Guest Opinion

So ... how did YOU celebrate Bill of Rights Day?

As I am sure you all know, Dec. 15 was Bill of Rights Day. In Tucson, it was celebrated in a manner reminiscent of colonial times.

The Bill of Rights is the first 10 amendments to the Constitution of the United States. The amendments were ratified on Dec. 15, 1791, which made Dec. 15, 2009, the 218th anniversary of that ratification.

The Bill of Rights was critical to the adoption of the United States Constitution itself. A number of states refused to vote for the adoption of the Constitution, because it did not specifically guarantee the rights of individuals. There were others who did not want any enumeration of rights, for fear that the list would be misinterpreted to mean that rights were limited to those enumerated therein. A deal was struck, and the United States Constitution was adopted with the condition that the amendments would be adopted.

The Constitution was indeed adopted, and shortly thereafter, the Bill of Rights was adopted. It has been said that this was the last time a group of politicians kept its promise.

I attended an event on Fourth Avenue honoring Bill of Rights Day. It was styled after colonial committees of correspondence. These committees were formed by citizens to deal with problems as they arose, or by local governments and institutions to provide news reports for other governments or citizens outside the area. Some committees were ongoing; others were disbanded after the problems for which they were created were resolved. Our committee was not organized (those with libertarian streaks do not organize well); rather, it was an informal meeting of local citizens for the purpose of discussing the first 10 amendments and how current governments might be influenced to abide by the Bill of Rights' principles.

Charles Heller, host of the Swap Shop and Liberty Watch radio shows heard on KVOI AM 1030 and an all-around good guy, arranged the event and acted as the moderator. The food was catered by Delectables; it was fantastic. Folks volunteered to take turns reading the amendments, including the Preamble. After each was read aloud, it was discussed.

At one point, Charles asked Ken Rineer to read the Second Amendment. Ken recited from memory, "The right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself or the state shall not be impaired, but nothing in this section shall be construed as authorizing individuals or corporations to organize, maintain or employ an armed body of men."

There was much smiling, and some chuckling, as the folks in the room recognized his recitation as not the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution, but rather the equivalent in the State of Arizona Constitution (Article II, Section 26)—a much stronger statement than the federal version. Most states have their own version of a statement of rights in their respective constitutions similar to the federal Bill of Rights.

The discussion touched on a broad range of topics, from the effect of the 14th Amendment on the application of the Bill of Rights, to state nullification of federal regulation, to the effect on checks and balances of the 17th Amendment.

If, as I described the discussion, you pictured in your mind's eye a bunch of suits talking shop, or perhaps a few late-middle-age pony-tailed professorial types, guess again. Were you to line us up along the sidewalk, we would look no different then the folks waiting for the bus. The folks at the event were regular people—no celebrities, no movers, no shakers. They do, however, possess a depth of knowledge of American history and law rarely seen in modern citizenry. Most are engaged in the politics of their city, county, state and country. This is American citizenship as God and James Madison intended. If this does not make you feel just a little choked up, I pity you.

It is said that change does not happen from the top down, only from the bottom up. I do not believe that. As I write, we are getting hammered with change from the top down. I do believe that legitimate change only happens from the bottom up. If we all had the same love of America and sense of civic duty as our neighbors who attended the informal committee of correspondence, imagine how much better our governments and institutions would be.