December 15, 2008

Happy Bill of Rights Day

Today, Dec. 15, in 1791 Virginia became the 10th state to ratify the first 10 amendments to the brand-new U.S. Constitution. (The Constitution took effect March 4, 1789.) And for journalists, right up front in that list is the First Amendment:
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.
The Bill of Rights is modeled after the Virginia's Declaration of Rights, drafted by George Mason in 1776. It was Mason and James Madison, among others, who criticized the drafters of the Constitution for not including a list of the rights Americans should enjoy. A compromised was reached that following the ratification of the Constitution a Bill of Rights would be introduced.

The Bill of Rights was written by James Madison and passed by Congress Sept. 25, 1789, just six months after the Constitution went into effect.

While many of us in journalism proudly wear buttons that say "It's the First for a reason," the original First Amendment dealt with the system of representation. And gun enthusiasts would be saddened to learn that the original Second Amendment had to do with congressional pay. (That amendment was finally ratified in 1992.)

The First Amendment Center is always a good place to visit to see how things have gone for the First Amendment in the past 200 plus years. At that site you can see the annual "State of the First Amendment Reports."

So go out and enjoy your freedoms. This is the anniversary of the first time someone wrote down those rights for a country and meant for that list to be honored.

No comments: