The Declaration of Independence, signed July 4, 1776, was a moral and profound list of grievances and/or charges detailing why colonial Americans found it necessary to separate themselves from the English Parliament and King George III. As we near Independence Day, it’s time for such a declaration of complaints listing what some in our government are doing to our individual freedoms as safeguarded in the U.S. Bill of Rights. Besides, it’s a lot of fun to tell the government where to go, so here’s my list of the top 10 freedoms we’ve lost or are losing and want returned. (For a more complete list, as well as the history of our rights and detailed ways we can win our rights back, check out my book Saving the Bill of Rights.)
1. The First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech.” Therefore, if my priest wants to say former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D.-N.Y.) behaved immorally, he should be able to do so without risking his church’s nonprofit status. Or if my priest wants to call out President Barack Obama for his stance on abortion, the First Amendment clearly protects his right to do that. The law banning tax-exempt organizations, including churches, from politics didn’t come from the founding era. It was actually engineered in 1954 by then-Senate Minority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson (1908–1973). Johnson wanted to silence two nonprofit organizations in Texas that had opposed his reelection, so he pushed the bill through. It wasn’t controversial because Johnson passed it off as a favor to churches. The legislation passed as an amendment to another bill via an up-or-down voice vote in the U.S. Senate. Most churches in America have since organized themselves as 501(c)(3) tax-exempt religious organizations—501(c)(3) churches are prohibited from addressing, in any tangible way, the vital issues of the day. If they do, the IRS might come for their tax-exempt status. This is unconstitutional. Religious leaders also have First Amendment rights. Of course, if parishioners don’t like what a priest, reverend, rabbi or other leader says, they have the right to complain, to leave the church, or to start a campaign to get a new priest. That’s the freedom Americans have always fought for.
2. If people choose to spend their own money on an ad supporting or criticizing someone who is running for political office, then they have the First Amendment right to do so. This right doesn’t cease if someone pools his or her money with others in an association, union or organization. It’s their hard-earned money, and the government can’t constitutionally stop them from condemning or praising someone with it. Nor should a union or other association be able to legally force someone to contribute to a candidate or political party he or she doesn’t support.
3. When law-abiding citizens log on to the Internet on their private computers, they don’t need the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) working behind the scenes with net neutrality regulations to decide what they should be reading, how fast their downloads should be working, or what their searches should turn up. That’s none of the government’s business. The First Amendment should prevent the FCC from interfering with the freedom of speech of not just the Internet user, but also of the provider. Americans have the right to take their business to the company or companies that provide the best services at the lowest prices—such is the free market that has given us everything.
4. If someone attacks us with lethal force in our homes or in the public square, we have the Second Amendment right to use a firearm to preserve our lives. Sure, all of the amendments within the Bill of Rights can be reasonably restricted by the government (via the will of the people) so that one person’s individual rights don’t impede another’s, but when a sane adult who has broken no laws simply wants to carry a firearm for self-protection, his or her action doesn’t impact others’ constitutional rights—though it just might impact a mass-murderer’s evil intentions.
5. It’s time to stop trial attorneys from making American citizens (as well as corporations and the government) liable for whatever some idiot decides to do. We have the right to behave as responsible adults—or as idiots, until our actions affect someone else. For example, if peope choose to swim outside the ropes at a public lake, then they are taking their lives into their our own hands. If one of those people drowns, then no one should be able to sue the government or anyone else because a person got in over his or her silly head. To stop the threat of lawsuits from reducing our liberty, we need tort reform. The Seventh Amendment was not designed to be a tool for attorneys using only a “preponderance of evidence” to win large sums of money in a lawsuit. The Seventh Amendment was designed protect individuals from negligent and fraudulent actions. “Loser-pays” legislation and other tort reforms must be instituted to stop the lawsuit lottery from curtailing our freedoms by making everyone from the government to grandmothers practice extreme lawsuit avoidance.
6. My property can only be taken for a public “use,” just as the Fifth Amendment says, not for a public “purpose,” as the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Berman v. Parker (1954) and later upheld in Kelo v. New London (2005). If they come to take our homes so they can give them to someone who will pay more taxes or who is more politically connected, then they are trampling on the individual rights this great nation was founded upon.
7. Until the government gets a warrant, citizens’ movements, cell phone usage, bank records, e-mails and more are their own business. The Fourth Amendment protects the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures.” “Papers” include e-mails, financial records and more. Just because papers are now digital doesn’t preclude their constitutional protections. After all, no one says we lose the First Amendment’s right to free speech when we write an e-mail or speak over the telephone. The courts need to start understanding the basic premise that new technology doesn’t erase the U.S. Constitution.
8. The people’s decision to purchase health insurance is their private decision. ObamaCare is an infringement on state and individual rights, as the bill mandates that, as of 2014, every American must buy a product approved by the U.S. Congress or be fined for not doing so. Failure to buy government-approved health insurance, according to ObamaCare, results in a penalty included on the taxpayer’s annual federal return. As Virginia’s attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, said, “There has never been a point in our history where the federal government has been given the authority to require citizens to buy goods or services.” According to the Left’s reasoning, a person’s decision not to eat fast food, not to take a job, not to join the military or not to buy a Chevy is an “activity that is commercial and economic in nature” that can be regulated and even required by Congress. The U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause (“The Congress shall have Power … To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States …”) does not give the federal government the power to make us buy products. The Supreme Court needs to rule this portion of ObamaCare unconstitutional.
9. “Penumbras” and “emanations” should not be used by the U.S. Supreme Court to create new “privacy” rights that don’t appear in the Constitution, but penumbras and emanations are exactly where Justice William O. Douglas found new “constitutional” privacy protections in Griswold v. Connecticut(1965). Griswold created new rights not found in the Constitution and led to Roe v. Wade (1973), a case that constitutionalized the right to have an abortion even though the Constitution never mentions abortions. (Can you picture even a minority of the Founding Fathers including a right to have an abortion in the Bill of Rights?) By creating such unenumerated privacy rights, the high court has taken the Constitution away from the people. After all, we the people can’t pressure our representative in Congress to change a ruling the Supreme Court errantly made—this is why such judicial activism is undemocratic. Judges are supposed to adjudicate the law, not write it.
10. When people find themselves on a jury sitting in judgment of an accused person, they have the right to rule according to their conscience, not how some judge says they must rule. According to the common-law doctrine of jury nullification, jurors can nullify a law—refuse to convict a defendant despite instructions from a judge—if they believe the law is unjust or that the application of the law in a specific instance is unjust. Historically, the jury’s power to sit in judgment of not only their peers, but also of the law, is what led to many of the freedoms we cherish today. For example, in 1735, John Peter Zenger, editor of the New York Weekly Journal, was tried for printing seditious criticisms of the governor of New York. Andrew Hamilton, Zenger’s attorney, convinced the jury that something isn’t libelous if it’s true. Hamilton informed the jury members that they had the common-law authority to ignore the law and to instead rule according to their consciences. The jury subsequently acquitted Zenger, setting a precedent that led to increased debate about the importance of press freedom. Jury nullification has these glorious roots in people’s struggles for freedom from tyranny, yet today liberals tell us that a jury can’t sit in judgment of the law. If juries lose the right to sit in judgment of government, we are in danger of losing all our rights.