Authors: Bill O'Reilly
O'Reilly: Have you read all of the court decisions represented in this book so far?
You: Is this a test?
O'Reilly: (laughs) Okay. Not a test, but I have a question.
You: I knew it.
O'Reilly: Just hold onâ¦Have you agreed with every court decision?
You: Every one of them?
O'Reilly: (laughs) Would anyone?
You: Probably not.
O'Reilly: You got it. Butâ¦the United States is a nation of laws made by courts and elected officials. Even if we disagree, we must obey them, or suffer the consequences. Not to obey the laws would lead to anarchy (great word). And no one's rights are respected when there's anarchy.
You: I might be getting a headache.
O'Reilly: Deal with it.
(Okay, okayâ¦If you're not going to look it up,
means something like “chaos” or “mob rule.” You really don't want that. Ask the people you see running for their lives in certain countries on the news programs.)
“Of course!” you might cry. “The more rights, the better!”
Let's see about thatâ¦
Ten years ago, my friend Sally B. was a seventeen-year-old living in a western state. She was the kind of cheerful, energetic young woman who is often called “life-loving.” I'm happy to say that she is “life-loving” again.
You caught that word
There's something that none of usânot her family, not her friends, not her teachers and priestâknew about Sally a decade ago, but it explains why she went on a downward slide that included drugs, alcohol, self-destructive behavior, depression, and self-hatred for years and years. Perhaps, just perhaps, her home state gave Sally more rights than she could handle.
It began with a stupid act made worse by bad luck. Sally got drunk one night and had sex with her boyfriend for the first time. She got pregnant. That may sound hard to believe, but I know her, and she wouldn't lie about this. Reeling out of her mind from the shock, she didn't tell anyone, not her boyfriend, not her parents or any of her friends. It was guilt, pure and simple. She was not afraid that her parents would scream at her or reject her. Far from it. She was afraid that they would be hurt, perhaps ashamed. Although she was under eighteen years old at the time and living at home with her parents, she could legally get an
abortion in her state without notifying her mother and father. And so she did.
Now, notice that in most states today, she would not have had that option at her age. Parental consent would have been required by law. And you could argue that such a rule actually respects the parents' rights in circumstances like Sally's. Each state makes its own rules about underage abortion. Some states support parental rights more strongly than others do.
Let me simply report that the rights extended to Sally in her state left her free to keep her secret from virtually everyone in her life except Planned Parenthood and the physician who performed the abortion. She was too ashamed to confide in any of her friends. The result? Sally believes that the guilt and shame she felt sent her spiraling through almost a decade of misery, despite countless hours of therapy. The abortion, she thinks today, was directly responsible for her crippling unhappiness and acts of self-destruction. But, had she lived across a state line, the story could have been completely different.
Let me be clear, I'm not specifically entering into the abortion fray here. I'm only suggesting that sometimes, a right that looks pretty good on the surface might give us more independence than we can handle. And by “we,” I certainly include adults. (I won't believe you if you tell me that you can't think of at least one adult who has more independence than he or she can handle. And I'm not even thinking of Snoop Dogg.)
Even when it all started, Sally felt that the whole thing was
more than she could manage by herself. But the state didn't force her to tell her parents, and she couldn't emotionally force herself to do so.
I'm just saying, okay? Sometimes, rules are better for us than extended rights. Sometimes.
And isn't it amazing that what happens in one person's life during a crisis can depend so heavily upon what state lines he or she lives within? Worth thinking about?
I'm just sayingâ¦
s you've noticed by now, this is not the kind of book that provides lists of rights and restrictions. What I've been trying to do, in many different ways, is explain the process involved in sensibly exercising and protecting your rights.
There are books in the marketplace that offer detailed answers to such questions as “Do I lose any rights if I'm underage and pregnant?” or “If my parents get a divorce, will I still get to visit my grandparents?”
These questions are just two among ninety-five that appear in
What Are My Rights?,
a handy little paperback by attorney and former judge Thomas A. Jacobs. You might want to page through his book and others like it when you are facing a specific set of issues.
But here, I mean to keep talking about the big picture. (Remember? We don't sweat the small stuff.)
If you know any lawyers, you probably already know that they often try to avoid having a judge or jury make a decision. (Remember Patrick's dispute over the yearbook photo?)
Why? Because court decisions aren't very predictable. Sure, you think you are right in a dispute. So does the other side. Since very few disputes in life have a slam-dunk ending, there's always the possibility that even reasonable people will disagree with your side of things. And what about unreasonable people? Well, let's not even think about them.
So, no matter how strongly you feel about your rights (or what you think your rights are), it's probably smart to resolve things outside the courtsâ¦if you can, while also sticking to your beliefs. Basically, I'm suggesting that you pick and choose your legal battles carefully.
