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With determination, perseverance, and tenacity, the United States of America has grown to become the world’s most renowned nation. Our reigning economic and political systems, our valiant military, and the overall presence of democratic independence makes us almost virtually invincible. With so many crucial milestones filling the pages of history books, one of the key components to our success was signed on September 17, 1787. The United States Constitution became the backbone of our developing society by establishing fundamental laws and basic civil liberties.
More than 200 years later, the original amendments not only serve as an influential symbol of liberty and justice, but protect us from falling into the palms of tyranny and anarchy. Addressing some of the main controversies regarding our current human rights proves that many of our Constitutional values are still intact today, while some have been unjustly morphed in an inescapable response to an evolving society.
The first amendment, widely known as the protection to exercise free speech, encompasses much more than a vocal defense.
The acts of holding any particular religious belief, the freedom to express and portray through press and media, and the freedom to hold a certain sexual preference are all preserved by the first amendment as well. Just as every amendment is crucial to our success and proper order, the first truly drives the evolution, creativity, and innovation of the people. Chuck Douglas, the former New Hampshire Superior Court and Supreme Court Associate Justice, channels his extensive knowledge of the law into the fine lines of the first amendment.
He thoroughly emphasizes the controversy of this form of freedom by relating it directly to an extremely popular topic within recent years; gay rights. His periodical argues against the widely held assumption that gay rights and the expression of ones’ sexuality breaches the first amendment, and stands to support that the portrayal of homosexuality is completely legal. By viewing homosexuality through a strictly legal lens, it can be defined as an extended practice of religious belief, and therefore protected by our esteemed Bill of Rights. Douglas states, “Gay rights laws seeking to assess fines and penalties against law-abiding employers or landlords who hold sincere religious beliefs as to the morality of certain lifestyles, attire or sexual behavior, put the force of government on one side in our culture war.” It blends the more modern social norms of the 21st century with the original amendments, and provides a clear consensus that those same laws do in fact support this progressing way of life. Anti-gay rights initiatives by second and third-hand parties not only violate the first amendment, but the Equal Protection Clause embedded within it as well. (Harvard Law Review) To consider the practice of any sexual preference illegal, immoral, or unsanctioned, would be just as offensive as prohibiting someone from entering a church. “Neutrality and non-involvement by the government is the best policy. I would oppose a law that prohibited any employer from hiring a homosexual, sadomasochist or bisexual because that would enshrine one view of religious morality into the civil law. But the reverse is equally true, and more so because of our Bill of Rights.” (Douglas)
Another recently emerging concept of civil rights is the fine line between legal and illegal citizenship. Eric Foner, an American historian and a member of the Department of History at Columbia University, highlights the complex battle of this situation. The 14th amendment states, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” (Cornell Law) Birthright citizenship has been a major key to the Constitution since its enactment. It has come to light especially in 2016 due to the upcoming presidential election. Renowned candidates such as Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul have asked for a repeal and reassessment of this amendment in order to prevent children born to undocumented citizens from becoming legally recognized as Americans. Many right-winged Republicans people support this movement, while many strive to protect its indigenous purpose. The original 14” amendment is said to have been one of Lincolns crowning achievements, and has sparked a major clash in the evolving 21st century. This amendment alone created the distinguished image of the United States as we know it today; one of individual freedom and social opportunity. It transcended the infamous times of slavery and white empowerment by making accepted citizenship a uniquely righteous ideal. Foner states, “The 14th amendment, as Republican editor George Curtis wrote, was part of a process that changed the United States government from one “for white men” to one “for mankind.” Birthright citizenship is one legacy of the titanic struggle of the Reconstruction era to create a genuine democracy grounded in the principle of equality.” (Foner) This concept alone is the foundation of what America is, or what it should be, and should continue to be protected at such lengths.
When dealing with the creation of many amendments and permeant laws, the question of referring to the people as a collective right rather than individuals is often posed. The Second Amendment, the right to legally bear arms, is also one of our most contentious. When the phrase “The People” is used, it predominantly refers to the communal citizens of the United States, combining us as a whole rather than separate individuals. Until about 2008, the United States viewed the responsibilities accompanying gun possession as a collective freedom, which spurred many outbursts claiming an infringement of individual civil rights. Miguel Faria, a famed neurosurgeon and Associate Editor in Chief of “Surgical Neurology International,” has written many scholarly essays on the benefits, risks, and logistics of the nationwide aspect of gun ownership. He argues that the second amendment guarantees individual liberties rather than collective liberties, and should be treated as such. “…James Madison, the father of the Constitution, wrote, “The advantage that Americans have over every other nation is that they are armed,” and when Patrick Henry proclaimed, “The great objective is that every man be armed; everyone who is able may have a gun,” they were elucidating the 2nd Amendment as an individual right rather than a collective right.” (Faria) By directly quoting the original founders, Faria distinctively defines the intended means of regulation created over 200 years ago, and proves that the Constitutional rights of the second amendment are still exercised in an individual fashion today.
