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The Bill of Rights Turns 230, and What Do We Have to Show for It? Nothing Good

John W. Whitehead
September 12th, 2019
The Rutherford Institute
Comments (30)

This article was originally published by John W. Whitehead at The Rutherford Institute. 

“That was when they suspended the Constitution. They said it would be temporary. There wasn’t even any rioting in the streets. People stayed home at night, watching television, looking for some direction. There wasn’t even an enemy you could put your finger on.”—Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

It’s been 230 years since James Madison drafted the Bill of Rights—the first ten amendments to the Constitution—as a means of protecting the people against government tyranny, and what do we have to show for it?

Nothing good.

In America today, the government does whatever it wants, freedom be damned.

We can pretend that the Constitution, which was written to hold the government accountable, is still our governing document, but the reality of life in the American police state tells a different story.

“We the people” have been terrorized, traumatized, and tricked into a semi-permanent state of compliance by a government that cares nothing for our lives or our liberties.

The bogeyman’s names and faces have changed over time (terrorism, the war on drugs, illegal immigration, etc.), but the end result remains the same: in the so-called named of national security, the Constitution has been steadily chipped away at, undermined, eroded, whittled down, and generally discarded to such an extent that what we are left with today is but a shadow of the robust document adopted more than two centuries ago.

Most of the damage has been inflicted upon the Bill of Rights.

A recitation of the Bill of Rights—set against a backdrop of government surveillance, militarized police, SWAT team raids, asset forfeiture, eminent domain, overcriminalization, armed surveillance drones, whole-body scanners, stop and frisk searches (all sanctioned by Congress, the White House, the courts and the like)—would understandably sound more like a eulogy to freedoms lost than an affirmation of rights we truly possess.

Here is what it means to live under the Constitution today.

The First Amendment is supposed to protect the freedom to speak your mind, assemble and protest nonviolently without being bridled by the government. It also protects the freedom of the media, as well as the right to worship and pray without interference. In other words, Americans should not be silenced by the government. To the founders, all of America was a free speech zone.

Despite the clear protections found in the First Amendment, the freedoms described therein are under constant assault. Increasingly, Americans are being arrested and charged with bogus “contempt of cop” charges such as “disrupting the peace” or “resisting arrest” for daring to film police officers engaged in harassment or abusive practices. Journalists are being prosecuted for reporting on whistleblowers. States are passing legislation to muzzle reporting on cruel and abusive corporate practices. Religious ministries are being fined for attempting to feed and house the homeless. Protesters are being tear-gassed, beaten, arrested and forced into “free speech zones.” And under the guise of “government speech,” the courts have reasoned that the government can discriminate freely against any First Amendment activity that takes place within a government forum.

The Second Amendment was intended to guarantee “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” Essentially, this amendment was intended to give the citizenry the means to resist tyrannical government. Yet while gun ownership has been recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court as an individual citizen right, Americans remain powerless to defend themselves against SWAT team raids and government agents armed to the teeth with military weapons better suited for the battlefield. As such, this amendment has been rendered null and void.

The Third Amendment reinforces the principle that civilian-elected officials are superior to the military by prohibiting the military from entering any citizen’s home without “the consent of the owner.” With the police increasingly training like the military, acting like the military, and posing as military forces—complete with heavily armed SWAT teams, military weapons, assault vehicles, etc.—it is clear that we now have what the founders feared most—a standing army on American soil.

The Fourth Amendment prohibits government agents from conducting surveillance on you or touching you or invading you unless they have some evidence that you’re up to something criminal. In other words, the Fourth Amendment ensures privacy and bodily integrity. Unfortunately, the Fourth Amendment has suffered the greatest damage in recent years and has been all but eviscerated by an unwarranted expansion of police powers that include strip searches and even anal and vaginal searches of citizens, surveillance (corporate and otherwise) and intrusions justified in the name of fighting terrorism, as well as the outsourcing of otherwise illegal activities to private contractors.

The Fifth Amendment and the Sixth Amendment work in tandem. These amendments supposedly ensure that you are innocent until proven guilty, and government authorities cannot deprive you of your life, your liberty or your property without the right to an attorney and a fair trial before a civilian judge. However, in the new suspect society in which we live, where surveillance is the norm, these fundamental principles have been upended. Certainly, if the government can arbitrarily freeze, seize or lay claim to your property (money, land or possessions) under government asset forfeiture schemes, you have no true rights.

