Archive for Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Bill of Rights stands test of time

December 10, 2008

Dec. 15 is the 217th anniversary of an important date in American history. Do you know what it is?

I know, you’ve got a lot on your mind today with the economy tanking, Christmas just around the corner and the pressure mounting to come up with a New Year’s Resolution or two.

But if you can find a few minutes in your busy schedule during the next week, you might want to give a “hip, hip, hooray” to the memory of George Mason. For it was Mason who made sure that the Bill of Rights became the law of the land in the fledgling United States of America on Dec. 15, 1791.

Mason, a Virginian, insisted upon the inclusion of individual rights as part of the U.S. Constitution. He had written the Virginia Declaration of Rights that was adopted along with the Virginia Constitution and refused to sign the new national constitution because it lacked such a listing of individual freedoms. He went home from the constitutional convention disillusioned and as an outspoken opponent of ratification.

Fortunately for us, his stubbornness paid off, the Bill of Rights was adopted and we continue today to enjoy the individual freedoms spelled out for every citizen in those first 10 amendments to the Constitution.

Freedom of speech. Freedom of religion. Freedom of the press. The right against self-incrimination. The right to a speedy and public trial. The right to bear arms. The right to a trial by jury. Protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

Those of other rights remain some of our most cherished freedoms more than two centuries later.

These rights have stood the test of time and guarantee every citizen — even those who hold views the rest of us might find abhorrent — the right to speak out, the right to be represented in court by counsel, the right to practice any religion or no religion and the right to be safe from unwarranted intrusions into their homes and lives.

The Bill of Rights may not have been on the front burner when our Founding Fathers debated the new Constitution, but George Mason made sure that the country did not move forward without those guiding principles spelled out.

We all owe a debt of gratitude to those who chose not to remain silent, who refused to be intimidated and who stood firm until our nation's foundation was laid properly.

George Mason indeed earned his title of “Father of the Bill of Rights.”

Join me today in a “hip, hip, hooray.”

— Doug Anstaett is executive director of the Kansas Press Association in Topeka.

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