Religion & Liberty Online

What Happened to the Bill of Rights?

billofrightsWhen the Founding Fathers were drafting the U.S. Constitution, they didn’t initially consider adding a Bill of Rights to protect citizens because it was deemed unnecessary. It was only after the Constitution’s supporters realized such a bill was essential to getting approved by the states that they proposed enumerating such rights in twelve amendments. (Ten amendments were ratified; two others, dealing with the number of representatives and with the compensation of senators and representatives, were not.)

The Bill of Rights was included in 1791 to limit the power of the Federal government and secure individual liberty. But in 2015 those rights are being eroded as more power is handed over to the government by the courts. As David Corbin and Matt Parks claim, the structural limitations of the Constitution have all disappeared, swallowed up by ideas like “commerce,” “general welfare,” and “necessary and proper.”

Too easily, perhaps, have we been convinced that the security for our rights comes from their inclusion in charters like the Bill of Rights. Too easily, perhaps, have we come to assume that our rights themselves come from their inclusion in charters like the Bill of Rights, rather than being bound up in our nature as human beings. We come to suppose that we need not articulate a defense of our rights because the Founders wrote them down–and the courts will stop any legislator or executive who challenges them.

Furthermore, we may not ever need to explain how the original Constitution limits the powers of the national government, far beyond the boundaries of the Bill of Rights, if our favorite rights are already singled out for special protection. And so: the structural limitations of the Constitution have all but disappeared, swallowed up by words and phrases like “commerce,” “general welfare,” and “necessary and proper.”

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Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).