Archive for Thursday, December 13, 2007

Celebrate freedom ensured in Bill of Rights

December 13, 2007

December is famous for Christmas Day and Pearl Harbor Day, but how many of you know the significance of Dec. 15?

It's Bill of Rights Day, a day set aside each year to remember what it is that makes America unique from most other countries around the world.

Those first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution are critical to our nation's freedom.

While Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Ben Franklin fought for independence, you might be surprised to learn that George Mason is considered the Father of the Bill of Rights.

Why Mason? Because in his call for independence from Great Britain, he wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which later became the basis for our own statement of individual rights in America.

Mason wrote that "all men are born equally free and independent, and have certain inherent natural rights ... among which are the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety."

Sound familiar?

It should. Those are some of the words in our own Declaration of Independence, drafted by Jefferson in June of 1776.

But the Bill of Rights wasn't included in the original Constitution, so Mason decided to withhold his support.

Only later was he able to convince the Federalists to modify the Constitution and add the Bill of Rights.

So why do we celebrate on Dec. 15?

Because it's the day in 1791 that the new Congress of the United States of America ratified the document that gives us many of the individual freedoms we've come to cherish.

Freedom of speech.

Freedom of assembly.

Freedom of the press.

Freedom of religion.

Freedom to petition government for a redress of grievances.

The right to bear arms.

The right to due process.

The right against self-incrimination.

The right to a jury trial.

And, of course, many others, rights that we utilize in our daily lives as Americans.

So, on Saturday, say a word of thanks for George Mason and for the other founders who saw the value of including a list of individual rights in the Constitution.

The insight they had has helped ensure the survival of this experiment we call "America" for more than 230 years.

Doug Anstaett is executive director of the Kansas Press Association in Topeka.

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