The U.S. Constitution &
The Heart of Civil Liberties in the U.S.
Have students read how civil liberties are enshrined in the Bill of Rights and reexamine their examples.
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Divide students into six groups. Display and read aloud the text below, or direct students to read The U.S. Constitution & Civil Liberties [student version] on their own devices. Give groups 10 minutes to decide which of the class’s examples (those listed on the whiteboard from the prior activity Defining Civil Liberties [teacher version]) would be considered civil liberties according to the amendments provided.
Ask a reporter from each group to share the results of their group’s discussion. See if the class can come to a general agreement on which of the students’ examples of “civil liberties” are actually guaranteed by the Constitution.
Tell students that although many civil liberties are specifically listed in the Constitution, others are not. Some rights—like the right to marry—do not explicitly appear in the Constitution but have nevertheless been interpreted as fundamental civil liberties over time by legislatures or the courts.
Since the U.S. Constitution came into effect in 1789, it has been amended 27 times. These amendments have become the heart of civil liberties in the United States, protecting individual rights and placing limits on the powers of government. The most important of these amendments concerning civil liberties appear below: Amendments 1–10 (known collectively as the Bill of Rights), 13–15, 19, and 24.
The Bill of Rights (Amendments 1–10)
Ratified in 1791
Amendment 1—Freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Amendment 2—Right to bear arms
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Amendment 3—Quartering of soldiers
No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
Amendment 4—Search and seizure
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Amendment 5—Trial and punishment, compensation for takings
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
Amendment 6—Right to speedy trial, confrontation of witnesses
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.
Amendment 7—Trial by jury in civil cases
In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
Amendment 8—Cruel and unusual punishment
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
Amendment 9—Construction of Constitution
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
Amendment 10—Powers of the States and people
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
Amendment 13—Slavery is abolished
Ratified in 1865.
Amendment 14—Citizenship rights
Ratified in 1868.
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Amendment 15—Citizens of all races can vote
Ratified in 1870.
Amendment 19—Women can vote
Ratified in 1920.
Amendment 24—Citizens cannot be denied the right to vote because of their failure to pay taxes
Ratified in 1964.
abridge—to curtail (rights or privileges)
redress—remedy or compensation for a wrong or grievance
quarter—to be stationed or lodged in a specified place
warrant—a document issued by a legal or government official authorizing the police or some other body to make an arrest, search premises, or carry out some other action relating to the administration of justice
probable cause—reasonable grounds (for making a search, pressing a charge, etc.)
presentment—a formal presentation of information to a court, especially by a sworn jury regarding an offense or other matter
indictment—a formal charge or accusation of a serious crime
grand jury—a jury, normally of 23 jurors, selected to examine the validity of an accusation before trial
due process—fair treatment through the normal judicial system
common law—the body of English law as adopted and modified separately by the different states of the United States and by the federal government
bail—money paid for the release of an accused person as security
disparage—to regard or represent as being of little worth
naturalize—to acquire citizenship in an adopted country
jurisdiction—the authority to enforce laws or pronounce legal judgments