The Seventh Amendment guarantees citizens the right to a jury trial. Yet when the populace has no idea of what’s in the Constitution—civic education has virtually disappeared from most school curriculums—that inevitably translates to an ignorant jury incapable of distinguishing justice and the law from their own preconceived notions and fears. However, as a growing number of citizens are coming to realize, the power of the jury to nullify the government’s actions—and thereby help balance the scales of justice—is not to be underestimated. Jury nullification reminds the government that “we the people” retain the power to ultimately determine what laws are just.

The Eighth Amendment is similar to the Sixth in that it is supposed to protect the rights of the accused and forbid the use of cruel and unusual punishment. However, the Supreme Court’s determination that what constitutes “cruel and unusual” should be dependent on the “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society” leaves us with little protection in the face of a society lacking in morals altogether.

The Ninth Amendment provides that other rights not enumerated in the Constitution are nonetheless retained by the people. Popular sovereignty—the belief that the power to govern flows upward from the people rather than downward from the rulers—is clearly evident in this amendment. However, it has since been turned on its head by a centralized federal government that sees itself as supreme and which continues to pass more and more laws that restrict our freedoms under the pretext that it has an “important government interest” in doing so.

As for the Tenth Amendment’s reminder that the people and the states retain every authority that is not otherwise mentioned in the Constitution, that assurance of a system of government in which power is divided among local, state and national entities has long since been rendered moot by the centralized Washington, DC, power elite—the president, Congress and the courts. Indeed, the federal governmental bureaucracy has grown so large that it has made local and state legislatures relatively irrelevant. Through its many agencies and regulations, the federal government has stripped states of the right to regulate countless issues that were originally governed at the local level.

If there is any sense to be made from this recitation of freedoms lost, it is simply this: our individual freedoms have been eviscerated so that the government’s powers could be expanded.

Yet those who gave us the Constitution and the Bill of Rights believed that the government exists at the behest of its citizens. It is there to protect, defend and even enhance our freedoms, not violate them.

It was no idle happenstance that the Constitution opens with these three powerful words: “We the people.” As the Preamble proclaims:

We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this CONSTITUTION for the United States of America.

In other words, we have the power to make and break the government. We are the masters and they are the servants. We the American people—the citizenry—are the arbiters and ultimate guardians of America’s welfare, defense, liberty, laws, and prosperity.

Still, it’s hard to be a good citizen if you don’t know anything about your rights or how the government is supposed to operate.

As the National Review rightly asks, “How can Americans possibly make intelligent and informed political choices if they don’t understand the fundamental structure of their government? American citizens have the right to self-government, but it seems that we increasingly lack the capacity for it.”

Americans are constitutionally illiterate.
Most citizens have little, if any, knowledge about their basic rights. And our educational system does a poor job of teaching the basic freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. For instance, when Newsweek asked 1,000 adult U.S. citizens to take America’s official citizenship test44% were unable to define the Bill of Rights.

A survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that a little more than one-third of respondents (36 percent) could name all three branches of the U.S. government, while another one-third (35 percent) could not name a single one. Only a quarter of Americans (27 percent) know it takes a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to override a presidential veto. One in five Americans (21 percent) incorrectly thinks that a 5-4 Supreme Court decision is sent back to Congress for reconsideration. And more than half of Americans do not know which party controls the House and Senate.

A survey by the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum found that only one out of a thousand adults could identify the five rights protected by the First Amendment. On the other hand, more than half (52%) of the respondents could name at least two of the characters in the animated Simpsons television family, and 20% could name all five. And although half could name none of the freedoms in the First Amendment, a majority (54%) could name at least one of the three judges on the TV program American Idol, 41% could name two and one-fourth could name all three.
It gets worse.

Many who responded to the survey had a strange conception of what was in the First Amendment. For example, 21% said the “right to own a pet” was listed someplace between “Congress shall make no law” and “redress of grievances.” Some 17% said that the First Amendment contained the “right to drive a car,” and 38% believed that “taking the Fifth” was part of the First Amendment.

Teachers and school administrators do not fare much better. A study conducted by the Center for Survey Research and Analysis found that one educator in five was unable to name any of the freedoms in the First Amendment.

In fact, while some educators want students to learn about freedom, they do not necessarily want them to exercise their freedoms in school. As the researchers conclude, “Most educators think that students already have enough freedom and that restrictions on freedom in the school are necessary. Many support filtering the Internet, censoring T-shirts, disallowing student distribution of political or religious material, and conducting a prior review of school newspapers.”

Government leaders and politicians are also ill-informed. Although they take an oath to uphold, support and defend the Constitution against “enemies foreign and domestic,” their lack of education about our fundamental rights often causes them to be enemies of the Bill of Rights.