Still, there are times when you really don't have a choice.
As we near the end of this book I hope you agree that this has been an informative and fun trip we've taken together. What I've tried to do throughout is get you interested in how your rights were developed in this country and are still being fought, challenged, developed, and maintained today. I want you to become a part of that process. I want you to think for yourself, but always understand that your rights have to be in harmony with the rights of others.
Now, the ACLU may come after me for referring to religion, but here goes: I believe the best place to start, before you decide whether your rights are being recognized or not, may be with the Golden Rule.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Yeah, another idea in old-fashioned language, but the idea itself still works today.
I like the stories we've looked at where people calmed down, listened to one another, and found a compromise. I don't like the ones that resulted in court cases that dragged on for years, close court decisions that didn't really make anyone happy, insulting comments from both sides in the news media, and all the rest of the noisemaking that leaves everyone tired and disgusted at the end of the day.
Respect for one another's rights should not drive wedges between us. It should unite us. Let's all try to understand
by that ideal.
O'Reilly: Suppose I gave you a
Bill O'Reilly Factor
O'Reilly: Would you wear it to your school?
O'Reilly: Butâ¦could you?
You: Why not?â¦Oh, I see. Dress code?
You: Well, I really wouldn't be making a political statement. Just being a fan.
O'Reilly: But a fan of what? I mean, some of your
classmatesâand they would be wrong!âmight think that I'm an obnoxious blowhard. And that
is not a good concept.
O'Reilly: They might have read that charge, and worse, in print or on some nutty Web site. They might agree.
You: So? I disagree.
O'Reilly: Exactly. And what does your school think about that?
You: They can't tell me what to think.
O'Reilly: No, they can't. But they can decide that wearing an O'Reilly T-shirt would upset other people. You and those other people might argue about it or you might just smirk at one another or stare one another down. And the phrase for that isâ¦
Distraction from the educational process.
O'Reilly: Hey, you
You: We're talking about my life, right?
O'Reilly: Get this. Early in 2007, a fourteen-year-old girl was punished by her middle school in Northern California for wearing kneesocks decorated with an image of Tigger.
You: From the cartoon
O'Reilly: It was a book first. Sorry, had to say that.
You: Okay, okay.
O'Reilly: The school argues that Tigger, whose politics are not known to me (or to anyone else), violated their Appropriate Attire Policy.
You: You're kidding me.
O'Reilly: (shakes head)
You: You're not kidding me. And there's going to be a lawsuit?
You: And this will go on for some time, and lawyers are involved, and the ACLU has weighed in?
O'Reilly: Right, again.
You: Oh, brother.
O'Reilly: As usual, there are all kinds of complications. It turns out that the policy was set up to keep kids from wearing gang symbols or sexy images and sayings. It also turns out that the girl has been punished twelve times for wearing clothing with decorations that the school found inappropriate.
You: You mean, she's been pushing it.
O'Reilly: Maybe. But this is what I have to askâ¦Was the Constitution written by Ben and Tom and the rest of our Founding Fathers so that she could wear a fictional animal to the classroom?
You: I don't think the answer is easy.
O'Reilly: Yes, you've been listening, all right. What size T-shirt do you wear?
The correct answers:
1. a; 2. a; 3. d; 4. b; 5. c.
To win arguments, or to help you understand what's behind breaking news stories, or to research school assignments, here are the ten amendments that make up the Bill of Rights, speaking for themselvesâ¦
Do you need to know this stuff?
I don't see why not. You're an American too!
If you've learned from this book that your daily life is nowâand will always beâdeeply affected by lawsâ¦AND by the people who make them or interpret them, then why not take a few minutes to see how it all began?
So here is a quick look at the Bill of Rights. Of course, I've added some pithy comments. (That's my job!)
If you disagree, or your parent or teacher disagrees, you know where to find me.
FREEDOM OF SPEECH, PRESS, RELIGION, 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.
O'Reilly Pith: The tricky phrase here is “no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Sensibly enough, it's known in the trade as the “establishment clause.”
Most of the wrangling based on this amendment hinges on the different possible interpretations of this clause. Yes, it's there to separate church and state, but exactly how? At the very least it means that the government can't establish a national religion, financially support a religion, or show preference for one religion over another or for religion over irreligious philosophies. But more precise questions than those have been raised over the years. For instance, does it violate this clause to have a military chaplain present for the sake of our wounded soldiers overseas? And if that's true, wouldn't the absence of a military chaplain violate another rightâour soldiers' right to free exercise of religion? Can the grant of monies to a hospital serving people of all denominations be construed as showing preference for one
religion over another when the hospital is owned and operated by the Roman Catholic Church? And what about when a public school gives students time off for the observance of a religious holiday? (I
you have feelings about
issue!) These are the kinds of questions that have already been hotly debated. Many more continue to be debated every day. So have fun out there! These arguments are likely to continue as long as America lasts.