The horror of the September 11th terrorist attacks was felt throughout each American. The disaster not only destroyed thousands of lives, it permanently crushed our falsified illusions of security and threatened our leading supremacy. Inevitably, many aspects of our country have changed in response to this tragic incident; some for the better, and some for worse. The inclusion of many new espionage techniques, such as the Patriot Act, have wreaked havoc across the nation. Besar Xhelili, a famed lawyer, stated that “These laws and presidential executive orders have not been without controversy. The Patriot Act will be used as the primary source of legislation in illustrating how in times of fear governments introduce laws, which normally would not be accepted by the general population as a clear invasion of their privacy.” (Xhelili) Darren Davis and Brian Silver, authors of “The American Journal of Political Science,” voice the withheld opinions of the public in response to this act throughout their national study. The Constitution protects the people against unreasonable searches and seizures, in their persons, houses, and papers, under the rights of the Fourth Amendment. A survey was conducted and analyzed to discover whether people were willing to give up certain civil liberties, such as those protected under the fourth amendment, for a greater personal safety and security. “We found that the greater the people’s sense of threat, the lower their support for certain civil liberties. This effect interacts, however, with trust in government. The lower people’s trust in government, the less willing they are to trade off civil liberties for security, regardless of any immanent threat level.” (Davis, Silver) Many new methods of counterterrorism have since been enforced, such as the newfound technology of data mining under the United States Patriot Act, but directly violate protected civil liberties in the process, resulting in enraged citizens, and an extremely low trust in government.
Data mining under the Patriot Act is defined as obtaining large sets of data and analyzing them to predict how individuals will act in the future, based solely on their past behavior. Lawrence Paretta, a professor of Criminology at Long Island University, focuses not on the physical process of data mining, but how the costs outweigh the benefits. “Data mining has been both celebrated and maligned since it was put forth as a technique for combatting terrorism. Critics claim there is too much power given to the government to obtain information that would normally be off-limits in traditional criminal investigations. Of particular concern to critics are the civil liberties and privacy of American citizens and residents.” (Paretta) After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, government officials have rapidly relied on the information acquired from these invasions. Although its intentions revolve around security and overall protection, the personal lives and information of innocent civilians have been included in these seizes, which sparked major concern about constitutionally protected privacy. Under the Patriot Act, authorities may seize any citizens credit card purchases, tap into telephone lines, view private text messages or emails, obtain every flight ever booked; with no probable cause required. Complex algorithms are then entered into the data sets to predict, if any, future harmful behavior will occur. Although this method of counterterrorism is an effective means of investigation, almost every American citizens’ private information is exposed and analyzed; whether they know it or not. This new procedure of acquisition is just beginning to unfold, and has received thousands of filed complaints by the people who devoutly defend their fourth amendment rights. “The ability to successfully mitigate against violations of rights will likely increase over time as the data mining process and privacy oversight process mature over time.” (Paretta)
Along with data mining, many other methods of mass surveillance have become extremely popular since the 2001 attacks, but have also intercepted the lines of the fourth amendment. Many renowned organizations and individuals, such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, have raised numerous lawsuits against this invasion of privacy. A means of acquisition, known as the third-party doctrine under the Patriot Act, drives many of these claims. The process of acquiring disclosed information from a third-party, such as a doctor, psychologist, lawyer, accountant, or even telemarketer, is now at risk. Any private information protected not only under the fourth amendment, but also under patient-doctor confidentiality, can now be requested for examination. If the third-party fails to comply, they are at risk for automatic prosecution and being charged with obstruction of justice. Even with the strict enforcement of these intimidating penalties, many organizations have risen above their fears and acted out against this violation. “Resistance by librarians has taken many forms, including local actions meant to inform patrons about the abridgement of their rights. Librarians in Santa Cruz posted signs warning patrons that the Patriot Act “prohibits library workers from informing you if federal agents have obtained records about you.” Santa Cruz librarians also began a policy of shredding documents daily, telling the New York Times that “the basic strategy now is to keep as little historical information as possible.” (Drabinski) These brave men and women take the restraints placed upon them, and have empowered them on a personal level. “We have a special obligation to ensure the free flow of information and ideas to present and future generations. It’s our job.” (Wheeler) In “Beyond the Fourth Amendment: Additional Constitutional Guarantees that Mass Surveillance Violates,” Drake Law expert Nadine Strossen explains the logic behind these multiple lawsuits, and the dire need for reevaluation in order to comply with the written words of our fourth amendment. “The third-party doctrine has been strongly and rightly criticized since the Court invented it, as being inconsistent with the Fourth Amendment. Moreover, there are strong arguments that the cases in which the Court has enforced it are materially distinguishable from the dragnet communications surveillance now at issue.” (Strossen)
The Constitution has been in place for over 200 years, and in many aspects, still continues to support the values behind our civil liberties experienced today. It is one of the only remaining factors that truly completes the complex façade of our nation. But as America has endured endless disasters, from poverty and genocides to world wars, many of our original values have strayed from the delicate list of amendments in order to compensate for the changing times. With countless citizens striving for the recovery of our earliest values, the Constitution remains as the framework for the ultimate American lifestyle.
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