So what’s the solution?
Thomas Jefferson recognized that a citizenry educated on “their rights, interests, and duties”  is the only real assurance that freedom will survive.

As Jefferson wrote in 1820: “I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of our society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.”

From the President on down, anyone taking public office should have a working knowledge of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and should be held accountable for upholding their precepts. One way to ensure this would be to require government leaders to take a course on the Constitution and pass a thorough examination thereof before being allowed to take office.

Some critics are advocating that students pass the United States citizenship exam in order to graduate from high school. Others recommend that it must be a prerequisite for attending college. I’d go so far as to argue that students should have to pass the citizenship exam before graduating from grade school.

Here’s an idea to get educated and take a stand for freedom: anyone who signs up to become a member of The Rutherford Institute gets a wallet-sized Bill of Rights card and a Know Your Rights card. Use this card to teach your children the freedoms found in the Bill of Rights.

If this constitutional illiteracy is not remedied and soon, freedom in America will be doomed.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we have managed to keep the wolf at bay so far. Barely.

Our national priorities need to be re-prioritized. For instance, some argue that we need to make America great again. I, for one, would prefer to make America free again.

As actor-turned-activist Richard Dreyfuss warned:

Unless we teach the ideas that make America a miracle of government, it will go away in your kids’ lifetimes, and we will be a fable. You have to find the time and creativity to teach it in schools, and if you don’t, you will lose it. You will lose it to the darkness, and what this country represents is a tiny twinkle of light in a history of oppression and darkness and cruelty. If it lasts for more than our lifetime, for more than our kids’ lifetime, it is only because we put some effort into teaching what it is, the ideas of America: the idea of opportunity, mobility, freedom of thought, freedom of assembly.”

John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute and a Constitutional attorney and author. His new book Battlefield America: The War on the American People details how police forces across the United States have been transformed into extensions of the military. Our towns and cities have become battlefields, and we the American people are now the enemy combatants to be spied on, tracked, frisked, and searched. For those who resist, the consequences can be a one-way trip to jail or even death. Battlefield America: The War on the American People is constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead’s terrifying portrait of a nation at war with itself.

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Author: John W. Whitehead
Date: September 12th, 2019
Website: https://www.rutherford.org

Copyright Information: This content has been contributed to SHTFplan by a third-party or has been republished with permission from the author. Please contact the author directly for republishing information.

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  1. Genius says:

    YOU HAVE NO RIGHTS! You are a corporate entity in a corporate country governed by corporate laws. The last nail was in the 1933 bankruptcy of the USA. You are collateral and under receivership. You volunteer for all of it too, yer just to lazy to look into it. They only say you have a constitution so you don’t revolt. Now get back in the corral you dumb cattle and stop whining….

    • Kevin2 says:


      When did it all come apart? Some say the Federal Reserve Act of 1913. That’s likely the structure however in application I think Executive Order 6102 Gold Confiscation in effect requiring citizens to turn in their privately owned Gold for Paper was the event that said, “The Government Is In Control, Not The People”. I still scratch my head that we could have a Constitution and Bill Of Rights and simultaneously blatantly violate it surely in intent if not word. From then on “they” can do whatever “they” want and the more “they” do, the more “they” want to do.

      I test new people for conversation and mention, fiat currency, oil peg / reserve currency and if I get a blank stare I know their coconut is empty and I say, “what ya think of this weather”?

      • Genius says:

        I beleive it was “stinkin Lincoln” that incorporated the US. Thats when the seeds of destruction were planted. I wish he was shot a lot earlier.

        • Montana Guy says:

          Yes Genius but Lincoln would of had to been shot before 1861. By the time he took Martha to the theater the damage was done.

          As Brandon Smith stated, “The suppression of free markets began in the aftermath of the Civil War and the passage of the 14th Amendment in 1868, which was intended to protect the citizenship rights of former slaves, but was instead used as a legal loophole by the elite to establish what we now know as “corporations”.”

          In 1886 the Supreme Court wrongfully interpret the 14th Amendment to open the door to the legal concept known as corporate personhood. Between 1890 and 1910, 288 out of 307 cases concerning the 14th Amendment were brought by corporations; only 19 by freed slaves. And the rest is history.

          • Kevin2 says:

            Montana Guy

            You’re on to something there. The 14th Amendment ties the Bill Of Rights to the States and over 150 years later (plenty of time to use the 14th) the Second is absolutely ignored even after the clarified post Heller and McDonald rulings. As a former NJ resident who fled I lived under it 3 decade ago and it was terrible then and has only got worse. How long can the lie of Freedom and Rule of Law be used with a straight face?

