In our lively and lengthy discussion on proposition 8 in California, a few items were mentioned of special interest, which in and of themselves merit more discussion.
One is the idea that the Bill of Rights was meant to guard mainly against public (government) oppression. We sometimes consider the Bill of Rights to be a guarantee that government will protect us from private encroachments on our individual rights. But, in fact, the Anti-Federalists, those skeptics of government power as authorized by the Constitution, demanded that a Bill of Rights be included in the Constitution proper to protect individuals from government encroachments, especially those from the federal government.
So considered, the first amendment is really not about whether a school board is allowed to post the Ten Commandments on public school property, but whether the federal government will force the school to remove them. (Note also the wording, “Congress shall make no law” thus clearly showing the legislative function of the Congress, and that this right is reserved to the legislative branch alone. An executive or judicial decision, therefore, along these lines, is not even mentioned, as neither executive nor judicial branches have any legislative authority given them in the Constitution. Judicial or executive decisions to this end, sadly commonplace nowadays, would then be considered egregious violations of Constitutional bounds.)
The second amendment is not about ensuring that a militia is in place to secure our safety, and that all other firearms can be regulated and otherwise controlled by the federal government. It is to protect the individual’s right to protect himself or herself from government encroachments by bearing arms. Note that the wording in this amendment is “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” and that by implication, an infringement by any government branch is unconstitutional.
Some amendments, though clearly not obeyed by the federal government, are more clear; for instance, the blanket prohibition on unlawful search and seizure in the fourth amendment.
The ninth and tenth amendments, which explicitly render most of our federal government bureaucracy unconstitutional, are about ensuring that the federal government never grows beyond means except those explicitly specified in the Constitution itself.
I recommend all read and understand the Bill of Rights so that our rights may be preserved from unwanted and unconstitutional government encroachments.