Life in the USA
Government and Law
Structure of Government
The Bill of Rights
The first ten amendments of the constitution limit the powers of the government to abridge individual rights. This Bill of Rights is cherished by all Americans. Despite constitutional guarantees, groups such as blacks and women have had to struggle, over two centuries, to claim their constitutional rights. Later amendments would strengthen and clarify individual rights. The issue of how the Bill of Rights is interpreted is never far from the center of controversy in American life. Among the most important constitutional guarantees of individual rights are the following amendments:
The First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the right of the people to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
The Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear arms. Since gun control issues are a hot topic in America, there is much debate on how far this right reaches. Some people believe they have the right to personally carry weapons. Others believe in more restrictive interpretations of the Amendment.
The Fourth Amendment protects persons and homes from unreasonable searches and seizures.
The Fifth Amendment protects against double jeopardy (being tried for the same crime twice), against a person being forced to testify against himself in court, and against the government seizing private property without proper payment.
The Sixth Amendment provides the right to a speedy trial by a jury and various other protections to people accused of crimes.
The Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.
The Fourteen Amendment, enacted after the Civil War in 1868 added certain protections against governmental control of individuals, guaranteeing all citizens equal protection of the law and due process. It also cemented the concept that the Bill of Rights bound the individual states as well as the federal government.
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