of the people of America. Many a civil liberties groups are struggling to restore the supremacy of Bill of Rights to stop the encroachment of fundamental freedoms granted by this Bill.

When the United American colonies declared independence through the famous Declaration of Independence document on July 4, 1776, the main aim of this was to get themselves free from the tyrannies of the British colonials. Thirteen north American states joined for this cause and the revolutionary war with the Britain masters began. At this time the Articles of Confederation, passed on November 15, 1777, served as a founding governing document for the incipient union of these 13 states which later came to be known as a loose confederation.

After securing independence in 1783 when the freedom war was won, the first and the natural inclination of the Americans was to make their own constitution. Initially, the Articles of Confederation was serving as the constitution of US, but later many Congressmen and citizens complained of its inefficiency in dealing the constitutional matters properly and to protect rights of people due to its inherent weaknesses. Consequently after four years from 1783, the United States Constitution was created in 1787.

The Constitution composed then through the Constitutional Convention of 1787 had to be ratified by at least nine states before it could earn a status of a statute law. The Federalists – who wanted a strong central government – supported the ratification, while the Anti-Federalist – who wanted more power for the states, and to run the government under the Articles of Confederation – were opposed to it. When the Convention had drafted the final version of the Constitution, there was no presence in it of a rights bill or a document of the similar nature.

The reason behind the Anti-Federalists opposition to the ratification was that the constitution could not protect the rights of the individuals and that the republican form of government could not be successful in America. Naturally, therefore, the idea of the Bill of Rights was cordially accepted and advocated by the anti-Federalists.

After the first Congress met in 1789, most of the delegates agreed that the Bill of Rights is needed. The responsibility to draft one such legislation was put on the shoulders of James Madison, who is now considered the father of the Constitution. One odd thing about Madison, who was a Federalist, was that previously he rejected the idea of a rights' bill but later he was convinced of its inevitability.

To draft the US bill of rights, Madison took inspiration from the English Bill of Rights, 1689; Virginia Declaration of Rights, 1776 and the famous English political document Magna Carta, 1215. Many of its provisions were influenced by these bills. Out of 42 provisions suggested by Madison, only 10 came into effect on December 15, 1791, when approved by three-fourth of the states.

All of the ten Bill of Rights Amendments exclusively deal with the citizens’ rights as regard to the state. However, the ninth and tenth Amendment hold a peculiar position as they deem those rights and powers which are not mentioned in the Rights Bill. Other Amendments restrict the government to pass any laws that may trespass the freedom of the people. These Amendments give to the citizens the freedom of speech, press, religion, peaceable assembly, and to petition the government; recognize the right of people to keep and bear arms as well as to maintain a militia; protect from quartering of troops; and unreasonable searches and seizures; also make it a prerequisite that no person shall be deprived of life, property or liberty without due process of law; ensure the fair trial by jury of the accused; and prohibit excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishment .

The ninth amendment in originality is a profound provision in it self. As only 10 out of 42 rights provisions devised by Madison were accepted in the Bill of Rights so it was impossible to include everything pertaining to natural rights of people in that Bill. To deal with this situation, the ninth amendment was to become an inquisitive part of the Bill. It says the, “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

However, the tenth amendment does not technically acknowledge any rights. It is particularly related with the governmental powers not enlisted in the Constitution that these are the powers reserved to the states and to the people of these states. An example of the tenth amendment right is that there are states in America that determine the rules for marriage, divorce, taxes, etc, in their respective precincts.

What is peculiar about the Bill of Rights is that it propounds the philosophy of freedom by giving a freehand to the people to be secure in their persons and giving them a free will to express themselves and to worship anyone; and mandating the easy access to fair justice for all. It is considered a landmark of the US constitution, and with its legacy of over 215 years for which many a life of American soldiers were sacrificed to gain independence from the British rule to make an independent constitution of their own, this piece of legislation still stands for the people’s rights.

Note: This article appeared earlier in the print version of Dawn Newspaper by Nauman Lodhi