RIGHT TO KEEP AND 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.
O'Reilly Pith: Here, the pesky phrase is “well-regulated militia.” You have no idea, I'd bet, how antigun lobbyists, including the ACLU, can take that phrase out for a walk around the block and knock it senseless. Anyway, you'll have to deal with the potential for misinterpretation right there. Does this amendment protect the right for an individual to bear arms for his or her own self-protection? Or does it mean only the militia can possess guns? You see how polarized the argument can get. Good luck arguing that one without coming to blows!
CONDITIONS FOR QUARTERS 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.
O'Reilly Pith: Are you worried that a squad of Marines is going to be installed in your house, taking over the TV remotes? No, you are not. But it used to happen, before that Philadelphia meeting and before George Washington and the guys defeated the British Redcoats, who
kick people out of their homes. So sit back and relax, you've got the whole place to yourself, kid.
RIGHT OF SEARCH AND SEIZURE REGULATED
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.
O'Reilly Pith: Okay, we've already talked about this amendment, but we have not ended the discussion by far. It continues this very day in various courts all over the land. Columnists are railing, politicians are venting, and the ACLU is collecting moneyâall because life is getting very, very complicated, especially with the terrorism component added into the mix. New laws and court decisions will appear; then they will be analyzed to see whether or not they actually fulfill the intent of Tom, Ben, and the rest. Stay tunedâ¦
PROVISIONS CONCERNING PROSECUTION
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.
O'Reilly Pith: Yeah, this one is quite a mouthful. You can probably forget the military stuff for right now and concentrate on (1) the rule that a grand jury must return an indictment, (2) the provision against “double jeopardy,” (3) the essential concept of “due process,” and (4) the rule for compensation for your property taken by the government.
Each of these ideas is still being argued, as you know if you read newspapers, watch TV, or listen to radioâ¦or hear one of your friends complain about unfair treatment of suspected criminals. And remember, Americans are entitled to these rights. But are terrorists captured in Afghanistan entitled to them? I say no. Others disagree. And we all keep talking!
RIGHT TO A SPEEDY TRIAL, WITNESSES, ETC.
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.
O'Reilly Pith: Here again, the basic ideas seem to be clear enoughâ¦and here again, the arguments get hot. What is a “speedy” trial? What is a “public” trial? Sound obvious? Well, is a trial “public” if it's not on television? (There was no HDTV available back there in Philadelphia.) The states (remember them?) don't agree on that one yet.
What is an “impartial” jury? For example, does gender, or occupation, or racial background cause a juror to be unfair? These questions don't get the same answers from everyone involved in the law, let me tell you. What is required by the phrase “assistance of counsel”? Does that mean the court-appointed lawyer must be a Harvard graduate, or would it be fair for her to come from some lesser institution like Yale? (Sorry, kid. You know I have to say that because I hold a Harvard degree.)
RIGHT TO A TRIAL BY JURY
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.
O'Reilly Pith: Forget the twenty-dollar rule. Half your classmates would be demanding jury trials because someone took their old running shoes or neglected to return some borrowed CDs, right? The courts have agreed on the “intent” of this clause. The more important principle here, of course, is that a case, once decided by a jury, cannot be retried elsewhere.
EXCESSIVE BAIL, CRUEL PUNISHMENT
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
O'Reilly Pith: I'm sure you see the problems here. Define
please. And once you've got that little chore out of the way, reel off a quick, solid definition of “cruel and unusual punishments.” Does that phrase cover the death penalty? Well, unless you've been living in the basement of a mall for the last few years, you certainly know that both sides of that issue disagree about its true meaning. Once again, the debate goes on. Each side, in this case, believes it somehow knows the “intent” of the Philadelphia guys. Can each side be right? (No.) Is this a matter of life and death? (Uhâ¦yes.)
RULE OF CONSTRUCTION OF CONSTITUTION
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
O'Reilly Pith: In other words, just because they didn't mention a specific right doesn't mean it's not there. Bring on the iPods (and the lawyers)! Isn't that really what this book is about?
RIGHTS OF THE STATES UNDER CONSTITUTION
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.
O'Reilly Pith: By now, you see what this means. If Ben, Tom, and their friends did not give a specific right to the national
government or say that the states could NOT have it, then either the states or we ourselvesâyou and I and everybody else in Americaâhave that right. I believe you know that's never going to be as simple as it sounds. (You sure you don't want to go to law school? We may need you!)