For a document more than 220 years old, the U.S. Constitution has stood up well to the passage of time.
Since its adoption in 1787, it’s been amended only 27 times — just 17 times since the Bill of Rights guaranteed Americans some of our most treasured civil liberties.
On Friday, we celebrate Constitution Day. It’s a good time to be thankful for all that the Constitution provides us as Americans, and a good time to be mindful of how eager some are to strip its protections away.
What would America be without freedom of religion? How would our lives be different if our property could be searched at-will, and we weren’t entitled to trial by jury? What if we weren’t even citizens?
We could find out the answers to those questions if we aren’t careful.
Those Constitutional rights are under attack. But like a frog that will try to jump out of boiling water, but calmly stays put if the heat is slowly raised it can be easy for some to think that they won’t be affected.
We are all affected when anyone’s rights are stripped away.
In our post-9/11 world, the federal government continues to chip away at Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizure by pushing for warrantless access to our e-mail, cell phone data and even the full contents of our laptops should we choose to carry them over the U.S. border. X-ray scanners that show intimate details about our bodies are being installed in airports across the country.
Supporters of these invasions say that we must give up our privacy to stay safe. But America can be safe and free. We must not sacrifice privacy for false security.
Recent efforts to stop the construction of an Islamic community center near New York’s Ground Zero put our First Amendment under fire. Many of our forefathers came to America to escape religious persecution, and the Founding Fathers recognized the great importance of religious freedom by enshrining it in the First Amendment.
And the attacks don’t stop there. The Department of Justice continues to fight the rights of U.S. torture victims to have their day in court, citing state secrets that incur no outside review or scrutiny. These victims — many of them U.S. citizens — are being denied the day in court guaranteed them by the Sixth Amendment.
Some seek to repeal entirely the 14th Amendment, ratified after the Civil War to provide equal protection to all and ensure citizenship to all born on U.S. soil. An unsubstantiated fear of “anchor babies,” they say, is enough to warrant creating a class of people who have no country to call home and a situation that would create more problems than it would solve.
We must stand firm against these and all other threats to the U.S. Constitution. It’s simply not enough to say that the Constitution spells out our rights. For those rights to have any meaning we need to protect them.
(Amy Cannata is communications director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana.)