The United States Constitution, along with its amendments, provides a wide range of rights that are fundamental to the nation’s democratic principles. Here are 19 constitutional rights that are crucial to defend.
Freedom of Speech
The right to express one’s thoughts and to communicate freely with others affirms the dignity and worth of every member of society and allows each individual to realize his or her full human potential. Freedom of speech allows us to be who we are and speak out against injustice without fear of repercussions.
Freedom of Religion
Religious freedom prevents the cultural majority from using the power of the state to impose their beliefs on others. This protects religious and nonreligious people alike from the government becoming so powerful that it can tell people what to think and how to act. In countries where religion and government are the same, people fear for their lives if they believe differently.
Freedom of the Press
“Free, independent media allow the public to make informed decisions, hold leaders accountable and hear a diversity of opinions—all free of government influence,” according to ShareAmerica. Without the freedom of the press, we would only be able to know what the government allows with no checks and balances.
Right to Petition
The right to petition is a fundamental human right, empowering individuals or groups to voice their concerns and seek redress from their government or authorities. This essential democratic principle is deeply embedded in many countries’ constitutions, laying the foundation for a thriving, accountable democracy.
Right to Assemble
The right to assemble allows people to bring attention to issues, demand change, and get answers from public officials. Without freedom of assembly, there are fewer channels between elections for people to use information and opportunities for participation in open government.
Right to Bear Arms
The right to bear arms is debated often but is essential, protecting citizens from not only the government but anyone else who would do us harm. Ilya Shapiro says, “You don’t have to be crazy about guns to recognize that no law could make the 300 million firearms in America disappear. Even making it illegal to own a gun wouldn’t prevent a criminal or madman from doing his malevolent deed. Robust policies to prevent legal gun ownership only translate to guns being overwhelmingly possessed by those willing to break the law—i.e., criminals.”
Protection from Unreasonable Searches and Seizures
The ultimate goal of the Fourth Amendment is to protect people’s right to privacy and freedom from unreasonable intrusions by the government. However, the Fourth Amendment does not guarantee protection from all searches and seizures, but only those done by the government and deemed unreasonable under the law.
Right to Due Process
The due process right, established by the Fourteenth Amendment, guarantees that the government can’t take a person’s basic rights to “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” The due process right is designed to protect citizens from actions taken by state governments, counties, towns, and cities. Governments have been known for taking assets and locking people up for disagreeing with them; this protects our citizens.
Right to a Fair Trial
The right to a fair trial covers a lot of territory. First and extremely important is the presumption of innocence until proven guilty in a court of law by a jury of your peers. It also doesn’t allow the court to put off your trial indefinitely, which could keep some people behind bars before even being found guilty. And it guarantees the ability to confront witnesses, which keeps the government from preventing witnesses from speaking in court. Protecting us from unjust persecution is a fundamental right.
Protection from Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Cruel and unusual punishment does not extend to your parents punishing you by sending you to your room or your boss not giving you the Christmas bonus. The Eighth Amendment only deals with criminal punishment. “The Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause circumscribes the criminal process in three ways: First, it limits the kinds of punishment that can be imposed on those convicted of crimes; second, it proscribes punishment grossly disproportionate to the severity of the crime; and third, it imposes substantive limits on what can be made criminal and punished as such.”
Right to a Trial by Jury
Colonists had a fear of the power of an unjust court, as many had left their country of origin to escape persecution. A trial by jury is considered an independent deliberative body that can make up their minds outside of the pressure of the court.
Protection from Double Jeopardy
The double jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment is designed to protect citizens from their government. State and federal governments generally have more assets than the defendant. Double jeopardy keeps the government from using its superior resources to harass a citizen with multiple prosecutions.
Right to Remain Silent
The Fifth Amendment protects the right to avoid self-incrimination. When in an interrogation with authority figures like the police or government, private citizens could feel pressured to speak. This right protects people from being compelled to give testimony that could incriminate them, which is not the same as saying that a person has a right to silence at all times. One should also be aware that silence may imply guilt in some cases.
Right to Citizenship
The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees that all persons born or naturalized in the United States are citizens. A person without citizenship and nationality loses many of the protections and benefits of their nation. This amendment became necessary when states were not giving citizenship to freed slaves. Today, we have to reaffirm this right for children of immigrants who have been born on U.S. soil.
Equal Protection Under the Law
The Fourteenth Amendment protects civil rights by not allowing states to treat people of different races, classes, or religions differently. When we look back on history, when segregation wasn’t only allowed but enforced by law, it’s clear why equal protection is a right worth fighting for.
Right to Vote
The Fifteenth Amendment guaranteed the right to vote regardless of race or color, and the Nineteenth Amendment extended this right to women. The right to vote gives us the power to maintain a government and policies that work in the best interest of the majority of citizens. Without this right, politicians would be free to do what they wanted without fear of the consequences from the general public, such as being voted out of office.
Abolition of Slavery
The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime. Clearly, no one has the right to own or hold any person without consent. Slavery is a dark cloud over American history and history in general, and we have to ensure this never happens again.
Right to Privacy
Everyone has things they would rather not have as public knowledge, including but not limited to health information and what happens in one’s home. Although not explicitly stated in the Constitution, the right to privacy has been inferred from several amendments and is upheld by numerous Supreme Court decisions. If people didn’t have this right, being diagnosed with an ailment could be available to anyone.
Right to Equal Education
This is another one that isn’t explicitly in the Constitution but has been established through court rulings based on the interpretations of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Equal education keeps a group of people from being held back in society because they were denied educational opportunities.
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