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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a
presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval
forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any
person be subject to the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall
be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life,
liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for
public use without just compensation.
INDICTMENT OF A GRAND JURY: Kevin Bjornson has been proprietor of
Hydro-Tech for nearly a decade and is a leading authority on hydroponic technology and
cultivation. On October 26, 1989, both locations of Hydro-Tech were raided by the Drug
Enforcement Administration. National Drug Control Policy Director William Bennett has
declared that some indoor lighting and hydroponic equipment is purchased by marijuana
growers, so retailers and wholesalers of such equipment are drug profiteers and
co-conspirators. Bjornson was not charged with any crime, nor subpoenaed, issued a
warrant, or arrested. No illegal substances were found on his premises. Federal officials
were unable to convince grand juries to indict Bjornson. By February, they had called
scores of witnesses and recalled many two or three times, but none of the grand juries they
convened decided there was reason to criminally prosecute Bjornson. In spite of that, as of
March, his bank accounts were still frozen and none of the inventories or records had been
returned. Grand juries refused to indict Bjornson, but the government is still penalizing him.
TWICE PUT IN JEOPARDY OF LIFE OR LIMB: Members of the McMartin family in
California have been tried two or three times for child abuse. Anthony Barnaby was tried
for murder (without evidence linking him to the crime) three times before New Hampshire
let him go.
COMPELLED TO BE A WITNESS AGAINST HIMSELF: Oliver North was forced to
testify against himself. Congress granted him immunity from having anything he said to them
being used as evidence against him, and then they required him to talk. After he did so,
what he said was used to find other evidence which was used against him. The courts also
play games where you can be required to testify against yourself if you testify at all.
COMPELLED TO BE A WITNESS AGAINST HIMSELF: In the New York Central
Park assault case, three people were found guilty of assault. But there was no physical
evidence linking them to the crime; semen did not match any of the defendants. The only
evidence the state had was confessions. To obtain these confessions, the police questioned
a 15-year old without a parent present -- which is illegal under New York state law. Police
also refused to let the subject's Big Brother, an attorney for the Federal government, see
him during questioning. Police screamed "You better tell us what we want to hear and
cooperate or you are going to jail," at 14-year-old Antron McCray, according to Bobby
McCray, his father. Antron McCray "confessed" after his father told him to, so that police
would release him. These people were coerced into bearing witness against themselves, and
those confessions were used to convict them.
COMPELLED TO BE A WITNESS AGAINST HIMSELF: Your answers to Census
questions are required by law, with a $100 penalty for each question not answered. But
people have been evicted for giving honest Census answers. According to the General
Accounting Office, one of the most frequent ways city governments use census information
is to detect illegal two-family dwellings. This has happened in Montgomery County,
Maryland; Pullman, Washington; and Long Island, New York. The August 8, 1989, Wall
Street Journal reports this and other ways Census answers have been used against the
COMPELLED TO BE A WITNESS AGAINST HIMSELF: Drug tests are being
required from more and more people, even when there is no probable cause, no accident,
and no suspicion of drug use. Requiring people to take drug tests compels them to provide
evidence against themselves.
DEPRIVED OF LIFE, LIBERTY, OR PROPERTY WITHOUT DUE PROCESS OF
LAW: This clause is violated on each of the items life, liberty, and property. Incidents
including such violations are described elsewhere in this article. Here are two more: On
March 26, 1987, in Jeffersontown, Kentucky, Jeffrey Miles was killed by police officer
John Rucker, who was looking for a suspected drug dealer. Rucker had been sent to the
wrong house; Miles was not wanted by police. He received no due process. In Detroit,
$4,834 was seized from a grocery store after dogs detected traces of cocaine on three
one-dollar bills in a cash register.
PRIVATE PROPERTY TAKEN FOR PUBLIC USE WITHOUT JUST
COMPENSATION: RICO is shredding this aspect of the Bill of Rights. The money
confiscated by Sheriff Vogel goes directly into Vogel's budget; it is not regulated by the
legislature. Federal and local governments seize and auction boats, buildings, and other
property. Under RICO, the government is seizing property without due process. The
victims are required to prove not only that they are not guilty of a crime, but that they are
entitled to their property. Otherwise, the government auctions off the property and keeps
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by
an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed,
which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the
nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have
compulsory process for obtaining Witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of
counsel for his defence.
THE RIGHT TO A SPEEDY AND PUBLIC TRIAL: Surprisingly, the right to a public
trial is under attack. When Marion Barry was being tried, the prosecution attempted to bar
Louis Farrakhan and George Stallings from the gallery. This request was based on an
allegation that they would send silent and "impermissible messages" to the jurors. The judge
initially granted this request. One might argue that the whole point of a public trial is to send
a message to all the participants: The message is that the public is watching; the trial had
better be fair.
BY AN IMPARTIAL JURY: The government does not even honor the right to trial by an
impartial jury. US District Judge Edward Rafeedie is investigating improper influence on
jurors by US marshals in the Enrique Camarena case. US marshals apparently illegally
communicated with jurors during deliberations.
