Photo credit: Ted Mielczarek via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Do Americans Still Respect the Bill of Rights?


This article is part of a series focusing on Lens of Liberty, a project of the Vernon K. Krieble Foundation.

One of the greatest documents America’s Founding Fathers left us with is our Bill of Rights, a list of guarantees intended to protect citizens from an abusive government. Wisely foreseeing that the democratic nature of our government would allow for people with varying views to get into office, they realized the necessity of putting down on paper ten fundamental rights which no laws are ever permitted to compromise.

Unfortunately, in recent years these limits on what the government may and may not do have been largely forgotten by many. Helen Krieble talks about this in her Liberty Minute entitled “Powers of the Government”:

In a recent poll, Americans were asked what power the government had under the Constitution. Surprisingly, a strong majority believe the government is allowed to do whatever it wants — as long as it is for the good of the people.

If we look through the lens of liberty, we see quickly how dangerous that idea is, especially if it is unclear who decides what is “for the good of the people.”

In fact, our Constitution is unique because it specifically names what powers the government has and imposes strict limits on that power. The Constitution grants Congress about twenty explicit powers and the Bill of Rights specifies at least twenty things Congress may not do.

Krieble is right. It is very unsettling how many Americans have entirely forgotten that the Bill of Rights prevents the government from doing many things. It is even more unsettling how elected officials sometimes get away with passing laws which completely disregard the Bill of Rights.

During President Obama’s eight years in office, it was the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of religion which suffered particularly. Thankfully, during the first year of President Trump’s term, many of the previous administration’s attacks on religious freedom have been righted.

In an article for the National Review earlier this week, Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of First Liberty Institute, outlined five major ways that President Trump and his administration have defended religious liberty during his first year in office.

From appointing pro-religious freedom judges to the Supreme Court and courts of appeal, to signing an executive order on religious liberty, to creating a new division of the Department of Health and Human Services dedicated to protecting conscience rights, the Trump administration has followed through on its promise to defend our First Amendment rights.

Shackelford’s article points out how President Trump’s dedication to religious liberty over the past twelve months contrasts to the previous administration’s relentless attacks on religious liberty:

Measured against eight years of a previous president intent on reducing religious liberty to little more than “freedom of worship,” who relentlessly pursued nuns in court in an effort to force them to purchase birth control, President Trump’s actions are, indeed, historic.

Compared to everything the Obama administration did to tear down religious freedom, the Trump administration’s actions ought to be applauded. However, we must always keep in mind that the Constitution compels the government to protect our religious freedoms, no matter who has control of the White House. Our First Amendment right to freedom of religion should not be dependent on which party has more power in the government at any given time.

Photo credit: Ted Mielczarek via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Terry Schilling

Terry Schilling is executive director of the American Principles Project.

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