        • Kevin2 says:


          I’m not knowledgeable enough to follow your premise. Slavery had to end. The south didn’t want new states admitted to be free states as the votes would eventually be sufficient to abolish slavery. Morally, ethically, slavery shouldn’t have been and had to end. It certainly wasn’t a “Civil War” as the south only desired to secede not take over the government. From a 10th Amendment perspective I don’t see where the Federal government has the authority to have states remain in, “The Union” who desired otherwise. Needless to say from the Alien and Sedition Act onward the Constitution has been bypassed. Interestingly in the aforementioned the ink wasn’t yet dry on its parchment. John Adams, who one would think understood the intent of the First Amendment, let alone its clear language ignored it as it it wasn’t there.

          These struggles are nothing new.

          • DWEEZIL THE WEASEL says:

            Word. Secession was(and is) not treason. Ask why Jefferson Davis was never tried for treason. It is because the rat bastard Yankees feared he would make his case in open court and be acquitted. Slavery, while morally reprehensible and an Mortal Sin in the eyes of God, was NOT the issue. Lincoln, the American Lenin, was quoted saying if he could preserve the Union by keeping slavery he would do it. It was about TARIFFS and the loss of same if the South left the Union.
            We are headed into some very sporty times. I do not see the America I grew up in(I’m 72) lasting. We will either weather the storm and move into a system of true free market capitalism and honest, gold-backed money, or descend into Godless totalitarianism. There will be no high ground. Plan accordingly.

  2. EastTNPatriot says:

    1215.org and losthorizons.com are the solution

  3. Bert says:

    Don’t worry, with a green one-world-order socialist in the white house you’ll truly have nothing.

    Really, a black Little Mermaid. It was bad enough to see murdering psychopathic Banana Splits. What’s next, Scooby doo remake with Velma equipped with a penis and vagina that goes down on old Scoob.

  4. Plan twice, prep once says:

    The constitution still stands, until it is abolished, it is the highest authority in the US.

    Trump will bend conservative the Supreme Court if he can, it is perhaps America’s last defense.

    RBG stands in the breach between good and evil. Will God intervene, or will the Satanists prevail. RGB is infested with Satan and cancer, but lives on. Amazing.

    If Trump fails, it is past time for preppers to go underground.

    There comes a moment when preppers realize it time to step back, go gray, and let the fools self destruct.

    Communism always seems to win the day, of course their leader is the prince of this world. I have seen almost no historical situations where communism was ever stopped, once it had a significant foothold. The Communist revolution in the USA is yet very young, but they have a huge foothold, and they will kill billions when they get hold of America’s nuclear arsenal.

    My last point, there is a moment when it’s time to dig in. Will you see it’s?

  5. Genius says:

    The constitution still exists for those who have found a way to opt out of the corporate system. Those are extremely few. People who learn to play the corp. game do the best. Trump is a tool of the Z’s and does their bidding, nothing more. If you believe the shit that he is out of the system your being played like a fiddle. Do you even know what common law is? Statutory law? Maritime law? Public policy? UCC law? “Conservative” has no connection whatsoever to the constitution…. Maybe check out the site “supremelaw dot org.”

    • Ha! I actually have a rubber stamp I had made up to use to stamp the King’s agents official papers. It says “Without prejudice U.C.C. 1-207”. It’s in one of the drawers around here for about the last ten years. I used to carry it in my vehicle, but never had the chance to officially used it. I was too much of a wuss to run without tags and inspection for very long. Back when the website “Police One” allowed the public access to read the comment section, they called people like that “paper terrorists”. They now shut down access to that comment section to anyone that is not a registered King’s agent after people started calling them out for saying that the public was basically their enemies.

      • Anonymous says:

        JRS, I’ve been to ‘Police One’ one time and their blog confirmed what I already knew: the federal and state supreme courts have ruled many times that law enforcement serves GOVERNMENT AND NOT THE PUBLIC. The academies totally brainwash the recruits to hate the public, to be against the Bill Of Rights and the Constitution, to hate America and everything it stands for, etc. I’ve had 2 relatives who were cops who told me what it’s really like. Civil asset forfeiture is a totally criminal and illegitimate practice which affects innocent people who never even face any kind of charges. What they call ‘police work’ has no legitimate basis to it. You know something’s wrong when we have to look at law enforcement the same way we would look at Antifa, black lives matter, etc. They don’t even care about the public or even crime. As individuals we are truly on our own.