OF THE STATE AND DISTRICT WHEREIN THE CRIME SHALL HAVE BEEN
COMMITTED: This is incredible, but Manuel Noriega is being tried so far away from the
place where he is alleged to have committed crimes that the United States had to invade
another country and overturn a government to get him. Nor is this a unique occurrence; in a
matter separate from the Camarena case, Judge Rafeedie was asked to dismiss charges
against Mexican gynecologist Dr. Humberto Alvarez Machain on the grounds that the
doctor was illegally abducted from his Guadalajara office in April and turned over to US
TO BE INFORMED OF THE NATURE AND CAUSE OF THE ACCUSATION:
Steve Jackson Games, nearly put out of business by the raid described previously, has been
stonewalled by the SS. "For the past month or so these guys have been insisting the book
wasn't the target of the raid, but they don't say what the target was, or why they were
critical of the book, or why they won't give it back," Steve Jackson says. "They have
repeatedly denied we're targets but don't explain why we've been made victims." Attorneys
for SJG tried to find out the basis for the search warrant that led to the raid on SJG. But the
application for that warrant was sealed by order of the court and remained sealed at last
report, in July. Not only has the SS taken property and nearly destroyed a publisher, it will
not even explain the nature and cause of the accusations that led to the raid.
TO BE CONFRONTED WITH THE WITNESSES AGAINST HIM: The courts are
beginning to play fast and loose with the right to confront witnesses. Watch out for
anonymous witnesses and videotaped testimony.
TO HAVE COMPULSORY PROCESS FOR OBTAINING WITNESSES: Ronald
Reagan resisted submitting to subpoena and answering questions about Irangate, claiming
matters of national security and executive privilege. A judge had to dismiss some charges
against Irangate participants because the government refused to provide information
subpoenaed by the defendants. And one wonders if the government would go to the same
lengths to obtain witnesses for Manuel Noriega as it did to capture him.
TO HAVE THE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL: The right to assistance of counsel took a
hit recently. Connecticut Judge Joseph Sylvester is refusing to assign public defenders to
people ACCUSED of drug-related crimes, including drunk driving.
TO HAVE THE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL: RICO is also affecting the right to have
the assistance of counsel. The government confiscates the money of an accused person,
which leaves them unable to hire attorneys. The IRS has served summonses nationwide to
defense attorneys, demanding the names of clients who paid cash for fees exceeding
In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the
right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise
reexamined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of common law.
RIGHT OF TRIAL BY JURY IN SUITS AT COMMON LAW: This is a simple right; so
far the government has not felt threatened by it and has not made attacks on it that I am
aware of. This is our only remaining safe haven in the Bill of Rights.
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual
EXCESSIVE BAIL AND FINES: Tallahatchie County in Mississippi charges ten dollars a
day to each person who spends time in the jail, regardless of the length of stay or the
outcome of their trial. This means innocent people are forced to pay. Marvin Willis was
stuck in jail for 90 days trying to raise $2,500 bail on an assault charge. But after he made
that bail, he was kept imprisoned because he could not pay the $900 rent Tallahatchie
demanded. Nine former inmates are suing the county for this practice.
CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENTS: House Resolution 4079 sticks its nose in
here too: "... a Federal court shall not hold prison or jail crowding unconstitutional under the
eighth amendment except to the extent that an individual plaintiff inmate proves that the
crowding causes the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment of that inmate."
CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENTS: A life sentence for selling a quarter of a
gram of cocaine for $20 -- that is what Ricky Isom was sentenced to in February in Cobb
County, Georgia. It was Isom's second conviction in two years, and state law imposes a
mandatory sentence. Even the judge pronouncing the sentence thinks it is cruel; Judge Tom
Cauthorn expressed grave reservations before sentencing Isom and Douglas Rucks
(convicted of selling 3.5 grams of cocaine in a separate but similar case). Judge Cauthorn
called the sentences "Draconian."
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or
disparage others retained by the people.
OTHER RIGHTS RETAINED BY THE PEOPLE: This amendment is so weak today that
I will ask not what infringements there are on it but rather what exercise of it exists at all?
What law can you appeal to a court to find you not guilty of violating because the law
denies a right retained by you?
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to
the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
POWERS RESERVED TO THE STATES OR THE PEOPLE: This amendment is also
weak, although it is not so nonexistent as the ninth amendment. But few states set their own
speed limits or drinking age limits. Today, we mostly think of this country as the -- singular
-- United States, rather than a collection of states. This concentration of power detaches
laws from the desires of people -- and even of states. House Resolution 4079 crops up
again here -- it uses financial incentives to get states to set specific penalties for certain
crimes. Making their own laws certainly must be considered a right of the states, and this
right is being infringed upon.
Out of ten amendments, nine are under attack, most of them under multiple attacks of
different natures, and some of them under a barrage. If this much of the Bill of Rights is
threatened, how can you be sure your rights are safe? A right has to be there when you
need it. Like insurance, you cannot afford to wait until you need it and then set about
procuring it or ensuring it is available. Assurance must be made in advance.
The bottom line here is that your rights are not safe. You do not know when one of your
rights will be violated. A number of rights protect accused persons, and you may think it is
not important to protect the rights of criminals. But if a right is not there for people accused
of crimes, it will not be there when you need it. With the Bill of Rights in the sad condition
described above, nobody can be confident they will be able to exercise the rights to which
they are justly entitled. To preserve our rights for ourselves in the future, we must defend
them for everybody today.