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Changes to the Bill of Rights

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Changes to the Bill of Rights

How many rights do you have? You should check, because it might not be as many today as it was a few years ago, or even a few months ago. Some people I talk to are not concerned that police will execute a search warrant without knocking or that they set up roadblocks and stop and interrogate innocent citizens. They do not regard these as great infringements on their rights. But when you put current events together, there is information that may be surprising to people who have not yet been concerned: The amount of the Bill of Rights that is under attack is alarming.

Let's take a look at the Bill of Rights and see which aspects are being pushed on or threatened. The point here is not the degree of each attack or its rightness or wrongness, but the sheer number of rights that are under attack.

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

ESTABLISHING RELIGION: While campaigning for his first term, George Bush said "I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots." Bush has not retracted, commented on, or clarified this statement, in spite of requests to do so. According to Bush, this is one nation under God. And apparently if you are not within Bush's religious beliefs, you are not a citizen. Federal, state, and local governments also promote a particular religion (or, occasionally, religions) by spending public money on religious displays.

FREE EXERCISE OF RELIGION: Robert Newmeyer and Glenn Braunstein were jailed in 1988 for refusing to stand in respect for a judge. Braunstein says the tradition of rising in court started decades ago when judges entered carrying Bibles. Since judges no longer carry Bibles, Braunstein says there is no reason to stand -- and his Bible tells him to honor no other God. For this religious practice, Newmeyer and Braunstein were jailed and are now suing.

FREE SPEECH: We find that technology has given the government an excuse to interfere with free speech. Claiming that radio frequencies are a limited resource, the government tells broadcasters what to say (such as news and public and local service programming) and what not to say (obscenity, as defined by the Federal Communications Commission [FCC]). The FCC is investigating Boston PBS station WGBH-TV for broadcasting photographs from the Mapplethorpe exhibit.

FREE SPEECH: There are also laws to limit political statements and contributions to political activities. In 1985, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce wanted to take out an advertisement supporting a candidate in the state house of representatives. But a 1976 Michigan law prohibits a corporation from using its general treasury funds to make independent expenditures in a political campaign. In March, the Supreme Court upheld that law. According to dissenting Justice Kennedy, it is now a felony in Michigan for the Sierra Club, the American Civil Liberties Union, or the Chamber of Commerce to advise the public how a candidate voted on issues of urgent concern to their members.

FREE PRESS: As in speech, technology has provided another excuse for government intrusion in the press. If you distribute a magazine electronically and do not print copies, the government doesn't consider you a press and does not give you the same protections courts have extended to printed news. The equipment used to publish Phrack, a worldwide electronic magazine about phones and hacking, was confiscated after publishing a document copied from a Bell South computer entitled "A Bell South Standard Practice (BSP) 660-225-104SV Control Office Administration of Enhanced 911 Services for Special Services and Major Account Centers, March, 1988." All of the information in this document was publicly available from Bell South in other documents. The government has not alleged that the publisher of Phrack, Craig Neidorf, was involved with or participated in the copying of the document. Also, the person who copied this document from telephone company computers placed a copy on a bulletin board run by Rich Andrews. Andrews forwarded a copy to AT&T officials and cooperated with authorities fully. In return, the Secret Service (SS) confiscated Andrews' computer along with all the mail and data that were on it. Andrews was not charged with any crime.

FREE PRESS: In another incident that would be comical if it were not true, on March 1 the SS ransacked the offices of Steve Jackson Games (SJG); irreparably damaged property; and confiscated three computers, two laser printers, several hard disks, and many boxes of paper and floppy disks. The target of the SS operation was to seize all copies of a game of fiction called GURPS Cyberpunk. The Cyberpunk game contains fictitious break-ins in a futuristic world, with no technical information of actual use with real computers, nor is it played on computers. The SS never filed any charges against SJG but still refused to return confiscated property.

PEACEABLE ASSEMBLY: The right to assemble peaceably is no longer free -- you have to get a permit. Even that is not enough; some officials have to be sued before they realize their reasons for denying a permit are not Constitutional.

PEACEABLE ASSEMBLY: In Alexandria, Virginia, there is a law that prohibits people from loitering for more than seven minutes and exchanging small objects. Punishment is two years in jail. Consider the scene in jail: "What'd you do?" "I was waiting at a bus stop and gave a guy a cigarette." This is not an impossible occurrence: In Pittsburgh, Eugene Tyler, 15, has been ordered away from bus stops by police officers. Sherman Jones, also 15, was accosted with a police officer's hands around his neck after putting the last bit of pizza crust into his mouth. The police suspected him of hiding drugs.