  6. John Whitehead is one of the few people I still admire and look up to in this crazy world.

    Keep on keepin’ on, John.

  7. reper slepr says:

    Don’t worry be happy………best hoard some more ammo though.

  8. another banned comment says:

    Non Compliance is a peaceful solution to the edicts, of wanna be Tyrants, and hard core communist, like beto O’dork.
    * Never give the enemy what they want on their terms.
    * Never allow the enemy to play you.
    * Never allow the enemy to provoke you.
    That is why people MUST remain Calm and Peaceful.
    – – Non Compliance.
    – – Vote gun grabbing commies out of office.
    – – Remain -calm -peaceful -frosty
    – – Donate to NRA.
    Buy Ammo, NOT at Walmart. Avoid Walmart forever.
    * * Never forget. Punish commies, Cancel business with ALL AntiAmericans..
    (I told the wife and daughters if I see a charge from Walmart on any of their cards, that I will cancel the cards. I pay the bills. I decide where the money goes.)
    I am willing to pay 10 times more for any item, for every item. As long as it does NOT come from walmart. This is not temporary. This is Forever. Walmart is out of our life forever.

    Don’t support AntiAmericans:
    – no Starbucks. Wonder if they did hire the 10,000 illegal muslims? CEO said he would. I don’t need starbucks.
    – no Dick’s sporting goods. ” Black Rifles Matter”
    – no walmart Dirty stores. Rude low IQ employees. No respect for 2nd.
    – no NFL football. “We ALWAYS Stand and remove covers for the American anthem.” “Blue Lives Matter.”

    May God bless Patrick Daniel Tillman. God bless Tom Landry , 30 combat mission B-17 pilot, a coach with class. When the NFL was a role model. We miss these fine men.

    I said before, “I decide where the money goes.” So should you. Please be selective where your funds go.

    Blue Lives Matter. Support first responders.
    Black Rifles Matter. Support the 2nd.
    Border Security Matters. Support US Border Patrol/ICE
    Free Speech Matters. Support the 1st. Ban the censors from your life.

    God Bless America.
    Long Live the Republic.
    Have Courage and Resolve

    I am of good cheer each day I wake up on American soil.
    No place like home.

  9. Lysander Spooner was talking about how the Constitution was either written to allow the type of government we have had, or it was useless in preventing it, back in the 1800s. So the rights of the people have been trampled for a long, long time. The Act of 1871 was a nail in the republic’s coffin that turned DC into a corporation.
    Did you ever read your deed? The reason you are referred to as a tenant on it is because you only have use of the land at the pleasure of the state.

    tenant: noun. A person who occupies land or property rented from a landlord.

    What? You thought you owned it? No, the state has changed all alloidial titles to ndtitles. That’s why court arguments with land patents a property taxes always fail. Whether it is Constitutional or not, the state doesn’t care…and they’ll tell you so.

    • *ndtitles = tenant titles

    • sir padre says:

      That’s why I have been designing a Blue water catamaran houseboat built around a cargo container superstructure; emphasis on the “home” part of a mobile home. 7 High Top 40′ cargo containers, using two as part of the hulls with the other 5 welded across. 2,240 sq feet enclosed.
      Code Enforcement makes it expensively difficult to built CC homes in the area I’m in here in Florida. Building your own boat for personal usage isn’t.
      I’m a FIRM believer in the “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude” status that I have by NOT being a 14th Amendment citizen. lol 64 years now; tick – tock. lol

  10. The Deplorable Renegade says:

    Once the balloon goes up it will be game on. I’m finally where I need to be. Woe unto whoever comes to our area with evil intentions.

  11. aljamo says:

    The people are played like the broken fiddles that they are. Every person for themselves with no regard outside their immediate family if even that. Nothing will change for the good as the outcome is written in stone and nobody really cares enough to even try to face what is inevitable despite clearly seeing the plan advancing.

  12. Clown World says:

    The states and lower echelons were still allowed to decide how they would micromanage the citizen.

    imho, it makes sense, how these different duties, and the different levels, would become the manorial system of slaveholders.

    I don’t believe it was a perfect copy of Athenian democracy, because, under their system, you were not allowed to own more than you could feed, as would have been measured by taxes. Dignitaries had to be eligible, but were chosen by random drawing.

    Do we really meet those same standards:
    Dignitaries were productive, materially, and paid taxes.
    Have to feed your constituency.
    No realistic chance of voter fraud.

  13. cranerigger says:

    Thank you John W. Whitehead for a brilliant analysis of our lost Bill of Rights. Agreed.

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