BILL OF RIGHTS IN SIMPLE LANGUAGE
The Bill of Rights is the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution.
Here are the amendments in simple language:
Congress can’t make any law that:
- Favors one religion over another religion, or no religion at all, or opposes any religion;
- Stops you from practicing your religion as you see fit;
- Keeps you from saying whatever you want, even if you are criticizing the President of the United States;
- Prevents newspapers, magazines, books, movies, radio, television or the internet from presenting any news, ideas, and opinions that they choose;
- Stops you from meeting peacefully for a demonstration or protest to ask the government to change something.
Congress can’t stop people from having and carrying weapons.
You don’t have to let soldiers live in your house, except if there is a war, and even then Congress needs to pass a law and set the rules.
Nobody can search your body, or your house, or your papers and things, unless they can prove to a judge that they have a good reason for the search.
Except during times of war or if you are in the military:
- You can’t be tried for any serious crime without a Grand Jury meeting first to decide whether there’s enough evidence against you for a trial;
- If at the end of a trial, the jury decides you are innocent, the government can’t try you again for the same crime with another jury;
- You cannot be forced to admit you are guilty of a crime and if you choose not to, you don’t have to say anything at your trial at all;
- You can’t be killed, or put in jail, or fined, unless you were convicted of a crime by a jury and all of the proper legal steps during your arrest and trial were followed; and
- The government can’t take your house or your farm or anything that is yours, unless the government pays for it at a fair price.
If you are arrested and charged with a crime:
- You have a right to have your trial soon and in public, so everyone knows what is happening;
- The case has to be decided by a jury of ordinary people from you are, if you wish;
- You have the right to know what you are accused of doing wrong and to see and hear and cross-examine the people who are witnesses against you;
- You have the right to a lawyer to help you. If you cannot afford to pay the lawyer, the government will.
You also have the right to a jury when it is a civil case (a law case between two people rather than between you and the government).
The government can’t make you pay more than is reasonable in bail or in fines, and the government can’t inflict cruel or unusual punishments (like torture) even if you are convicted of a crime.
Just because these rights are listed in the Constitution doesn’t mean that you don’t have other rights too.
Anything that the Constitution doesn’t say that Congress can do, is left up to the states and to the people.
Let’s take a look at the first Ammendment;
- First Amendment – Establishment Clause, Free Exercise Clause; freedom of speech, of the press, Freedom of Religion, and of assembly; right to petition,
- Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
A Free Speech Battle Arises From Videos of Fighting Dogs
From the New York Times
The ones at issue in the case are old and grainy, and they feature commentary from the defendant, Robert J. Stevens, an author and small-time film producer. Mr. Stevens calls himself an educator, and his subject is the history and status of pit bulls.
“For centuries,” Mr. Stevens exclaimed on one videotape, “the American pit bull terrier has reigned supreme as the gladiator of the pit!”
Mr. Stevens, 69, had nothing to do with the dogfights themselves. But he did compile and sell tapes showing them, and that was enough to earn him a 37-month sentence under a 1999 federal law that bans trafficking in “depictions of animal cruelty.”
The Supreme Court will hear his case, which has divided animal rights groups and free-speech advocates, on Oct. 6. The central issue is whether the court should for the first time in a generation designate a category of expression as so vile that it deserves no protection under the First Amendment.
Dogfighting and other forms of cruelty to animals are illegal in all 50 states. The 1999 law was aimed solely at depictions of such conduct. A federal appeals court last year struck down the law on First Amendment grounds and overturned Mr. Stevens’s conviction.
But the Justice Department in the Bush administration pursued at least three prosecutions for the sale of dogfighting videos.
There is little dispute that crush videos are profoundly disturbing. The two dogfighting videos Mr. Stevens was prosecuted for selling present a harder question.
There was conflicting testimony at Mr. Stevens’s trial about the nature and social worth of the videos. Defense experts said the films had educational and historical value, noting that much of the footage came from Japan, where dogfighting is legal. A veterinarian who testified for the prosecution disputed that and said the videos depicted terrible suffering, including scenes of dogs that were “bitten, ripped and torn” and “screaming in pain.”
There is certainly biting in the dogfighting videos, but the fights are not bloody. In their Supreme Court brief, Mr. Stevens’s lawyers denied that any of the dogs in the videos were “ripped and torn,” and they counted “at most, 25 seconds containing yelps” in the more than two hours of footage on the tapes.
The third video at issue in the case, “Catch Dogs and Country Living,” shows pit bulls being trained to attack hogs and then hunting wild boar. The encounters are gory and brutal. Mr. Stevens participated in the hunting and filmed parts of the third video, which bears some resemblance to nature documentaries.
The law applies to audio and video recordings of “conduct in which a living animal is intentionally maimed, mutilated, tortured, wounded or killed.” It does not matter whether the conduct was legal when and where it occurred so long as it would have been illegal where the recording was sold.
That means it may be a crime for an American to sell a video of a bullfight that took place in Spain, where bullfighting is legal. And because all hunting is illegal in Washington, a literal reading of the statute would make the sale of hunting videos illegal here. The law contains an exception for materials with “serious religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical or artistic value.”
That exception may well protect journalism, scholarship and animal rights advocacy about subjects like factory farming, pharmaceutical testing, circuses and the slaughter of baby seals. But the determination of whether particular materials have “serious value” is, in the first instance at least, made by prosecutors.
News organizations, including The New York Times, filed a brief supporting Mr. Stevens. The 1999 law, the brief said, “imperils the media’s ability to report on issues related to animals.”
In a brief supporting the government, the Humane Society of the United States said that “gruesome depictions of animal mutilation targeted” by the law “simply do not merit the dignity of full First Amendment protection.”
When federal agents raided Mr. Stevens’s home in rural Virginia in 2003, he had no idea, his lawyers and family say, that he was breaking the law.
But there are hints in the videotapes that Mr. Stevens at least knew that people participating in dogfighting in the United States were doing something illegal.
“Because I’m not going to show any participants or spectators, I have to cut a lot of it,” Mr. Stevens, who has a folksy manner and looks a little like the actor Bill Murray, said on one of the videos. “I only show certain action clips I think you’ll enjoy.” Mr. Stevens did not try to hide the identities of those involved in the Japanese dogfights or in the video of dogs attacking hogs.
There is a crucial difference, Mr. Stevens’s lawyers told the Supreme Court, between illegal conduct and depictions of that conduct.
“While acts of animal cruelty have long been outlawed,” the brief for Mr. Stevens said, “there have never been any laws against speech depicting the killing or wounding of animals from the time of the First Amendment’s adoption through the intervening two centuries.”
State and local governments occasionally try to ban depictions of violence against people, notably in videogames. But those laws are routinely struck down, and the Supreme Court has never ruled that speech about nonsexual violence is beyond the protection of the First Amendment.
Mr. Stevens’s sentence was 14 months longer, the brief noted, than that of Michael Vick, the football star who actually participated in a dogfighting venture.
Through his lawyers, Mr. Stevens declined to be interviewed. He has said he never had his own dogs participate in dogfights.
Mr. Stevens’s son, Michael, said his father was guilty of nothing more than a longtime fascination with the affection, loyalty and passion of pit bulls. “You couldn’t treat a dog any better,” the younger Mr. Stevens said, “than my father treats pit bull dogs.”