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Political Science

Political Science Essay and Discussion post

This week’s chapter, Chapter 4, covers the the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, added to the Constitution in 1791. It includes the First Amendment as well as the four due process Amendments that ensure the rights individual have if suspected or accused of a crime (and continuing rights if convicted).

Chapter 4 on civil liberties and due process rights is very important. The First Amendment can be considered the most important of the ten amendments that compose the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights were not formulated at the 1787 Constitutional Convention but added in 1791. The Bill of Rights was a result of a compromise between the Federalists (who had supported the original Constitution of 1787) and the Anti-Federalists who had not.

Of the ten Amendments, only five are of serious concern for our purposes: the First and then Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth. These last four protect the rights of individuals who are the subject of a criminal process and are also known as due process rights (begins on page 137).

The First Amendment protects specific rights as the textbook discusses beginning on page 122. These are the rights of a free people–no establishment of religion, free exercise of religion, free speech, free press, peaceful assembly and the right to petition government. Please note how the United States Supreme Court has created a “balance” between individual rights and the importance of government (in the name of the people) to preserve public order.

The Bill of Rights are where most (not all) individual liberties are found in the Constitution. Reading through the Chapter, it is obvious there is an ongoing and profoundly important conflict between individual rights and liberties–free religious expression, free speech and press, peaceful assembly, no unreasonable searches and seizures, no double jeopardy and the right to counsel (right to a lawyer) and many others–and the necessity of society in general (think either government elected in the name of the people or the people in general, society in general) to maintain and preserve order. Recent events regarding the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the National Security Agency (NSA) again bring into focus the difficult balance between individual liberty and perserving the public order.

This conflict is enduring and is reflected in many decisions made by courts in general and the United States Supreme Court in particular. In your essay of 400 words, please examine and evaluate this conflict between individual rights on the one hand and the right to ensure the public order on the other. How has the United States Supreme Court addressed these issues (check the Chapter) and what should be the standard, if one is possible, to ensure the rights of the people while preserving the rule of law and public order? How would you approach this issue knowing what you do about the Constitution, rule of law and individual liberties.

The Bill of Rights provides a series of protections to ensure that government cannot take one’s life or liberty without constitutionally-protected due process of law. This ranges from no unreasonable searches and seizures in the Fourth Amendment to no cruel and unusual punishment in the Eighth.

Please note that it is the courts (especially the federal courts and ultimately the United States Supreme Court) that determine the application of these rights how within the constitutional process. That is why standards can evolve and even change over time, a fact that keeps the Constitution as a “living document” and not just an historical one


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Political Science


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