Constitutional Amendments

By Caroline Adkins

Changes to the Constitution

Since 1789, the United States Constitution has been the Supreme Law of the Land. Because our Founding Fathers predicted that the Constitution would last through changing times, they provided an Article dedicated to amending the constitution. To this date, the Constitution has been amended 27 times. Of the 27 amendments, the first 10 belong to a special section called the Bill of Rights.

The First Amendment

Freedom of Religion, Speech, Press, Assembly, and Petition

Freedom of Religion

The First amendment states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." this part of the First Amendment commonly falls under the name, Freedom of Religion or Separation of Church and State. This protects the right of Americans to worship whichever religion they please, also people can choose to practice no religion at all. Freedom of Religion was established because our Founding Fathers wanted our legislatures to be filled with people who believed in different things. Though the concept of Freedom of Religion was established a very long time ago, there are still many cases in which freedom of religion has been violated. For example, in 2011, there was a case in which a California mosque was penetrated and put under surveillance because of their religion. The Muslims filed a lawsuit against the infiltrator, because it violated their right to freedom of religion. If I was the judge, I would side with the Muslims because their right to freedom of religion was violated.

Freedom of Speech

After giving people Freedom of Religion, the First Amendment states that "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech." Because Freedom of Speech isn't clearly defined in the First Amendment, judges have had to settle cases defining it. Some unprotected forms of speech are slander and libel. Slander is when a person says anything untrue that was said in order to damage somebody's reputation. Libel is very similar to slander, except it is through writing. The goal of our Founding Fathers was to make a nation that gave the people the rights that Great Britain did not. Before the revolution, if anyone said anything bad about the British government, they were most likely executed. The establishment of Freedom of Speech made sure that people were not afraid to express themselves.

A seventh-grade boy was suspended from school, because his t-shirt said something that criticized President George W. Bush. The boy's father took the case to court, because he believed that the suspension violated his son's right to freedom of speech. In this case, I completely agree with the boy and his father. I think that if the school didn't approve of his shirt, they could tell him, but a suspension is completely unjust.

Freedom of the Press

This part of the First Amendment takes the government's power of prior restraint to the press away. Prior Restraint is the censorship of the government to something before it is published or broadcast. Freedom of the Press is very similar to Freedom of Speech, except it involves pieces of writing and media. The number of Freedom of the Press violations have been rising in Iran, but the people are not given the rights that they are worthy of. An Iranian online journalist was sentenced to 14 years in prison, 10 years in exile, and 90 lashes on charges of "insulting the Supreme Leader." It is for reasons like that that I am proud to live in a country that allows people to express their minds. Like Freedom of Speech, I think that Freedom of the Press was established to give the people the rights that Great Britain didn't.

Freedom of Assembly and Petition

Freedom of Assembly gives people the right to publicly assemble. The reason this right is important is because it also allows people to get together to petition against the government. That's were the right to petition, or the right for people to come together and appeal to the government about a certain subject, comes in. In the Edwards v. South Carolina case, 187 African-American students were convicted after marching to protest racism at the South Carolina Statehouse. The police told the students to leave, and those who refused were arrested. The court decided that this action violated their right to Freedom of Assembly, and the convictions were thrown out. Before the Revolution, the British did not give the colonists their natural rights to assemble and petition. This part of the First Amendment makes sure that people have a say in what the government does, taking the concept of representative government a little further.

The Eighth Amendment

Excessive Bail and Cruel and Unusual Punishments

Excessive Bail

The Eighth Amendment states that "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed..." Bail is an amount of money that the court asks a person being accused of a crime to leave with the court, until he or she returns for trial. This helps ensure that the accused do not run away or try to avoid their trial. If the person shows for their trial, the bail money is returned. Excessive bail is when the court asks for the accused to pay a sum of money that is much greater than what is necessary for the crime committed. The concept of Excessive Bail originated from old English common law and the British Bill of Rights. Originally, in England, sheriffs decided if an accused criminal was to pay bail money. These sheriffs tended to abuse their power, so British parliament passed a law defining offenses that should and should be put under bail money. In the case involving a murder of a 78 year old man, two suspects were put under $50 million bail. To me, this would fall under the category of excessive bail, but the judge on the case said that he believes that this is a reasonable amount under these circumstances. I don't have a standard opinion on all bail cases, because I think that each case is much different, but I don't think that judges should force people to pay an amount of money that is greater than they can afford.

Cruel and Unusual Punishments

The phrase, "cruel and unusual punishments," is a widely debated part of the constitution. Because it is not clearly defined in the eighth amendment, many judges have had to settle cases involving this. For example, there are many cases in which the punishment of the death penalty has been considered. Everybody has different opinions on which offense should result in which punishment, but the judges always end up with the final say. This concept was established to keep the government from abusing their power to choose a criminal's punishment. For example, Angela Johnson was charged for the 1993 murder of 5 people, including two children. She was sentenced to the death penalty, but her death sentence was overturned, because her lawyers did not present the information of her mental health history, which showed that she was possibly suffering from borderline personality disorder and serious brain impairments at the time of the murders. I think that the death penalty is cruel, but if a person is cruel enough to murder someone else, then they should be sentenced to death.