What are the Bill of Rights?

   The first ten Amendments to the Constitution of the United States are also called the Bill of Rights. Most of these rights protect the individual citizen against his government. Laws passed by Congress in conflict with the Bill of Rights may be overruled (declared unconstitutional) by the United States Supreme Court.
   The rights guaranteed in the first ten Amendments are rights that Englishmen had earned over many centuries, beginning with the Magna Carta in 1215. Some of the rights had been written into the charters of the various colonies. When the U.S. Constitution was completed in 1789, many people wanted the rights included so that the Federal Government would not become too powerful. The Constitution was accepted by the states with the understanding that Amendments, stating the rights of the people, would be made promptly. The ten Amendments making up the Bill of Rights were added in 1791.
   The first Amendment forbids the government to interfere with freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion. The Amendment also guarantees the right to ask the government for justice and to demonstrate peaceably. The second Amendment says that citizens have a right to possess arms (weapons). The third Amendment says that citizens cannot be forced to provide room and board for soldiers in their homes. The fourth guarantees that people or their property cannot be searched or taken away without a warrant (permission) that has been issued by a law officer.
   The fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth Amendments have to do with fair and just treatment in the courts of law. A person cannot be tried twice for the same crime, and he cannot be forced to testify (speak out) against himself. He must be tried by a jury if he wants one, and the trial must be held in the area where the crime was committed. He must not be given cruel and unusual punishment.
   The ninth Amendment says that other rights not specifically mentioned in the Bill of Rights or the Constitution belong to the people. The tenth Amendment provides that powers not given specifically to the federal government shall belong to the States and the people.