PETITION FOR REDRESS OF GRIEVANCES: Rounding out the attacks on the first amendment, there is a sword hanging over the right to petition for redress of grievances. House Resolution 4079, the National Drug and Crime Emergency Act, tries to "modify" the right to habeas corpus. It sets time limits on the right of people in custody to petition for redress and also limits the courts in which such an appeal may be heard.

Amendment II

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS: This amendment is so commonly challenged that the movement has its own name: gun control. Legislation banning various types of weapons is supported with the claim that the weapons are not for "legitimate" sporting purposes. This is a perversion of the right to bear arms for two reasons. First, the basis of freedom is not that permission to do legitimate things is granted to the people, but rather that the government is empowered to do a limited number of legitimate things -- everything else people are free to do; they do not need to justify their choices. Second, should the need for defense arise, it will not be hordes of deer that the security of a free state needs to be defended from. Defense would be needed against humans, whether external invaders or internal oppressors. It is an unfortunate fact of life that the guns that would be needed to defend the security of a state are guns to attack people, not guns for sporting purposes.

Firearms regulations also empower local officials, such as police chiefs, to grant or deny permits. This results in towns where only friends of people in the right places are granted permits, or towns where women are generally denied the right to carry a weapon for self-defense.

Amendment III

No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

QUARTERING SOLDIERS: This amendment is fairly clean so far, but it is not entirely safe. Recently, 200 troops in camouflage dress with M-16s and helicopters swept through Kings Ridge National Forest in Humboldt County, California. In the process of searching for marijuana plants for four days, soldiers assaulted people on private land with M-16s and barred them from their own property. This might not be a direct hit on the third amendment, but the disregard for private property is uncomfortably close.

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

RIGHT TO BE SECURE IN PERSONS, HOUSES, PAPERS AND EFFECTS AGAINST UNREASONABLE SEARCHES AND SEIZURES: The RICO law is making a mockery of the right to be secure from seizure. Entire stores of books or videotapes have been confiscated based upon the presence of some sexually explicit items. Bars, restaurants, or houses are taken from the owners because employees or tenants sold drugs. In Volusia County, Florida, Sheriff Robert Vogel and his officers stop automobiles for contrived violations. If large amounts of cash are found, the police confiscate it on the PRESUMPTION that it is drug money -- even if there is no other evidence and no charges are filed against the car's occupants. The victims can get their money back only if they prove the money was obtained legally. One couple got their money back by proving it was an insurance settlement. Two other men who tried to get their two thousand dollars back were denied by the Florida courts.

RIGHT TO BE SECURE IN PERSONS, HOUSES, PAPERS AND EFFECTS AGAINST UNREASONABLE SEARCHES AND SEIZURES: A new law goes into effect in Oklahoma on January 1, 1991. All property, real and personal, is taxable, and citizens are required to list all their personal property for tax assessors, including household furniture, gold and silver plate, musical instruments, watches, jewelry, and personal, private, or professional libraries. If a citizen refuses to list their property or is suspected of not listing something, the law directs the assessor to visit and enter the premises, getting a search warrant if necessary. Being required to tell the state everything you own is not being secure in one's home and effects.

NO WARRANTS SHALL ISSUE, BUT UPON PROBABLE CAUSE, SUPPORTED BY OATH OR AFFIRMATION: As a supporting oath or affirmation, reports of anonymous informants are accepted. This practice has been condoned by the Supreme Court.

PARTICULARLY DESCRIBING THE PLACE TO BE SEARCHED AND PERSONS OR THINGS TO BE SEIZED: Today's warrants do not particularly describe the things to be seized -- they list things that might be present. For example, if police are making a drug raid, they will list weapons as things to be searched for and seized. This is done not because the police know of any weapons and can particularly describe them, but because they allege people with drugs often have weapons.

Both of the above apply to the warrant the Hudson, New Hampshire, police used when they broke down Bruce Lavoie's door at 5 a.m. with guns drawn and shot and killed him. The warrant claimed information from an anonymous informant, and it said, among other things, that guns were to be seized. The mention of guns in the warrant was used as reason to enter with guns drawn. Bruce Lavoie had no guns. Bruce Lavoie was not secure from unreasonable search and seizure -- nor is anybody else.

Other infringements on the fourth amendment include roadblocks and the Boston Police detention of people based on colors they are wearing (supposedly indicating gang membership). And in Pittsburgh again, Eugene Tyler was once searched because he was wearing sweat pants and a plaid shirt -- police told him they heard many drug dealers at that time were wearing sweat pants and plaid shirts.

Amendment V

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or ...

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