Marc Schulman

 


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Bill of Rights


The Bill of Rights is another name for the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution. It guarantees many of the basic freedoms that most Americans take for granted, including freedom of speech; freedom of religion and freedom of assembly. The Bill of Rights, added to the Constitution as its First Ten Amendments, was ratified in 1791. Today, we take for granted many of the protections that the Bill of Rights offers us. When it was first passed and for nearly a century and half, the provisions of the Bill of Rights were interpreted to apply only to the Federal Government, thus not providing protection for individuals from action of states. The Fourteenth Amendment, which forbids states from passing laws that deny the right of any persons living in the United States, has been used in this century by the Supreme Court to extend the rights enunciated in the Bill of Rights to protect individuals from actions taken by local authorities.

 

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The First Amendment to the Constitution states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." The meaning of this amendment has been hotly debated over the years. The prevailing view was articulated by Thomas Jefferson when he stated that this establishes a "wall of separation" between government and religion.